This Post turned to be way longer than I expected, even as a Draft. I ended up fighting with my urge to tell this story from my perspective and to just cut some stuff out to shorten this whole thing and make it “a quick read”. Now, as you can see I decided for former over the latter. This is about 10 minutes of reading, so if you came for a quick re-cap, it’s not here. This is a story.
Bed, for me (or someone my size respectively [1.94m, 110kg]), were a bit too small and in middle of first night I wanted to just sleep on the ground. Only thing that held me against this was the fact that I didn’t have anything to separate myself from the ground itself (except this 3mm industrial rug). There was also no trusting into my sleeping bag either, as it was a cheap last-minute solution. So only thing to do was to sleep as straight as possible and try not to move as much as I had to be used back home.
Nothing is better than waking up early in the morning after a tiring day. Especially when one finds oneself in start of adventure in distant place away from home. It loads you up with energy and I always wonder where it comes from. We are here, we got things to do and you just get up and get going.
No sleeping in, I find myself awake five minutes before six hundred hours. If yesterday was hot and dry, then this morning was humid and cold as it was raining at least half a night and continued to come pouring down. Maybe that was the reason why sleep was so good this night. If I hadn’t the luck last night to hit the showers later than their closing time, I’d be out right now and shower under the Heavens. Sandy came with good news that pouring should stop at around eight hundred hours, about the time we had scheduled to leave our settlement and journey to “Pädag” gym.
One would think that city of tents would still be at rest in this time of a hour. The one, including me, would be very wrong. This was Klagenfurt. People were already wake and going about their morning routines, even the kids. I woke up before I had told my team to, that gave me some extra time to prepare my backpack for the day. Prepare clothing, check on the documents, take my coaching stuff. All set. Now I just had to wake up the youth at six forty-five as I had decided they had no business to be up earlier. For my surprise though, some of the girls were already up! Power of habits. It just made my work easier as I just could say for everybody to wake up and instruct those already wake to make sure that it happens. For me it meant extra time to think and double-check everything.
At about seven hundred we could move out to get some breakfast. As I stepped out of the tent I found myself surrounded already. Team knew what it meant to be on time. Very good. One issue less for me to handle, in coming days I just had to pressure this point to make sure it works every time.
Breakfast was pretty good. One could get oneself full easily and load that energy up in form of bread rolls with cheese or ham, some pancakes, muesli, yogurt and fruits. If one would find oneself a little bit cold at this rainy morning – they served various hot beverages to make oneself warmer. So we did just that – loaded ourselves up as at eight hundred hours we had to move out together with others to Pädag facilities. That was a game of mixed team. Our Romanian friends from “Basketball Leben Project” and some players from our HellBoys and HellGirls teams. They participated out of competition as they exceeded the legal age limit. We were on time and went down to prepare (brush our teeth, change, get bags ready) for the upcoming game and the day, then take some time and wait for others.
As U14 HellGirls established their punctuality, we had to wait a couple of minutes for others before we could move out. Brief moments like this allows to talk over the plan for the day and as the day continues everybody knows what is coming up.
Pouring had stopped and it was fine rain sprinkling over us. It wouldn’t get us too wet. Instead it felt very nice and refreshing on the skin, always an enjoyable change after longer periods of hotness and dry air. It was a very fascinating sight to observe from the side as our group of around 50+ (don’t know the correct number…) people moved through wet streets of Klagenfurt. One team. Mood was as it should be in a rainy day morning being half-awake. On every breath nostrils were hit of this magical chemical mix of I-don’t-know-what, but oh-it-smells-so-good. Energizing. Our walk soon was over as it took only about ten minutes on foot to reach Pädag. Though, this short distance made all the difference as the group seemed to be more awake as at the time of departure.
The gym. Haha, wow. It hit us hard – court was smaller than a normal court, than we all were used to. Three-point line ran into sidelines at the wings and from outter lines to walls it was barely enough to fit a bench and a person sitting on it. If you stretched out your legs even a little bit – you would find yourself on the court already. This would be a nightmare for HellTeams who were used to spacing and Fast-break basketball. That said, we packed it full with our HellGirls and HellBoys for the game to cheer our players up! Hashtag of picture on BC Hellenen Instagram said #wearecomingwithanarmy. Rightly so. Magical.
For some reason I don’t recall this game very good. Hard to say why. One of the reasons could have been that in my thoughts I was not present. Looking, but not seeing. No register. My mind went over how we will get back to Players Town, eat some lunch and looked at the bus schedules to get the right time when we should leave. I didn’t want to miss nothing, better to be half an hour early than to be five minutes late.
Let’s fast forward a bit. We stayed after the game one and watched the game two a bit before going back to city of tents. There we would get some food left over from yesterday (mostly perishables as cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, meat etc.) and mix it up with some fresh one from above (there were “fast-food” joints upstairs in stadium offering burgers, noodles, salads and such things).
Now we had to make our way to “Sankt Ruprecht 1”. As our game was at fourteen hundred hours, I planned to arrive one hour before tip-off just to be on the safe side. Bus ride was the least of our problem, driver was super nice and let us out right at the stop where we needed to get off. My next worry was number “1” in gym name as it indicates that there must be more courts at this address, but as we stepped into the gym, this worry disappeared and new one took it’s place. There were three courts. St. Ruprecht 1, 2 and 3. All of them next to each other, also “Dreifach Halle” (three-part gym), courts about 70 centimeters away one from another and with NO CURTAINS between them. This promised very messy games itself. Of course as it usually is for courts this size – also here three point line ran into the sidelines at the wings and because of next court being so close, one could easily oversee the lines in the heat of the moment, if one had been used to train and play on normal-sized courts. Habits. This would later cost us an important game.
Oh, by the way, as wonderful coach as I am after parting from our bus it dawned upon me that in my whole planning I had forgot about one very important component needed for the game – to take with us two balls Size 6 for warming up… Now, normally I would go back and get them, but we were on time now already and the ride was far enough not to make it back neither with bus nor running on foot. Though, thanks to Heavens once again I got lucky as it turned out Sandy was playing in St. Ruprecht with U12w HellGirls right before us. They had some Size 5 balls, but it was way better than no balls at all, so for our next two games we would do a warm-up with these two.
My focus was on Game 1 where we would meet Austrian home team – “Team Kärnten”. Gut feeling said that this is the game to take today as our chances against Greek girls would be slimmer. As we waited for other games to finish we did some pre-game briefing where I wanted to determine what offense we would be running. Here I stumbled upon the fact, that they had been improvising most of their games as they just went – ‘let us play as we play, we just “get” the offense’. Oh, boy – you just don’t get the offense, this will be hard time in scoring. Once again I had to work from behind, from defense and make them push and control the ball in specific way. I awaited that as always – opponents would mostly suck at shooting or have just one (max two) good shooters per team at this age group. They would want to go through middle and that’s where we would have to close it and force ball to sideline and baseline. If that worked, we had a chance. Offensively I should mostly rely on Team itself and their ability to use what they’ve learned in previous season. My goal was to get them out of the middle, spread the defense and penetrate-kick. Take open shots if given. As I learned later through tournament, I could easily better their defensive end as girls had the hunger to work for it, but offensive end had to develop massively in future if we wanted even to have a chance the next season. Now, it was time to get on the floor.
Game 1: HellGirls versus “Team Kärnten” (AT)
Note: Game mode was 4 quarters with 8 minutes of playtime each on “running time” (that means, only the last 2 minutes of the last quarter are being stopped), 5 fouls, 1 minute between quarters and 2 minutes half time break. Very fast paced game and as it turned out – impossible to foul out more aggressive, fouling teams. You could just avoid baskets and push turnovers by aggressive, fouling defense. Not something I was willing to push as a coach, Hellenen play as clean defense as possible.
As awaited opponents started strong and our offense was lacking. within four minutes of playing time we were down 9 to 0. Biggest problem was their #5 which scored 7 points out of those 9. We had to get her locked down. After minute four our #63 managed to score with ‘and one’ and also made the free throw. For unknown reason to me opponents took a time out at 5 minute mark which worked in our favor. We bettered our defense, but our offense still couldn’t make baskets. Shots went up, but didn’t go in. Team Kärnten made two more buckets and now lead with +10, 13 to 3. After few tries we managed to get ball under and our #68 scored twice keeping our head just above the water and in the game. After that at minute seven opponents scored another basket and we got free throws for our #68 from which one was made. We ended first quarter with 7 point deficit; 8 to 15 for Team Kärnten.
For 2nd quarter we had to press opponents more on defense and make them uncomfortable, get defensive AND offensive rebounds and spread their defense. Get the pace of the game down. Be smarter. Take better shots.
Oooh YES! HellGirls came into second quarter clanging and banging. Our #63 opened the quarter with a beautiful 3 pointer in the first minute. Penetration started to yield fruits and shots were better, girls pulled off ‘and one’ (free throw missed), and put up some more points. We managed to push them more on the side and deny the middle, they made only one basket up to seventh minute! We responded with some more buckets after and going 18 to 17 at minute seven. Opponents made two baskets taking the lead, but HellGirls, seeing the bleeding of their opponents, didn’t let them recover and responded with another two buckets down – we went into the half-time break with good 1 point lead; 22 to 21 for HellGirls.
This was one of those games where two teams of the same level met. Win is therefore determined by the willpower, unselfishness and focus. Now, I had to keep the moral of the team high and motivate them to push through. What I liked about this team was the chemical reaction. They were good together. Lacking some practical skill of basketball, but they were good together. That is something that I felt other team lacked.
Third quarter confirmed my expectations. Hard game. Referees forced fast paced game. Not much of fouling, not much of rewards for it. Whole quarter got two free throw attempts, one for opponents with ‘and one’ and one for us as two regular shots (both missed). Much back and forth for this quarter, we sticked to our plan in defense and denied middle penetration, pushing ball to the side. Girls had much to learn from this defense, but for now against this team it worked just fine. Opponents made 6 points this quarter and we made 4. We went out with -1 point; 26 to 27 for Team Kärnten.
This was it. I did my best to talk up the HellGirls and get that flame going. We went into fourth strong with dedication to take this Game 1 win. Defense worked beautifully and opponents couldn’t find a way to attack it and score for seven (!!!) minutes. We used this time to get some baskets and take the lead with 33 to 27. HellGirls missed three free throws again and I began to see a pattern – this is what could cost us games in the long run, but for now – we dictate the game. Team Kärnten made their first points in fourth quarter after minute seven after receiving some free throws. Made both and burned our lead only to 4 points. After that it went basket here and there. We made one, they made one, we made and one, missed the free throws (pattern…), they got some shots, both went off, we got some shots and also both went off. At the end opponents managed to get another bucket, but the game was already at expiration. HellGirls took down Team Kärnten in hard game 37 to 33. Win was in our hands and it was good.
Now we had to wait about thirty to forty minutes to the next game at sixteen hundred hours against “Katerini” from Greece. They had a game on the court next to us against “Stuttgart Eagles” from USA. They won it with +2, 20 to 18. It surely will be a tough game.
What worried me was the lack of energy for girls after the game. In downtime they seemed to “fall asleep” a bit. Mentally already back in the camp and eating dinner, chilling. Against strong team like “Katarini” this mental state could definitely be of a big issue. They are prepared and has good offensive patterns. Nothing less I’d expect from Greeks at world class tournament like this.
Game 2: HellGirls versus “Katerini” (GR)
Let’s say – I expected no less. They were prepared, they were strong, they were focused. We were not. The mental focus was simply not there for HellGirls. I tried to get them wake up as fast as possible, but team was sleeping whole first half of the game. HellGirls scored first two points and then it just went downhill from there. Katerini were dominating. They had a good defense, they could lock individually and pressure the ball. For offense they ran two things: 1. ball hand-off over the 3 point line by swinging it side to side till defense failed to switch, so causing a hole to penetrate; 2. setting a post on the free throw line and playing the ball in, then doing pick+cut causing the defense a hard to defend switch or an empty cut and pass. If that didn’t work they could also pull up some jump shots outside from zone through board and make some points that way. Very strong and well prepared offense. HellGirls weren’t ready to defend it.
This offensive pattern completely crashed us down in first half. As they were scoring, we weren’t, if we went over, they locked us down. We lost first quarter with 4 to 16 and second quarter with 0 to 12. We went into the half time break with 4 to 28. Morale was down, focus was down. There was only one thing to do – up the work on defensive end. By now it was clear to me that with this team at this moment there was no way I could match offensive power of Katerini. What I could do is to try and stop their offense or at least slow it down. First, we had to get our switches right. It was clear that HellGirls had not met opponents of this caliber and didn’t know how to defend tactics they used. If you can’t win the game – you can learn from it.
Third quarter goal was to receive less points. Learn to read and defend the offensive pattern of Katerini and do good switches. Communicate on D. It started to work. Because of that also mental state came back to the girls and they were more focused than before. We could slow down the opponents significantly and receive just 7 points in third quarter meanwhile making 6 points ourselves. It won’t win us the game, but it would teach us some valuable lessons. We could’ve also taken this quarter, but sadly it can’t be done when free throw shooting is off the point. This had to be take care of till the start of the season and go up to 50% at least. HellGirls went down this quarter with just 6 to 7. Way, way better than previous two quarters. Stand was 10 to 35 for Katerini.
If you can’t get what you want, then want what you can get. To keep the team sane and give them the sense of achievement against more prepared team I set up a following goals: 1. get our score over 15 and 2. don’t let them score 50. And they got it, based on experience from third quarter and some guidance from me, HellGirls played beautiful fourth quarter defensively! I saw the potential this team had if handled correctly. We managed to get three baskets and fulfill the first goal and due to the good defensive end we received just 8 points that way finishing also the second goal. We went down to strong opponent who took us by surprise and out of focus with 16 to 43. Still proud of my team by being able to gather themselves mentally and execute beautiful second half. This is something that will create a good team in days to come.
Day 1 Evening
After the game everybody was well-deserved hungry. I decided to take alternative bus route which seemed shorter as the original one as the buses drove only in one direction – in circles. Waiting for the bus allowed me some time to explain a few things to the kids about what had happened today on the court and deepen their understanding of the game. Answer some questions. Of course those were just a few minutes as focus and interest quickly wanders off at this age. I will take it though, better to use five minutes like these and it will add up over time.
Well, bus ride back to stadium was fun, mood was great and we had a win today. Back at camp it was time to hit the showers, freshen up and get something to eat. After that it was a free time till twenty-two hundred. Some watched sports on big screen, some went to play some games. What kids always do. Tomorrow we had to get up and be in gym at nine hundred hours as at zero-nine-thirty we were meeting “Stuttgart Eagles” (USA). This game would determine our advancement out of group stage. If won, we would go out as second and have a chance to play for first place or third, if lost we would finish third at the group stage and then there was only one game for fifth place. Important game, once again strong opponents, but for now – it was time to rest and bond with others.