Ukraine and The Czar

After an intensive regimen of conditioning, drills, demonstrations, film sessions and scrimmages, the Ukraine National Team’s training camp in Klaipėda is drawing to a close. The coaching staff and players worked extremely hard, and our squad has already made significant strides. This weekend we will participate in a four-team international tournament back in Kiev. Then we will resume training in order to continue laying the groundwork for a successful showing when we return to Klaipėda in a short while to open up EuroBasket 2011 on August 31.

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Ukraine and The Czar

Prior to the start of the official training camp for the Ukraine National Team we invited all prospective players to work out with some of the coaches in order to get a head start on conditioning and to get familiar with the various drills we run. Nets full-time strength and conditioning coach Rich Dalatri came on board to help our players with skills development and to get them in shape for tournament competition. Denis Zhuravlev, a former player and the head coach of Dnipro in the Ukrainian pro league, is doing double duty as assistant coach and team interpreter. We had a great turnout. On a given day six to eight guys showed up for the week of voluntary sessions that took place in Kiev and Odessa.

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Ukraine and The Czar

Video coordinator Daisuke Yoshimoto aka Dice was the first member of our coaching staff to arrive in Kiev. We visited three potential practice facilities in order to determine which would be the best for our workouts with the Ukraine National Team members scheduled to arrive this week. After finishing up some more work on the playbook we had dinner at a great Japanese restaurant named San Tori in honor of Dice’s arrival.

We set up at the hotel restaurant for Tuesday’s first team meeting. That evening Ukrainian basketball player Oleksiy Pecherov, who played with AJ Milano in Italy this past season, dropped by the Goodman Steak House to say hello. Afterwards we took a stroll through Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), the city’s central plaza and a hub of public political activity in Kiev. Dice snapped a picture of me in front of the towering monument to the protecting Slavic goddess Berehynia, which was erected in 2001.

Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinckney and Knicks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson arrived the following day. A veteran of the NBA, Pinckney helped coach Chicago to the best record in the East this year and famously led the Villanova Wildcats to the NCAA title over the heavily favored Hoyas in 1985. Atkinson played professionally in Italy, France, Germany and Spain from 1991 to 2004 and brings his invaluable international experience to our bench.

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On the Road with Mike: A Meeting of the Minds

Years ago, back when Frankie Sullivan, Ed Hockenberry, Mitch Buonaguro and I were assistants with Rollie Massimino at Villanova, our staff would go away for two or three days every year to strategize for the upcoming season.

Some of us returned to that tradition when Rollie, now the head coach at Northwood University, invited a panel down to Florida for a Coaching Strategy Session earlier this month. It was great to see so many familiar faces from all parts of the country who are part of the basketball community at various levels.

Back row: Mark Sanford, John Olive and Dwayne McClain Middle row: Dom Savino, Jonathan Tsipis, Ken Gabelman, Don Mackay, Ken Sullivan, Christopher Walker, Tommy Percora, Chris Champeau Front row: Mitch Buonaguro, Mike Fratello, Rollie Massimino, Dick Versace

We had high school and college coaches from both women’s and men’s teams as well as former NBA coaches including Dick Versace, who used to be Chuck Daly’s assistant with Detroit and the one-time head coach of the Indiana Pacers. The majority of us were head coaches and there were also some assistants and a couple former players who played for Rollie at Villanova and went on to coaching. John Olive played some pro ball for a couple of years and was Rollie’s assistant when Villanova won the 1985 NCAA Championship. Now he coaches at a high school in San Diego.

Rollie’s current assistant coach Dwayne McClain played in Europe for a number of years and was on the Villanova National Championship basketball team along with Ed Pinckney, who was named Most Outstanding Player in the historic win over Georgetown. Ed planned to attend, but he was named as a new assistant coach with the Bulls so he had to reroute to Chicago. Joining Thibodeau’s coaching staff is a great opportunity for him.

When we arrived in West Palm Beach we went over to the Northwood University campus and saw some of Rollie’s players working out on their own in the gym and playing pickup games. But the clinic was held at the Comfort Inn hotel five minutes from campus. We spent two complete days covering a variety of topics that Rollie had outlined before we came in.

Rollie assigned each of us a particular topic to present, though anybody could chip in. He had asked me to be ready to talk on trapping in the post and rotations that come out of it. They had a big room set up for us with video monitors so some guys illustrated their presentations with videos, which was very helpful. There was also a camera running the entire time while guys were talking, demonstrating or drawing on the board.

We went from about 11 in the morning until 10pm on the first night. Because we wanted to keep going we had lunch and dinner brought in – big trays of meatballs, sausage, pasta and salad. There were so many funny comments made during the course of the clinic – that’s part of the camaraderie that has developed over the years. Rollie and I are each other’s families. I’ve known Dick Versace for years. John Olive played for the Wildcats back when I was Rollie’s assistant so I got a chance to coach John back then. A shared history makes the group what it is.

It turned out to be a great basketball forum that hopefully will help those of us coaching this year win a couple extra games along the way.