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September 11, 2012BroncoBlitz.com recently caught up with Western Michigan men's basketball head coach Steve Hawkins. In Part three of our four part series, Coach Hawkins goes through and takes an in-depth look at each of the Broncos four games overseas, including the difficulties of adjusting to European basketball.
BroncoBlitz.com: From a stat sheet perspective, Jared Klein seemed to have a solid showing in Game 1 vs. Basket Fondi. How much emphasis should fans really put into stat sheets from these games?
Coach Hawkins: Let me preface this by saying you're going to have to throw everything you know about American college basketball out, because it is a completely different game. Basketball is almost not basketball the way that we know it.
Number two; stats would be off because Sean (Fagan) is the only guy keeping them. We didn't have a stat crew. So minutes played, etc... there's nothing official about any of this stuff. He did the best that he could, but they didn't even have numbers on their back. Minutes is probably what will be the most off. I think the statistics part of things would probably be pretty true. Points and rebounds would probably be pretty true. Assists, you hope that's pretty close. But you're trying to keep track of it because it happened so quick. There were so many turnovers because there were so many dead balls. It wasn't like a quick turnover and then a quick basket.
The first game looked like a first game with a lot of freshmen. Plus, we hadn't been on a basketball court since Thursday (5 days). So that's what the first game looked like. I was pleased with the way that we competed. [Basket Fondi] is getting ready for their season against other teams over there. To give you an idea, we kept a running score that first game. They wanted to know if it would be okay if they reset the score after every quarter over there. So they sort of played it as a scrimmage. That was what they said in the beginning. But they didn't keep track of personal fouls and we did not play with a 24-second shot clock.
Having said all of that, you're going to have to throw out a lot of things. And if there's something that when you write this that I want to get across to the readers is that it is literally a different game. Literally a different game. The basketball hoop is still hanging at 10 feet but everything else is different between that and college basketball.
And so yes, Jared played a lot of minutes. It was all by design. I went into the trip and we as a coaching staff had met ahead of time. We had said that we were going to play the first three games and really alter the lineups and put heavy emphasis on certain minutes.
You know, what one guy might get on one day, and what another guy might get on another day. Some of the guys we felt really comfortable with going into the trip, and it wasn't as important to us to give them heavy minutes but we wanted to see what somebody else could do. They needed to get a lot of minutes and we needed to get a little better of an evaluation.
And then we were going to take the last game and play it a little bit more based on, not completely, but a little more true to a game. We were going to leave the last game up in the air to, okay, if I want to play this kid more and want to see more out of him, then we'll do that. But we were going to play it a little differently.
But the first three games were almost scripted in terms of playing time and heavy minutes and we did what we could. We had no scouting reports on the teams. We didn't know who was what. So that first game we wanted to give minutes to the guys, a lot of the freshmen; break the seal for them.
The next game we wanted to mix and match a little more. And then the third game, if you noticed, Kellen played a lot more in the third game. He had not gotten heavy minutes in the first couple. And then in the last two games we hadn't played Loney a lot so we played him some more. But I knew what Danny was capable of doing. Danny is going to be a solid guy.
Fans should read zilch. Absolutely nothing into it. It's a completely different game. Literally, we mixed everything up. Two of the games that we played at were on bent rims, so we did not shoot the ball well from three on the trip.
The first game we shot it decent. It was 95 degrees in the gym, the sun was coming in our eyes, and if you took a shot from the wrong spot of the court, you were blind. The next game we went into (vs. Stella Azzurra), both rims were slanted down.
The third game in Antibes, it was well over 100 degrees. Nobody could stay dry. We actually had to pull (Brandon) Pokley out of the game because their coach came to me and said, "Can you take him out of the game? Because his shoes are wet."
Everybody was slipping everywhere. I said, "It's not his shoes, it's his shorts."
You could take his shorts and ring them out. Sweat was dripping down his legs. I literally had to take Brandon out of the game because he was screwing up the court.
We got called for traveling in the first two games an incredible amount of times doing what we teach the kids to do. Catch, put the ball on the floor on a fast break. Catch the ball, and rip it out in front of you. There, it's a travel. So you have to actually catch it and put it down before you move so the turnovers are going to look really heavy. Turnovers for certain kids wouldn't have been turnovers at all over here. There were times where we clearly traveled, but over there it never got called because of what they call the "Euro-step." We were taking great liberties with the Euro-step and so were they.
We would say, "That's a travel." That wouldn't get called, and then the next time we'd just catch it and do that, and then [the referees would] blow the whistle and call a travel. And we're like "What!?"
So that's why I'm saying. Statistics... literally it's a different game. So don't base a ton on that. When it comes to minutes with seven freshman, I wouldn't read into a whole heck of a lot of anything until we get to January. Forget about November or October, you're just insane if you're trying to make any assumptions based on these four games. If you had just traveled with us and looked around...
First of all, game one is played after a two and a half hour bus ride and so you're not exactly [ready]. And they were on their own for a pre-game meal. In Rome. So it's not like they're going to go find a Subway or a McDonalds.
Game two was played after a two hour bus ride through the mountains, and then touring a medieval village for two hours before we played the game... in 100 degree weather. So again, all of these things that we can control here, we don't have over there. You're off your feet, you're not doing anything, you're playing it straight, this is what you eat, etc... All of the controlled factors that you have here, there were none of them over there on top of my own "mandates" that I wanted to have for guys getting playing time, different starters, different lineups, and that kind of thing.
BroncoBlitz.com: Can you talk about Game 2 vs. Stella Azzurra and some of the differences between that and Game 1 against Basket Fondi?
Coach Hawkins: In the second game, we played in front of quite a few fans. They had a lot of fans there and it was a good atmosphere. It was very friendly. There was a standing ovation afterwards for each team.
European gyms are so small. Nothing looks like what it would look like here. Everything is just different. How many high school gyms have windows? I couldn't even compare it to something. It's probably more like a YMCA feel than an actual gym. It's a multi-purposed kind of thing.
The first game was a mixture of pro's and their club team that is college aged kids. We played against guys that were 35 in that game and guys that were 20. Game two we played a younger team. Everybody was between the ages of 17 and 25. But they were big, thick kids. That was a big team. They were strong and physical and we played better in that game.
We played with the shot clock but not up there. It was invisible so the referees told us that they would clap their hands when the shot clock got to five, which they said was normal for friendlies. So it's kind of like being in a boxing match. When there's ten seconds left, you get the loud clap on the mat, you get the same thing over there when the shot clock got down to five over there.
BroncoBlitz.com: How about the 30 point loss in Game 3 against Antibes? What happened in that game?
Coach Hawkins: There was a huge jump in the level of play. We played a much better team in the second game and we played very well in the second game. The third game we played the best team. They were very good. I had played against them eleven years ago when we went there. Same gym, same club.
The Euro-league is the best league there. That's what everybody is trying to get to. It's the best league in Europe. A lot of NBA pro's that are at the end of their careers end up there. A lot of the Europeans come up through the Euro-league and then go to the NBA.
Antibes is in the league that is just under the Euro-league. It's called the Euro B-League. They are owned by one of the teams that is in the Euro-league. The owner is a billionaire. They pour money into this team. They had four Americans there the day that we played. One of them was Trevor Huffman from Kent State. He didn't pass his physical so he didn't play that day. Trevor played in the Euro-league and Trevor was telling me that [Antibes] had three other players that had played in the Euro-League the year before and that they were playing on this team now because the money was better.
So that's who we played against there and they were your typical European basketball team. I just watched the game film last night and we played very, very well. That game, even though it was a game we got beat by 30, as soon as the game got over with I told the staff, "That didn't feel like a 30 point loss."
And James (Holland) was like, "I couldn't believe it."
First of all they jumped on us. And then we came back and we tied it before halftime. Then we actually took a lead with about four minutes to go. It was nip and tuck throughout the first two quarters. And then right towards the end of the second quarter, we were up by three and we made some mistakes. They were all fixable mistakes that we made. But they capitalized like that. Boom. And they went on a 14-0 run to end the quarter. We scored on a lob play with about two seconds to go and we ended up down by about 10 or 11 going into halftime.
Rebounding is one thing you could probably actually take from that. Our defense and rebounding ring true. Some of it has to do with bent rims, but rebounding is rebounding. If you miss a shot, they got a chance to get it and you got a chance to get it. So we rebounded very well.
BroncoBlitz.com: Game 4 vs. Monaco appeared to be a tough loss, overcoming a large deficit towards the end, but still falling just short. Can you walk me through that game and explain how disappointing of a loss that was to end the trip?
Coach Hawkins: I was talking with Bruce Weber because [Illinois] had just got back from Spain. And I had been there before, so I sort of knew. Bruce said, "Expect hot gyms, hot busses, and bad officiating." And that was probably the only game where yeah, we got it. There was no way we were going to win that game in Monaco.
We played well in that game. The one thing I was really pleased about is that all four games, we played against teams that had very, very different styles of play. Game one, their defense switched a lot of positions. So if you set a ball screen, they would switch it. Which is a very different look for us here in the states.
In game two, in the middle of the game all of a sudden after a free throw, they start pressing us. Well we haven't put in press offense yet. So literally the first opportunity we could, I had to call a timeout and diagram press offense on the board. We didn't have time to put in press. There's another kind of thing you can look at it and say, "Look, ten days of practice you need to concentrate on the large muscle groups here."
If somebody presses you, you're going to be in trouble. If somebody goes zone on you, we only had a day and a half to work on zone offense with our guys. When we got over there somebody played zone for just a little bit. Thank goodness. But if we had faced a team that played nothing but zone, we would have gotten a lot of work in on that.
The third game there was just size in every spot and pro's at every spot. We were out-talented from 1-15 and the guys competed and played very, very well in unbelievable conditions that you would never face here in terms of it being 100 degrees here in the gym.
And in game four, they had huge guards. They had 6-foot-6 guards that posted up constantly. So they went after Jared, Austin, and Hayden. And they went after them hard. And their big guys shot the three well. So basketball-wise we faced four very different styles of play and had to adjust to all of them. I was happy with that.
The third and the fourth game we probably played as well as we could. Well, let me put it this way. The referees did not do a lot to help out global relations that day. We were not going to win. We were better than them and we played better than them. There were plenty of mistakes that we can correct. We probably played about ten points better than them, but they kept tacking on the fouls.
The third and fourth games, we played pretty well. I really feel like we progressively played better throughout the trip. The third and the fourth game we probably played equal but both of them were a lot better. There was only one thing I did not like about game three where I think we might have played better in game four. I didn't like our response to their 14-0 run. I felt like we got quiet. I felt like we tucked our tail a little bit when they flexed their muscles instead of competing back. The next day we came back and in situations where everybody knew we were kind of getting it handed to us, they responded really well to it. They kept competing, kept fighting, and I was happy with that.
Coming up in the final part of our four part series, head coach Steve Hawkins discusses his final thoughts on the Europe trip, the performance of the freshmen in particular, and the newly released schedule this upcoming season.
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