Day 4 – Let the Games begin!
Before we left for our morning shoot around, we had a 30 minute team meeting to put together a simple game plan and discuss how we wanted to play…easy said than done with so many disruptions and limitations etc.
We finally were able to have all 10 players on the floor at our shoot around on the main court for the first time. The vibe and feeling in the group was really good as we try and work out different combinations and learn the offences and defences…we know we are work in progress and with this being our off season a lot of the players are quite rusty!
At all international games, it is normal for the teams to have a meeting with the Technical Commissioner and head of referees for the game to go through the dos and don’t and expectations. This meeting was attended by Larry Kestleman, Tommy Greer and myself, where Team China was represented by one of their Assistant Coaches and one of their translators.
Games v China are always going to be a physical affair where last year several players received split lips, concussions and lots of bruises from the games.
Larry showed great leadership by strongly reinforcing that this is a “friendly” game and that nothing cheap will be tolerated at all.
With this game being a friendly game, Team China requested to suit up 16 players for the game but we only want them to suit up maximum of 12 players as per FIBA rules, and also because we only have 10 players…and of course they ended suiting up 14 for the game!
After shoot around the guys had a few hours off to relax before having their pre game meal at 4.00pm and then departing for the venue at 4.55pm. In the past few days it has taken 40-70 minutes to get to the University, however in this instance we arrive at the venue in less than 30 minutes…there was hardly any traffic on the road at all!!
Tip off was at 7.30pm so the guys had just over 2 hours to get ready for the game. All the players have their own routine before the game. Some players will go out and shoot with Assistant Coach Mick Downer, some will listen to music, some will get massage from the physio and some will do their own stretching.
A massive highlight for me was the opportunity to see Yao Ming again. Yao is probably the most iconic person and brand in all of China!
He is now the President of the Chinese Basketball Association, as well as a member of the Chinese Government and is heavily involved with wanting to improve the CBA and basketball in China. Yao sent one of his staff to our change room and asked me to come and meet with him, which was great…(a couple of years ago I worked for Yao at Shanghai Sharks). He had some general chit chat about a few things before I had to head back to prepare some things in the change room. I forgot what a massive human being he is and was great to see him again.
Before a game I normally only take 8-10 minutes maximum to reinforce the game plan so we follow a “running sheet” that went like the following:
6.40pm I address the team;
6.53pm Team photo;
6.55pm Nick takes them for specific warm up;
7.05pm Team commences team warm up incorporating shooting, decision making drills and layups / dunks;
7.20pm Team introductions and National Anthems
7.25pm Final Warm up
7.30pm Tip Off
We started the game on fire with Daniel Kickert knocking down 3 x 3’s in the first few minutes and jumped out to a nice 8 point lead early and looked really good. It was important that we got all players in the game as early as possible just so we could blow out some cobwebs so all 10 players played in the first qtr.
As Wagstaff and Kendle are carrying minor niggly injuries and with Kickert and Jervis both recovering from minor illness, Mick and I were very mindful of the minutes that they are to play so all were put on “minute restrictions” for the game. (I have no doubt that many viewers were thinking “What is the coach doing, he has no idea what he is doing, why isn’t he doing this, why isn’t he doing that”!! lol)…The last thing I want to do is have any of these players injured…we are here in China to promote our game and develop relationships with China, not win a championship!
It was quite obvious that we were out of sync and plenty of our players were out of sorts with missing layups and shots that they normally would make. However, there is no doubting their efforts, fighting quality and their professionalism throughout the game.
We certainly had our opportunities to win the game but I was enormously proud with how our players handled themselves under the adversity and in the way the game is played in China.
We have a great group of players and people in our Travel party and I have no doubt that we will continue to show the required professionalism and show the great Aussie spirit. We now have a chance to do a little bit of scouting and am sure that we wont let #33 from China make 7/8 from the 3 point line again!
Day 5 – Gotta love the Travel!
Late last night after our game, our “chaperones” Karen and Nan from Infront (massive Marketing company) informed us that Beijing was expecting massive storms and were advised by the airlines that many flights are going to be cancelled or have long delays!!
We had a team meeting with management to determine the best way to get to Jilin to ensure we get to the game for tomorrow!
The options were to:
- Hope that our 10.30am flight is not cancelled or delayed;
- Rebook onto the 6.30pm flight; or
- Get the train from Beijing to Jilin.
So to completely minimize all risk and to make sure we actually made it to the next game, we decided to get the “Fast Train” which departs Beijing at 2.28pm and arrive into Jilin at 9.30pm – a 7-hour (and 2 minute) trip!!
I am glad that we did make this decision as this allowed our players to have a good sleep in, good hearty breakfast and a recovery session with Nick Harrison before leaving for Jilin. In addition, by being on the train the players were able to get up and walk around and have a stretch when they needed to.
As Jilin is a small regional city of only 5 million people, we were told that there were only 4 flights with China Airways from Beijing.
Team China were booked on the 8.00am flight and we found out that they sat on the plane for over 7 hours on the tarmac waiting to fly out…they finally flew out at 3pm and arrived in Changchun at 5.00pm and then had to catch a bus to Jilin that takes 1.5 hours. We also found out that out plane that was meant to depart at 10.30am, departed Beijing at 5.45pm! Although the train trip of 7 hours is long, it beats sitting on the tarmac or at the airport waiting 9-10 hours to fly out!
We departed the hotel at 12noon and went for lunch at the Pizza Hut, which was next to Beijing Railway Station. The weather is absolutely horrendous to say the least and definitely made the right decision. It was bucketing down rain all day and can understand why everything had been delayed or cancelled.
It definitely was an experience catching the train from Beijing Station!! The bus dropped us off opposite the station where we had to walk over a bridge to the Station…in pouring rain!! We then had to stand in a long line with literally 3000+ people to get our passports and tickets checked before then lining up again to go through security. We then had to travel up some escalators to the departure hall where again you lined up with 2000+ people to go through the next security checkpoint before boarding the train. We were in carriage 14 of 15 and had to up the pace to make the train with no less than 2 minutes to go looking like drenched rats!! All of us and our luggage was totally soaked and will have to dry out our stuff when we arrive in Jilin later tonight.
The “Fast train” that we are travelling on is actually quite good. We managed to get 3 players into first class where they had an opportunity to have reclining lounge chairs like on a plane, but probably better! We put the players that have had niggles and haven’t been well (Kicks, Tommy and Wags) up the front so they could stretch out more and relax…Tommy Greer has done an awesome job looking after the group and those 3 owe him big time!
The rest of us are at the very back of the train but there are no complaints from anyone. The seats are quite comfortable and the legroom is much better than on the train and as mentioned everyone is able to get up and walk around and have a stretch. There is also food on the train if liver and chicken feet is what you like to eat!
This train that we are on is 16 carriages long and is humming along at a mere 248km/hour to be exact! I went for a walk along through the carriages and it is totally full with no spare seats and with actual people sitting in some of the walkways… I am estimating that there are about 1200 – 1300 people on this train!
Day 6 – Game 2 in Jilin
One of the best methods of recovery is sleep, so after a long day of travel, we let the guys have a really good sleep in and have a late brekkie at 9.30am.
Post brekkie, we had a 30-minute review session to go through some of the breakdowns from the previous game. We know in hindsight that we could have won this game so we are pretty determined to make amends and win game 2. With saying that, we still did a hell of a job considering we had no scout, didn’t know who was playing for the opposition and also that was our first game as a group.
At our shoot around at 11.30am, we went through the Chinese players offences and refined how we were going to defend different situations and also make some adjustments to what we are doing offensively…hopefully this can help us win tonight’s game!
With China having a large squad at the moment, they have given us a list of 17 names so we were not quite sure who will be playing and probably wont know until just before tip off. Our team of 10 players are battered and bruised but no matter what happens we will have a go for sure.
The city of Jilin is quite a pretty city. It is located way up in the Northeast part of China near the North Korean and Russian borders. It is extremely cold in winter where it gets down to -25 degrees and in summer into the mid 30’s so they have big variances through the year. Right now we are in the middle of their summer so it was hot in the stadium for our shoot around. The stadium holds about 8000 people and are expecting a good crowd for tonight’s game and with the TV being streamed on CCTV5 in China, we are expecting millions to watch the game across the country.
The drive to the stadium takes about 20-25 minutes depending on traffic, so we scheduled to depart the hotel at 5.30pm so we could arrive about 90 minutes before tip off where everyone could prepare in their own different way. I’m not sure what happened but we didn’t depart until 5.36pm and when we got to the stadium, the bus driver (due to traffic) had to do a couple of laps of the venue to try and get access. By this time, it was well after 6pm so we got the Bus driver to stop on the main road outside the stadium where we unloaded all of the gear and walk about 200m to the venue.
We all finally got to our change room at 6.20pm, which only gave the guys about 25 minutes before I had to do my pre game address and get them out on the floor for official formalities.
We got the team list about 6.50pm and found out that they were suiting up 15 players this game including 2 of their stars Guo Ailun and Han Dejun. (Guo Ailun was the first ever Chinese player to sign a big shoe contract with Jordan Brand.) He has a real swagger about him and can flat out play and has an uncanny way of getting to the rim…he is one of the leading scorers in the Chinese National team averaging about 18ppg. Han Dejun is an absolute monster standing at 216cms and 145kgs. He is a very good passer and sets huge screens and makes big targets in the paint!
The atmosphere at the stadium was great and very loud. Not sure of the exact numbers but it was close to a sell out…but the thing that stood out the most to me was how bloody hot it was in there. The heat and humidity was off the charts and I was sweating from head to toe. I honestly don’t know if there was any air conditioning in the stadium, it was that bad!!
It would have been a lot worse for the players and know doubt it made it hard to play at times. The players were constantly toweling themselves down and drinking copious amounts of fluid and I have no doubt that some of the bad passing and ball handling was due to the sweat on the ball and bodies…they were regularly replacing the ball through out the game.
On that note, FIBA uses Molten basketballs, which are very good basketballs when they are WORN in! (We use Wilson basketballs in Australia where the CBA use Nike basketballs)
Now the issue we are having here (and it goes for both teams so there is no excuses) is that every basketball that is being new is brand new and have not been worn in. The balls have a “waxy” feeling on the outside and as soon as sweat gets on the ball it becomes slippery and I believe that this is part of the issue with the passing and ball handling errors in the games for both teams.
We started quite sluggishly in this game and it took a little bit to get going. However, we matched their physicality which took China out of their offence nicely…unfortunately Jesse Wagstaff had a head clash and split his left eye open, but luckily didn’t need stitching.
The adjustments that we made on how we were defending the shooters in particular was really pleasing and we created some real confusion for the Chinese team. We were dictating the game through our defence and did a really good job of isolating the big guy Han Dejun, which allowed us to go to half time with a nice 6-point margin.
Second half started exactly the way I thought it would…we picked up 4 very quick fouls in the first 3 minutes of the quarter putting China into the bonus very early. We then had to play a little bit more conservative as we were getting in foul trouble but still managed to be up by 2 points at ¾ time.
Then the floodgates opened!! We made some poor turnovers and gave up some transition points. China went to a zone and we went cold from the perimeter. We had LOTS of open looks but we simply didn’t make any open shots. China went on to blow the game out down the stretch by 14 points, but there is no way that the margin reflected the game. We were in control for most of the game and simply were gassed in the final quarter and the players were quite filthy that we lost this game by that margin.
We finally got out of the stadium after having to wait for China to get on their bus first as they had parked us in…(after each game there is a Post game Media conference. The opposition normally goes first, which in this case took about 5 minutes. However, China went second and their pressers normally go for 15-20 minutes so we had to wait for them!!)
Day 7 – On the Road Again!
What a long day today was to say the least.
We were all up about 7ish for breakfast and on the bus at 8am for a 2 hour drive from Jilin to Changchun for a 11.00am flight to Guangzhou in the south of China.
We were booked on the same flight with Team China, so trying to be clever we sent 2 of our Chinese helpers to Changchun Airport very early to see if they could book some exit rows and aisle seats for our players so they could have more legroom on the 4.5hour flight. Unfortunately, this did not work (and probably wasn’t necessary) as Team China were flying Business and Premium economy any way…lol. We managed to get 3 exit row seats and everyone else was jammed into the back of the plane for what was a very uncomfortable flight.
We touched down into Guangzhou and waited about 45 minutes for our bags to finally come through (most of them wet due to the bad weather…this time of the year there are a lot of storms and rain in the region).
Guangzhou airport is a MASSIVE airport so we had to walk a fair way to find our bus and finally got on the road to drive to the city of Dongguan in the Guangdong province. Normally this drive takes about an hour but again due to the weather it took over 2 hours before we arrived into Dongguan.
So from go to whoa it took us 11 hours before finally getting to chill out in our hotel…and the great thing about this, not one person in the touring party complained about anything at any stage…everyone is taking it in their stride.
Day 8 – Final Game of the trip
Again we let the boys sleep in to maximize recovery and did a video session to look at areas that we need to get better in. It was obvious we had some breakdowns defensively with our transition and containing their penetration and know that we have to get better in these areas.
Offensively we were actually good for most part of it but were let down by our shooting in the previous game.
The boys were quite flat at shoot around and understandably so after the last few days of games and travel. We made a decision to sit Jesse out for the game as he has had slight niggle in his back after hurting it lifting weights a couple of weeks ago…he is fine and could play if we needed him to but we all believed after the intense travel and 2 games in 4 days that the best thing for him to do is rest it to help with preparing him for the next Boomers camp in a couple of weeks time. (so all Perth fans…stop stressing, he is ok!!)
We made some very minor changes in what we are going to do in Game 3 with being a bit more aggressive with our trapping and getting the guys to play with more of a “swagger” and look to shoot the ball with more freedom.
Before the game, it was great to catch up with some old basketball friends from Australia in Nik Popovic and Craig Simpson…both of these guys have been working in China for many years now and live in the area. Nik in fact was with the Boomers for many years and has worked with Brian Goorjian for best part of 10 years if not longer.
The stadium we are playing at is huge and is the home court for Guangdong Southern Tigers, which is the number 1 team in the CBA and has won many CBA titles over the years. The stadium is quite new and holds 16000 people, however tonight there was about 6-7000 at the game.
It was quite humid in the stadium and we took some advice from a good friend of mine Rachel Coxon on how to minimize the sweat on our hands so we could grip the ball properly!! Who would have ever thought about applying hairspray on your hands?? And guess what…it worked a treat so big shout out to Rach!
Most of our players applied it before the game and also wore wrist bands to stop the sweat from getting on the hands.
Although we were only suiting up 9 players for the game v China who were playing 12-16 players and in much better shape than us physically, there was a good feel within in the group and a lot of talk about “we are not going to lose this game no matter what”!! Our intent was to come out and match all physicality that was thrown at us and not take a backward step or except anything cheap if it happened.
We started the game well with some great defence and really matched them on the boards and winning a lot of loose balls which allowed us to run a bit more than previous games. We switched our defences a lot, which really confused them and our ball movement was much better and we started to get a really good understanding of what I wanted out there from the team.
As everyone back home (and even at the game) could see, the officiating was a real WOW factor at times and at one stage the foul count was 27-11 with an enormous amount of mystery calls being made. With all credit to our guys, they just sucked it up and kept playing hard determined to win the game. Every player that hit the court played their butts off and as asked of before the game, we played with a real “swagger” and we came away with a well deserved win.
We only had a couple of days to prepare for this 3 game series and I cant thank the entire playing roster for allowing me to coach them and introduce a different outlook on how I coach Basketball. They were tremendous on and off the court and we will share many great memories from this trip.
A huge shout out to the incredible staff of Mick Downer, Nick Harrison,
Brett Havercroft who all worked tirelessly throughout the tour and made it so enjoyable.
Without the vision, support and belief of Larry Kestleman in growing the NBL brand in China and his staff of Justin Kestleman, Tommy Greer, Guy Neville and Alan Yang this trip would not be possible.
Last but not least it was absolutely fantastic to have Liz Smith from CPA Australia to be part of our group and to be in the trenches with us through the thick and the thin.