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Coach Lipe on future plans at London United

Coach Lipe took over as Head of the Academy Programme last summer amid unprecedented times of a worldwide pandemic. Read below as he discusses his experience so far and thoughts about the next upcoming season. 

You have been working with London United for the past 9 months. It must have been a very testing period for you due to the Covid 19 restrictions. How difficult was it for you to start working under such difficult and unprecedented circumstances? 

These last 9 months have been very intense to me. All my life has changed radically: I’m living in a new country, with a different language, different people, different culture and in the middle of a strange moment in the society. I miss my family, my niece, my friends…However, despite of that, I’m really happy here, with a new big project and learning things every day. 

When I first arrived here, it looked like we would be able to start the season. But just before we were due to start the league, in November, Basketball England postponed the season again until January. We had been working hard to be ready to start the games prepared and suddenly everything was postponed. We didn´t give up and kept playing friendly games when restrictions allowed and training even harder. After Christmas, worse new came to us: a new lockdown forced Basketball England to cancel the whole season.  That was a hard announcement, because schools and sport halls would be closed until March, and we couldn’t train as a team for three months. During this time, we supported our players to keep training individually outside, with the cold, rain, wind and even, snow. This situation has made us stronger and has shown our gains of training and improved our players.  

We are now training normally, with high intensity, but are restricted from playing games. We are looking forward to starting to play games. I hope that this will be on the 19th of May, with a local league. In addition, we have important international tournaments set to play during the whole summer.   

How do you find the team now?  What has changed in the team and the players since you met them? 

I think we are a different team than when we started to train. Some of our players had never played organized basketball before, just in the parks, and others had played in teams but at a very low level. We had to start from zero, with very basic things. All the players made a very big effort during this time. They want to learn, they work every day to be better. It’s a shame, because if some of them would have started to train earlier, now they would be much better players.  

We are learning to play as a team, sharing the ball, understanding that basketball is a collective game, and if you work for your teammates, it will be better for you. We are far from being a top European team, but I’m sure that we are working in a good way. 

Can you explain the main points of your agreement with Movistar Estudiantes? 

The agreement with Estudiantes has different points, all of them very interesting. We want to import its basketball philosophy and methods of player development. Estudiantes is one of the most important basketball player factories in Europe. Many professional players have started there, some of them playing in the NBA, Euroleague and ACB. We are working according to its method, improving our players to make them the best players they can be, hopefully some of them becoming pro players.  

We will send some players to train in Spain with Movistar Estudiantes, and there they will be able to check the level of the best players in Europe. This year we will send three players to Madrid to do tryouts, and if they are interested in some of them, they will stay there for the next season. We will do this every season, sending prospect players there.  

In our agreement are included other activities, like summer camps including Spanish coaches coming here, international trips to Madrid and Movistar Estudiantes U18 team participating in the Future Stars Tournament.  

How are you finding British players in terms of their natural talent and understanding of the game? 

In this country, you can find incredible players. The more I see the potential you can find here the more I’m convinced that it was a very good decision coming here. Physically, British players can be some of the more powerful in all Europe. They have very good size and are very coordinated, with very good feet and hands. Technically they are good, but I think that their biggest problem is the understanding of the game. They are used to watching NBA basketball. I’m not saying that watching NBA is wrong, but it’s not the basketball they play, they play FIBA basketball. NBA has different rules, and its way of playing basketball is different. You can´t compare a youth player with a NBA player, and some British players think that the only way to play basketball is playing like NBA. This makes players over dribble and take impossible shots that they are not prepared to take. The game is more individual.  

When I arrived here, most of my players didn´t know any Euroleague team or players. That’s really bad, because if you don´t know any of them, how could you learn how to play their basketball? We are teaching them the FIBA basketball culture, and they are starting to love that basketball.  

Last season was cancelled due to Covid restrictions so perhaps your view of British basketball is somehow limited. However, please try to make an initial assessment of British basketball and the main differences between the organization of the British game and the Spanish one? 

Here there are better things than in Spain and other things that are worse. For instance, the idea of academies in Spain is not as developed as it is here. In Spain you go to a normal school and in the afternoon you go to train with your team. This team can belong to your school or be an independent club. Here, basketball is integrated into the school. That means that you can train more days a week and more hours than in Spain. Normally, a high level youth team in Spain can train three or four days a week, one hour of S&C and one hour and a half of basketball. Lately some elite clubs are including individual training once or twice a week, but only a few of them. Here we train every day (five days a week) one hour of S&C, one hour of shooting or individual training and two hours of basketball. At the end of the week, you are training up to 8 hours more than a team in Spain, which means 32 hours more a month, and this should pay off at the end of the season. Furthermore, the league between academies played on Wednesdays make the teams compete twice a week, once more than in Spain.  

However, the negatives include the organization of the leagues is better set in Spain. Regional federations take care of the referees and the proper organization of the competition. Here you call your own referees for your home games, which in Spain is unthinkable. Other things that surprised me is that after the end of the season, your players can go to make tryouts with other teams. For them this is a normal thing, but for me this is really strange. This is one thing I’d like to change in our club.  

What should British players and clubs do to be more visible on the European scene? Do you think that British basketball can join mainstream European basketball anytime soon? 

As I said before, in this country you can find people that look made to play basketball. The problem is some of them never start to play proper organized basketball, or they start to play serious basketball when they are sixteen years old or even older. If we could make them start to play when they are seven, eight or nine years old, Great Britain would be one of the most powerful basketball countries in Europe. This could be achieved with better promotions and organization in schools and activities in parks. In fact, there are many parks with basketball courts everywhere, and a lot of people playing there. I’m talking about very easy things, like going to schools, doing fun introductory sessions interesting for kids at a young age. Showing them the benefits of basketball, or organizing Minibasket days, where school teams compete between them in a day with prizes, music and demonstrations, becoming a very fun day to all of them.  With better promotion, we could make them to play in proper teams and increase exponentially the number of licenses in GB. I’m sure that if young children try proper basketball, a lot of them will fall in love with it. 

If you have a bigger number of properly coached players at the grassroots level, you’ll have a bigger number of players in high school and in senior leagues with experience of organized basketball which will make the level of the leagues improve. If you improve the level, you’ll have more visibility, and more sponsors, more investment and you could reach more young players across the country. It’s a fact, the more players you have, the more opportunities to find better players, and I can assure you that in this country there could be plenty of good basketball players. Of course, it sounds easy, but it should be a process of years. But proper coaching at lower level is the key to this process. 

What do you feel are the main restrictions affecting the growth of British basketball? 

One of the restrictions that affect to the growth of British basketball is the lack of prepared coaches. I’m not saying the coaches here are bad coaches, of course not. In fact, some incredible coaches like Nick Nurse started his career here. But I can feel that some of the coaches don’t think about the future of the players, just in the present. In youth categories, you can find teams playing sets, plays, screens, pick and roll and a lot of crazy things, while they cannot even dribble, pass, shoot or finish around the rim properly. The approach for young ages should be about individual technique (dribbling, shooting, passing, finishes…) and spacing to allow them to play one on one (taking care of the number of dribbles and learning when their option is over and must pass the ball). We should teach them to read when to attack, pass or shoot, and base the game in one on one with proper spacing, making the other players react to the ball and to the defense. We shouldn’t teach them closed plays with one hundred screens or picks. If the players don´t learn how to read the best options when they are young, they won’t have a proper IQ when they grow up.  

The other thing I see is teams playing nonaggressive zone defense throughout almost full games. If you play this kind of defense in high level basketball you are dead, but some people use it because they know that the other team will miss the long shots. Okey, it means that you are playing just for winning, not for improving your players. Your players won’t be able to play one on one defense in the future, but you’ll win this game. Is it worth it? Some people should think of what they are doing with their players in terms of their future development rather than to get an easy win. 

I’m sure these are two of the worst things I have seen here, and I’m really concerned of the future of these players because they will have wasted very important years of their formation focusing not on important things, leaving aside the most important parts in basketball. Another issue is the ease of players to switch teams at the end of the season which again does not encourage clubs to invest in young players. 

What do you expect for the next season? 

Basically, I expect we can play a normal season, with all the games and no stops. I’d like to check how much we have improved and if we are ready to play against the strongest teams in England. I’m also wishing to start to travel around Europe with this team, playing international competitions and knowing new people and new basketball. And, of course, I would like to share our coaching philosophies with a wide network of coaches across the country. 

We have a lot of good projects in London United and I’m looking forward to starting all of them. 

For more information on our Academy Programme click here. 

To contact Coach Lipe please email lipecg@futurestars.eu