Aito Garcia Reneses was head coach (and general manager) of Barcelona (Spain) for many years, where his teams won three Division I championships, three Spanish Cups, one King’s Cup, two FIBA Europe, and two Korac Cups. Since 2003, Coach Reneses was head coach of Badalona (Spain), where his teams won one FIBA Europe (2006), one King’s Cup (2008), and the ULEB Cup (2008). He was awarded Coach of the Year of the ULEB Cup 2007/2008. In 2008, he coached the Spanish National team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, winning the silver medal. He has been the head coach of Unicaja Malaga since 2008.
At the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the Spanish team played poorly and lost the gold medal to the team from the United States. The American players were all university students and 21 years old, on average. In 1992, in Barcelona, the USA was represented for the first time by a team comprised of NBA players. This team, made up of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and other champions, crushed all of their opponents and easily won the gold medal. To this day, the team is known as the “Dream Team.”
Since that time, other American teams, which also included NBA players, were called the Dream Team, but when they played for international titles, they did not win. So much for the Dream Team name. Basketball around the world had greatly improved since 1992, and the Americans slowly began to realize that they needed to spend more time in preparation, working together as a team, in order to win in global competition.
No longer could they depend on power, strength, quickness, and a week or two of team preparation. They had to play tough defense. They had to work as a team. This decided lack of preparation was evident when the Americans again lost, this time in the semifinals of the 2004 FIBA World Championships to Argentina. Still not understanding that more time had to be spent over the course of a year working together, the Americans and their NBA stars lost again, this time to Spain in a game for fifth place at the 2006 FIBA World Championships. The tournament was played in Indianapolis, Indiana and home-town fans got to see that Team USA and their NBA players were no longer the best in the world.
At the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, the U.S. national team recovered part of their lost supremacy, succeeding in beating Spain in the gold medal final. We have to admit that, playing with the FIBA rules, the NBA players were somewhat at a disadvantage -but not completely because some referees were liberal in their interpretation of some rules, like the travelling violation, for example. In the future, the complete unification of the rules will bring many advantages.
The NBA has introduced new rules, like the zone defense, and many teams are trying to adapt it and make it part of their standard repertoire. The adoption of the zone indicates that the NBA has admitted and recognized that its game was becoming too individualistic (too many one-on-ones) and was losing the fundamental characteristic of our sport, which is team work.
In the last article I wrote with Sito Alonso (head coach of Joventut Badalona and former assistant coach of Aito, n.d.r.) for FIBA Assist (volume 32), we analyzed the moments of relaxation that players often take for themselves during the game, instead of giving their best on the court and resting when they are on the bench. When it comes to former NBA players now playing in Europe, this attitude is a consequence of the importance that they give to one-on-one play. Unfortunately, their other four teammates typically stand around and wait for something to happen, instead of being actively involved in the offense. We know in the game that is typically played in Europe and the rest of the world, for that matter, team work is fundamental, with players concentrating on movement without the ball on offense and helping each other out on defense.
Many former NBA players, who come to Europe without a good long-range shot are surprised to find that zone defenses effectively clog up the paint area and they cannot drive to the basket like they used to in the United States. In order to succeed in Europe, they have to change their style of play, become more integrated into the team offense concept, and reshape themselves to best help their team. Unfortunately, some players do not have sufficient humility to do this, or perhaps, to even understand why it is necessary that they make changes in their game.
Surely, the American players will eventually come to recognize the mistake in this type of thinking and they will eventually take their place as the best players in the world. In Europe, we have to learn from the many problems encountered by American players and American national teams over the past 16 years and do our best to avoid them. By doing so, we can be assured that we will continue to improve -and grow- our own unique style of basketball.