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How basketball players are groomed in Spain vs. USA

Sep 6, 2011, 10:21 PM EDT

Pau Gasol Spain

Right now, Spain is the second best basketball nation in the world. They are the defending silver medalists from the Beijing Olympics, they have the second best professional league in the world. They remain the favorites at EuroBasket heading into the second round.

And they are producing some of the best players in the world — Pau and Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jose Calderon, and more.

It’s how they are producing them that is interesting. Dan Grunfeld — who was the leading scorer for Stanford a few years back, had a tryout with the Knicks and has played overseas — has had a first hand look at how Spain builds players. Which he wrote about at SB Nation in a post worth reading (those Stanford guys can write).

“If you’re looking at Spain’s success on the basketball court, you have to start with their player development. How they teach the game, starting at a very early age, is pretty remarkable. It’s definitely different than my experiences growing up, when I played a lot of games on travel teams, school teams and AAU teams, without much organized time devoted to my individual development as a player.

“In Spain, young players don’t just play basketball, they learn basketball. It starts with the coaches, who need to be certified by the Spanish Basketball Federation….

I used to see these Spanish youngsters, anywhere from 8-14 years old, working out in my team’s gym, especially if I’d go in at night to get treatment from our crotchety old Spanish trainer. Once in a while, if our trainer needed a smoke break, I’d peek my head into the gym to watch them for a bit, and I was always kind of amazed. There would regularly be a whole team of players working with one coach. Their drills were serious and disciplined, without yelling or screaming or anything like that. Instead, the coaches would instruct and the players would listen, working on things like footwork, ball handling and shooting with the proper mechanics.

“These kids were learning and practicing key basketball basics, but they were also being taught important social lessons about the game. Without even knowing it, they were learning how to take direction. They were following instructions. They were listening. They were trusting their coach and applying his advice.”

It’s been said before that the AAU and high school system here in the United States gives American players a lot of court time but not the base of fundamentals. The traveling teams do not become about true coaching too often, but about exploiting the best talent. There are exceptions, there certainly are high school coaches out there trying to do the right thing.

But it is time we as a nation had a conversation about how to structure our youth basketball programs so it becomes about what is best for the young athletes and not what is best for the adults that run them (and the colleges that make a lot of money on them).

  1. ljl2 - Sep 6, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    I guess we are taking liberties with how we define “best” when it comes to “best players in the world” (see – Ricky Rubio)

    • craigw24 - Sep 7, 2011 at 12:48 PM

      1) Basketball started in the United States.
      2) Look at the comparative populations and weather in Spain vs the USA.

      We get by on talent and therefore feel we are the best. To think we have nothing to learn from the rest of the world is the height of hubris.

      We don’t have to copy another country, but we should be able to learn from them.

  2. cancionisimas - Sep 7, 2011 at 3:44 AM

    Spain this summer:

    GOLD MEDAL- U20 European Women Tournament
    GOLD MEDAL- U20 European Men Tournament
    SILVER MEDAL-U19 World Women Tournament
    GOLD MEDAL- U18 European Men Tournament
    BRONZE MEDAL- U18 European Women Tournament
    BRONZE MEDAL- U16 European Men Tournament
    GOLD MEDAL- U16 European Women Tournament

    I expect gold on Eurobasket too, but we’ll see…

    Ten years ago (when the team U19 with Navarro, Reyes, Pau Gasol (bench), Raul López and company won USA on the Wold tournament) we were a country not only behind USA, of course, but behind Serbia, Greece, France, Italy, Lithuania, Russia…

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