Inside the BCL: Life as an Assistant Coach with Ryan Pannone
JERUSALEM (Israel) - Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem is rolling. In it's first season in the Basketball Champions League, Jerusalem has already picked up road wins against fellow newcomers Bamberg and Fuenlabrada, collected the W in every home game and even took down the Champions AEK in Athens on Gameday 1.
Head Coach Oded Kattash has his team looking well-organized and fluent. And even when they aren't able to find their full flow, this is a team with the physical advantages to find ways to win, and the competitive edge to ensure that they do.
Da'Sean Butler and Tamir Blatt showing that hustle and competitive edge
As with every club, it takes more than one man to make the machine hum. Ryan Pannone is one of Oded Kattash's key right-hand men and a vital part of a coaching staff, that puts in countless unseen hours behind the scenes. When the Jerusalem fans are tucked up in bed after enjoying another big win in the Pais Arena, Pannone is burning the midnight oil, cutting video for the scout and preparing player development sessions for the players the next day. By the time those fans have woken up and started their day, he's already in the gym helping players get better on the court.
"It’s a unique profession that way. The amount of time it takes and the number of hours away from your friends and family can be really hard. Coaches across Europe are working 15-20 hours a day. The level of work ethic is incredible."
Pannone himself was a Head Coach with BC Prievidza in the Slovak Basketball League last season and understands what it's like to shoulder the responsibility. The tradeoff as an assistant is a relief from the overall burden of final decision making but with that relief, comes an increased workload in exchange.
"If you are playing twice or even three times a week, you are working for pretty much 10 months of the season without a day off. A day off for the team can be doing video on self-scout, opposition scout, individual videos and individual workouts. You always feel if you work all night to watch one more game, break down one more game, it’s going to give you that advantage to win."
Despite the extra workload, Pannone is also taking plenty of reward from working for Coach Kattash.
"Coach is such a unique person, I have never worked with anyone like him. The thing that makes him great to work for, is that he trusts us a coaching staff. He gives us a voice and delegates the jobs based on the strengths of his staff."
The trust in that relationship is clearly bearing fruit. One of Pannone's strengths is a background in elite player development. After an early coaches meeting revealed the priority that Coach Kattash places on offensive rebounding, he took note.
"When I first spoke to Coach, he told me that he wanted to send all five guys to the glass. He really wanted to be an aggressive rebounding team. In Prievidza last season, we lead the league in rebounding but you know, you don't hear that often."
Rebounding may not be the most glamorous part of the game. It is, however, a winning skill and the results of that focus are there for all to see - Hapoel Jerusalem lead the Basketball Champions League in Offensive Rebound Percentage* and are currently second in Total Rebounding Percentage*.
Pannone's journey to reach Jerusalem and his focus on player development, have been intrinsically linked since the start of his career. After declining opportunities to play Division II NCAA basketball, Pannone took a job in a mortgage lending company with his High School coach. At the same time, he was helping as an Assistant Coach in the High School he'd just graduated from. He quickly realized the path he wanted to take.
"At 20 years old, I decided I wanted to do Basketball full time so I reached out to a local coach called David Thorpe. He was a player development coach with some NBA clients. I started with him as an intern and he felt I was doing a good job of working with his players. So, at 20 years old, I started working with him preparing players for the NBA Draft and working with his veteran guys. He's a genius when it comes to player development, I still use his philosophy's to this day."
From working out NBA players, Pannone's path took him to China to work for Joe Whelton in the CBA. Following his time in China, he was back in the USA with David Thorpe and the G League with the Erie Bayhawks. Then finally arriving in Europe. This is in fact, his second stop in Jerusalem. The common factor along the pathway - whether as a Head Coach or Assistant - has been his belief in the value of player development.
"To me, player development and team coaching are connected. Player development wins games. You can run the best set to get a player an open shot off a screen, but if the player doesn’t have the right footwork, good balance and many of the other tiny factors that can come into play in player development, his chances of making the shot decrease significantly."
Amar'e Stoudemire putting the work in pre-game with Coach Pannone
"Player development is often thought of in relation to younger guys on the team but player development really applies to every player on the team. How do you make every guy better? "
When you look at the development of a player like Josh Owens this season, it's not hard to take the point. Owens currently leads the Basketball Champions League in Rebounds Per Minute. It would be easy to see the highlight dunks and assume that such an outstanding athlete, must have been an elite rebounder for most of his career. But in fact, his rebounding figures are career highs. After hearing Coach Kattash's focus on offensive rebounding and recognizing an opportunity to develop an area of Owens' game that could help the team win, Pannone and Owens got to work.
"Josh Owens is a player who is really good and he’s also a guy that has potential and upside to be an elite level rebounder. He has the athleticism, the body, the work ethic, the focus, he has everything imaginable. He's also just a very high-level person. At times in his career, he's been a good rebounder, at times he's been an average rebounder. So, Josh and I decided to break down film on some of the best rebounders in Europe to understand what they do and see what he can add skill-wise. So far Josh has been excellent."
Owens himself also recognized the impact of Pannone's attention to detail and work in the film room.
"He always ties it all together by incorporating helpful video sessions off the court. His dedication and attention to detail are incredible. We watched film from our competitions, but we also studied film he put together of the great rebounders around Europe. We studied different moves and tendencies and then started incorporating them into drills and practices," Owens said.
To explain what this looks like in the reality of professional basketball - where reducing the impact on a player's body is vital in-season - Pannone took us inside his process of integrating film sessions with his work on-court with Josh Owens and TaShawn Thomas. (For the coaches amongst you reading this, the drill diagrams are included and available to download from the video description)
"People often don’t realize. They think of offensive rebounding and rebounding in general as effort. It is effort, it is athleticism, but it’s also a skill. "
In this first video, he stresses the importance of developing a rebounders hands and reaction speed.
"Elite rebounders are able to snatch rebounds from over their head all the way down to their waist with their arms extended. We call these extensions catches."
From there, the next step is to develop the ability to tip the ball out to regain it. Then the application of "quick hands" and "extension catches" from the first video, to pull rebounds from outside the player's area.
In this final video, the focus is more on offensive rebounding and the timing of chasing a rebound from outside the paint.
What you see in these videos may not be the showtime that the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire and Josh Owens are capable of.
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Sick 😷 new edit by: @basketballcl . Still playing Pro Basketball ⛹🏾♂️ at a high level. @suns 🌞 peep this edit. Great pass from the @nbahistory 2x MVP @stevenash in Phoenix 🏜️, another strategic pass from @murderseason_aaf in Jerusalem 🕎 #StillBalling #Respect @fiba @jerusalembasket
And for sure, hard work and attention to detail go into producing those results as well. But in a high-pressured environment, where coaches are losing sleep to find minimal advantages that might help the team win, every detail matters. Even the biggest showpiece games are as often decided by an extended arm pulling an offensive board, as they are by clutch shots and poster dunks.
*Rebound Percentages measure the percentage of available rebounds that are secured by a team.
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