Inside the BCL - Life as an Interim Head Coach with Chris O'Shea
BONN (Germany) - After missing out on the Play-Offs in the previous two seasons, Telekom Baskets Bonn have finally made the breakthrough and advanced from the Group Stage in the Basketball Champions League.
However, with performances in the German BBL below par, the balance between success in continental and domestic competitions failed to materialize for Head Coach, Thomas Pach. Time is a commodity that Head Coaches in Europe are rarely afforded and with another disappointing result on Sunday, the club felt compelled to act, resulting in the familiar outcome of a coaching change.
Assistant Coach and Alaska native Chris O'Shea has been a figure of poise and equanimity for the club since he joined in 2015. During that time O'Shea has served the club as an Assistant Coach focused everything from scouting to player development. Having also completed a successful spell as Interim Head Coach last season, O'Shea now also finds himself in familiar territory with the responsibility of again guiding the good ship Bonn through turbulent waters.
O'Shea built a bond with Thomas Pach in his role as Assistant Coach
When you think of Basketball hotbeds, Alaska may not be the first place that springs to mind. For O'Shea, however, his Alaskan roots almost certainly helped shape his calm demeanor, and also connect him to an ever-increasing line of basketball success stories from The Land of the Midnight Sun.
"Brad Oleson is certainly one, Trajan Langdon and Mario Chalmers are from Alaska. Carlos Boozer is also from Alaska, he was coming up when I was in High School. I'm sure I'm also missing lots of great players."
Everybody has a different journey as a coach and mine is certainly different from others
After leaving Alaska to study Sports Management at Flagler College in Florida, a career in coaching arose more out of opportunity and a willingness to try the unknown, than from any design.
"It wasn't really my goal (coaching) coming out the college. I was finishing up my studies and working at the summer pro league in my last year and I met a coach who was working in Austria. He asked me if I was interested in coaching youth basketball in Austria. I was willing to go and take the chance and it kind of worked out."
What started out looking like an extended gap year coaching talented young players, ended up as an extended stay and an important foundation in O'Shea's professional coaching career, eventually leading him to his current post in Bonn.
"I was in the same Club in Austria for 12 years (Swans Gmunden). I ended up working as an assistant coach with Mathias Fischer who then became the head coach at Bonn. It was Mathias who took me to Bonn. Nothing was really planned, things just worked out. Everybody has a different journey as a coach and mine is certainly different from others."
Whilst in Austria, O'Shea also cut his teeth as a coach with several age groups of the National Team. Those summers with National Teams provided experiences that still serve him to this day.
"National teams were definitely a very big thing for me. I got very lucky and worked with some very talented generations from the 90 to the 95 born age groups."
With Jakob is not a surprise that he has done well in the NBA you could always tell he was very talented and a great guy
During the same period, Austria enjoyed some of their strongest crops of young players. Many of which have gone on to forge successful professional careers themselves.
"Mahalbasic was in the program during my first summer working for the federation as Delegation Leader with the under-20 team. He was in the big Austrian generation of 91 that won the European Division B Championships."
Rasid Mahalbasic played for EWE Baskets in the 17/18 BCL Season
"I worked (with the Austrian Federation) for six or seven years. I really was fortunate enough to work with some very talented young players. I also worked with Jakob Poeltl’s generation during his two summers."
Jakob Poeltl playing for Austria in the U18 Division B Championships, 2013
"With Jakob is not a surprise that he has done well in the NBA. You could always tell he was very talented and a great guy - a real hard worker. He is a fantastic first NBA player for Austria, just a great representation for the country."
Whilst it's true that not every National Team coach goes on to forge a professional coaching career, the lessons learned from sacrificing summers to work with younger generations are often invaluable at every level. During O'Shea's time as an Assistant Coach with Austria, opposition scouting was a regular task and also formed the basis of his role as the only assistant on Mathias Fischer's staff at Bonn.
"My main role was definitely video preparation for opponents and things like that. I was the only assistant at that time so I was kind of responsible for everything."
Scouting has continued to be a strong point for O'Shea but also one that has evolved with time, particularly in the delivery to players.
"I think my process, like many coaches, is to try and watch as many games as I can. When I'm watching the last three games I'm looking to see if statistically, they match up with what I'm seeing for the whole season. It's true that we demand players to be very focused during video sessions and walkthroughs but at the same time, we try not to give them too much."
And, the toughest team to scout so far this season? for O'Shea the answer was easy, Casademont Zaragoza.
"Zaragoza run a lot of stuff, it's not so easy to scout them because they do a great job of hiding calls. They also do a great job of disguising different actions and run a lot of plays right out of semi-transition that look similar but then they go into different things."
The first time I scout a team it can take anything from 10-20 hours, including watching games, cutting film and writing the report.
When working under the constraints of playing twice a week and preparing for a team like Zaragoza, O'Shea made the point that it's not possible to prepare players to remember everything a team does. Instead, O'Shea's process has evolved into finding ways to collapse the team video into individual videos.
"Normally we would show a video for every player because we like to combine our player videos with our team scouts. For example, with Zaragoza, we knew Brussino is a shooter so we would show what kind of sets they have with him running off screens. That's how we tried to do things, we aimed to combine the player tendencies with the main sets the player is used in."
As an example, O'Shea took us inside his scouting process for Nicolas Brussino this season. In particular, three clips of Zaragoza using the same action to attack with Brussino, but with the Argentine making different reads based on how the defense played him.
In this first clip, notice how Neptunas attempted to switch every screen to stay close. Brussino reads the coverage and sprints away from the screening action to the weak side, forcing #21 Simas Galdikas to switch out to him. Brussino takes advantage of the slower closeout from the bigger man and nails a deep three.
In this second clip, #23 Simons of Bonn has been tasked with staying attached and chasing over the screen. Again, Brussino expertly reads the play, accelerates out of the screen and curls into a jumper.
Then in the final clip, JDA Dijon had given #83 Axel Julien the unenviable task of stopping Brussino. This time Julien makes the fatal mistake of attempting to shoot the gap and go under the screen. Brussino gets his footwork in order, flares the cut, and nails another dagger from deep.
Whilst these videos are short and succinct with the aim of arming the players with the knowledge they need as efficiently as possible, there is no escaping the hours of work that go into preparing this kind of scout.
"Writing scouting reports is definitely not easy when you're playing two competitions. The first time I scout a team it can take anything from 10-20 hours, including watching games, cutting film and writing the report."
With O'Shea now installed as the interim Head Coach until a new man comes in, this workload isn't going to reduce.
"My mentality is just to do everything possible to help put the team in the best possible situation and mindset in order to win the game. My role might have changed but the approach to the game and preparation hasn’t."
Armed with the experience of taking a faltering Bonn team and guiding them to the Play-Offs in the German BBL last season, this time around its a situation that O'Shea feels better equipped for.
"As an assistant, you must always be prepared for every situation including ones like this. Considering I went through a similar situation last season, I’m more mentally prepared for the challenge."
Regardless of a feeling of increased readiness, the opportunity to gain further Head Coaching experience also comes with a feeling of mixed emotions.
"My main feeling is being disappointed that we are in such a situation where the club had to make such a decision. Thomas is a great person and has an unbelievable basketball mind. I greatly enjoyed working with him and was able to learn quite a bit in our time together."
By the time the officials throw the ball up for the opening tip in Thessaloniki tonight, the time for mixed feelings will be over. Professional sport may seem cutthroat but the truth is that there is no time to dwell. Whilst Bonn have qualified already, the result against PAOK will decide who secures that vital home-court advantage in the Play-Offs.
Geno Lawrence's experience will be vital for Bonn in the Play-Offs
This responsibility is clearly not lost on O'Shea and if anything, it has to be seen as an opportunity. O'Shea is clear about the way to attack his role, no matter how short-lived it's likely to be.
"It’s about having a mindset to compete and not give anything easy. In two days it’s not realistic to tactically change much. Rather my main goal, and our challenge as a team, is to do the things we want to do to the best of our abilities over the entire 40 minutes. As a group, it's about showing mental toughness in a difficult environment and understanding that during the tough phases it’s important to keep fighting and pushing each other in a positive way."
Telekom Baskets Bonn take on PAOK in Thessaloniki tonight. The last time these teams met, PAOK stole a close game by 2 points in Germany. With Chris O'Shea holding the reigns for Bonn it's certainly clear the Germans will be well prepared. A Victory secures home-court advantage in the Play-Offs and also brings the opportunity to lay some solid foundations and build confidence to repair a stuttering domestic campaign. Solid is exactly what O'Shea was for Bonn as an Interim leader last time he was thrust into this role. With shortened preparation time, a difficult road trip and turbulence ahead in the short term, Bonn are relying on him to excel in the same role again.