Inside the BCL: Life as an Assistant Coach with Luka Bassin
LJUBLJANA (Basketball Champions League) - Hard work. Unseen, often uncredited, and at times, unforgiving. These are not the words an average fan might use to describe the lifestyle for the coaches in the Basketball Champions League. Sure, there are rewards; there is the travel to different countries, there is the euphoria of buzzer-beating wins, the satisfaction of executing a game plan and there is the privilege of helping extremely talented people improve at what they love doing. But....., there is also the hours of hard work and sleep-loss that go into putting this show on the court.
Issuf Sannon putting the hard work into practice against Kevin Punter
In the second of a series of guest features designed to lift the lid on some of the BCL's unheralded heroes, we spoke to Luka Bassin. Luka was the first Assistant Coach at Petrol Olimpija last year but has been involved with the club for over ten years. Luka started as the Head Coach of Olimpija's youth teams in 2008, where he coached multiple future stars, including current Olimpija player Jan Špan and Klemen Prepelič a star for Slovenia's Eurobasket winning team and now of Real Madrid.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a coach?
"During my playing career I was lucky enough to be coached by many excellent coaches like Zmago Sagadin, Andrej Urlep, Aleš Pipan etc., and already from my time in the youth categories I was planning to be a coach. By the time I finished studying at the Faculty of Sports, I had started my coaching career at the same time as my playing career. Whilst I was coaching a High School team at Gimnazija Bežigrad, players like Boštjan Nachbar, Jan Vesely, Erazem and Domen Lorbek were also there.., So, in the morning I was their coach at School, while in the evening we played against each other when I was playing for my club team. It was a very interesting situation, to say the least."
So, of course they took it easy on their coach?
"Nope, they were coming at me hard and extra aggressive every time. I wouldn't have accepted anything less."
Having been an Assistant and a Head Coach, what would you say are the main differences?
"I would say that the Head Coach has a much bigger responsibility and carries the pressure, but Assistant Coaches need to do a lot more. There is less responsibility but you have to work much harder. For example last season, we knew from day one that we would be competing in four different competitions (BCL, Slovenian league, Slovenian Cup & ABA). That's around 80 games. Between December and mid-February, we played no less than 34 games in 78 days."
"It's probably hard for people who are not involved in the team to imagine how difficult and demanding it is to work like this. The typical day for the other assistant coach Igor KešeljI and myself would be; wake up call early in the morning, watching a game before breakfast, then we'd have an after breakfast video session with players, followed by organizing the morning shoot-around. We would eat and after lunch, we would be watching another game and making a scout report for next the opponent, then we were getting ready for the game, coaching the game and when the players are resting, we were watching another game on our way home and preparing another video session with the other coaches…It's non-stop, you are always working. Often in hotels and airports too. Unless you are with the team, it's hard to know what it's like to get through that during the long stretches."
People can see success for players on the court and the Head Coach on the sidelines, but so much of the assistant's work goes relatively unnoticed. What are the fruits of all that hard work?
"Every assistant coach's biggest challenge should be gaining the trust of the Head Coach and players. You do that with loyalty, hard work, and dedication. And also some good ideas on the court. During the season in Olimpija, I took satisfaction from many of my ideas being considered as good ideas by the Head Coach. Many of them we also translated into our games."
Would those ideas be suggestions for offensive and defensive schemes or adjustments during the game?
"It could be anything. We had a system in Olimpija where all the coaches contribute to everything. I can't say I am a specialist in any explicit way. I could have contributed to anything from player development with Issuf Sannon, to advanced scouting. I guess scouting opponents was always a responsibility for me. Scouting can be about finding the smallest adjustments at times. For example, in the next video, you see two clips of Olimpija from last season. In the first clip, you see one of our more common sets. We play a "fake" pick-and-roll on the sideline and swing the ball back to the PG to receive a "step-up" pick-and-roll. In the second clip, I had scouted Estudiantes and we knew that when they defend this action, they would try to deny the PG on the ball reversal. The suggestion was to flow straight into a hand off action. It worked really well for us."
Which club or player presented the toughest challenge to scout last season?
"If I talk about last season's Basketball Champions League, I would say that our group, with teams like Banvit, Strasbourg, Bayreuth, Estudiantes, Venezia and the winner of the league AEK, was the toughest group in the league. It was a huge challenge for us to play against teams with much higher budgets and try to beat them."
"I must mention the toughest player we played last year. His name is Gabe York from medi Bayreuth. He was in the NBA with the Orlando Magic this summer. He is an excellent shooter from spot up and off-ball screen situations, but also good when he creates for himself from pick-and-rolls. He is almost unstoppable in catch&shoot situations. In our first game in Ljubljana he scored seven 3-pointers (5 in the1st half) without putting the ball on the floor and Bayreuth won the game easily. We had a bad day. If he consistently has 3 meters of space, he will punish you and you definitely can't go under screens."
"In the second game, we were much more prepared. We were much more aggressive in the passing lanes and forced him to put the ball on the floor. In the first clip you saw that it was definitely an adjustment that made a difference but in the second clip, you see that a player like that can still hurt you even if you do all the right things."
"Other suggestions can be things like finding sets and actions from other teams. Coaches steal from each other all the time. Last season we needed a set to use against teams that like to "Drop" to defend the pick-and-roll. Whilst scouting we saw Rosa Radom use this awesome dribble hand off action in the BCL. It turned into a great action for us that we used all season.
Thank you for sharing those! So, are you coaching this season and are we going to see you back in the Basketball Champions League soon?
"Right now I am helping at Ilirija Ljubljana. I have some mixed feelings after being at Olimpia for so long. They are still "my team". But I am also happy to be out of my comfort zone and trying to find my own spot in the basketball world. I am sure that one day I'll be back at Olimpija...... At the end of the day, wherever I am, it's worth all the hard work. I believe that coaching is the most beautiful job. I do what I love and that's the perfect thing. Coaching offers you so many emotional moments and gives you unbelievable experiences. I come to practice each day very motivated and enjoy every second of it."
If you enjoyed the details and breakdowns in this article, Luka is constantly sharing basketball X's and O's and concepts on social media. Find him at @LukaBassin on twitter. Give him a follow and get in touch.
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