Back in Vegas


Jude P. Roque

It’s that time of the year when my team travels to the United States for its annual summer training. For the fourth straight year, the San Beda College Red Lions are training at the Impact Basketball Center of renowned hoops guru Joe Abunassar in Las Vegas, Nevada. This time however, the reigning National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champs will spend just one week in Vegas before heading to Irvine, California for a second camp, the one of another respected trainer named Jordan Lawley.

Abunassar boasts of a stellar list of Impact alumni that includes Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Al Harrington, Kyle Lowry, DeMarcus Cousins, Kristaps Porzingis, Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas. In 2014, the Lions trained alongside Chinese star Yi Jianlian. Coach Joe considers the Bedans as among his favorite students because of their enthusiasm in training. Ateneo is the other regular client of Impact. Last week, the National University (NU) Bulldogs trained under Impact for the first time. Curiously, former San Beda coach Jamike Jarin is now at the helm of NU’s basketball program.

I arrived in Sin City last Thursday with returning Red Lions mentor Boyet Fernandez to attend the Nike Championship coaching clinic at The Orleans hotel. Close to a thousand coaches from all over the world attended the clinic, which is among the largest and most popular in the United States. I saw other Filipino coaches there like NU assistants Danny Ildefonso, John Ferriols and Ricky Reyes, and La Salle Greenhills’ Anton Brodett. The 3-day clinic featured some of the best and most successful college coaches in the US namely West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan, Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger, Kansas State’s Bruce Weber, San Diego State’s Steve Fisher, Akron’s Keith Dambrot, University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ (UNLV) Marvin Menzies and Colorado’s Tad Boyle. Also in the line-up is three-time WNBA champion coach Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx.

Dambrot gave the attendees his pre-season and pre-practice drills that range from shooting drills to defensive workouts. Weber shared several drills on rebounding as well as some out-of-bounds plays and “last-second winners.” Huggins explained his philosophy on pressure defense that made the Mountaineers the top team in steals and forced turnovers in the NCAA’s Big 12 Conference last season.

Huggins mentioned something interesting in the clinic – “players today have become bigger, faster, stronger and better than ever. But they don’t play the game like we used to. They’re not making good decisions like we did back then.” He said that players from years back were smarter and read the game better. Today’s players simply rely on their talent and athleticism. He may have a point.

Two-time WNBA coach of the year Reeve presented some of her championship offensive sets that made her the winningest mentor in the league by percentage. The Lynx won the WNBA plum in 2011, 2013 and 2015 under Reeve.

Retired basketball drillmaster Ryan from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers squad talked about his time-tested transition defense that made him a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year awardee. Kruger, the current chief bench tactician of the University of Oklahoma discussed the “Sooner man-to-man” offensive philosophy that brought wonders to the Sooners’ campaign in the last six years. Oklahoma entered the NCAA’s Final Four last year but bowed to eventual titlist Villanova in the semis.

2011 Naismith Coach of the Year Fisher for his part taught the audience about his idea of building one’s defensive philosophy. He was the same coach that took over the University of Michigan varsity’s coaching chores during the final week of the 1989 NCAA regular season after Bill Frieder was fired for taking the Arizona State coaching job for the following year. Fisher went on to lead the Wolverines to the 1989 NCAA crown. Former NBA star Glenn Rice was the best player in that team.

Boyle spoke about how he built the University of Colorado’s basketball program since getting the job in 2010. He was a former USA Basketball team assistant coach. Menzies gave the coaches a showcase of practice drills he uses for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. He was a long-time coach for New Mexico State.

It’s good to be back in Vegas.


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