Q&A with Eric Musselman
Coach Eric Musselman is the current coach of the Venezuelan Mens basketball team currently charged with qualifying his team for the 2012 London Olympics. As if that was not enough pressure he has to do this in front of the home fans as the OQT is being held in Caracas.
He recently took time out to talk to SuperSport.
Coach first of all, thank you very much for taking time out from your busy schedule to speak with us here in Africa. We are very honoured and will get right to it.
Coach you have tons of experience. I believe you have coached in the NBA with the Kings, Grizzlies, Warriors, Hawks, and Magic. Before that you were groomed under your Father Bill Musselman at the Timberwolves after he gobbled you up from the CBA. There you still remain the only Coach to have ever coached in five of it's All Star games. Your winning percentage of 946 /.53-3 remains the highest ever in the USBL.
Like we said you have experience.
But you are also smart having made the West Coast Athletic Conference All-Academic squad three times in your own career. That established dare we start off by asking “Why Venezuela and what are some of the unique hurdles you have faced there in comparison to the ones you faced in the US throughout your career?
Coach Musselman FIBA basketball is very different than the NBA in many ways. This will be my third year in FIBA and I feel much more comfortable with the rules and style.
I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Venezuela National Team. As a coaching staff last year, we truly loved how hard the players competed for us – not only in games, but in in practices as well. All of the people with the Venezuelan Basketball Federation, starting with Carmelo Cortez, have treated us so well and try to do everything they can to help make us successful.
A unique hurdle is the language barrier, though I feel it is actually a blessing because it makes a coach a better teacher. You must demonstrate more, and your verbal delivery to the team must be very clear.
In normal situations, teams use an interpreter when there is a language barrier. However, I do not believe in that. I have a philosophy that it is much better for my point guard to interpret the English to Spanish, and that it is more meaningful because the message comes from a teammate. A few years ago when we were with the Dominican Republic, Ronald Roman did the interpreting. Last year, both Greivis Vasquez and David Cubillan did the interpreting. They actually become like two extra coaches, and it forms a special bond with the coaching staff.
Under you the Venezuelan team has flourished and is now ranked 22nd in the World. You now take your team up against a diverse group that includes both West Africans and East Europeans. Lithuania is ranked 5th in the World and are a known power. But how do you prepare for Nigeria that though ranked ahead of you at 21, is still relatively unknown and logistically so far away? It must be a scouting nightmare.
Scouting has been difficult, but we have a great staff. Brad Greenberg and Scott Adubato have been gathering as much information as possible on both Nigeria and Lithuania. We will be as prepared as a team can be. Having said that, we are more concerned with our own identity and style of play. Last year in Argentina, we were the highest scoring team by 10 points a game and want to continue to play up-tempo basketball. The players responded well to our "open offense, run-and-shoot" philosophy
Your key players have been weaned in the US and play the American form of basketball as opposed to the European that is more internationally acceptable. Vasquez the teams propeller was once one of the deadliest gunslingers in the ACC .On fire he is virtually unstoppable even now in the NBA. How do you blend theses two styles in together with the local one and create a good end product?
Coach Musselman Our style of play fits our personnel. We want to get the ball in the hands of our guards Greivis Vasquez and David Cubillan, and we ask our wings, John Cox, Yorman Zamora, Jose Vargas and Oscar Torres, to run the floor hard. Our bigs, such as Windi Graterol and Jose Bravo, are very active players who must range rebound. Plus, our players have bought in 100 percent with the commitment it takes to being a high scoring team. We are a team that relies on our offensive scoring spurts.
Can Venezuela win the group or will a top two finish to move on in the tournament, be just as good?
Coach Musselman We would like to somehow advance out of our pool, though, we realize that both Nigeria and Lithuania are ranked higher than we are in FIBA world rankings. So we will be the underdog in our pool, but we have great belief and faith as a team
Who from the Lithuanian and Nigerian teams now gives you restless nights or do you still sleep like a baby?
Coach Musselman We are concerned with many players from both Nigeria and Lithuania, and we understand rosters can be flexible as the tournament gets closer. The sleepless nights happen more frequently once we get closer to the Pre-Olympics.
In a country that is more Football crazy than Basketball, how important is it for you to have the local fans come out and support the home cooking? Or does that term even exist?
We are very excited to play in front of our home fans in Venezuela. Caracas is a vibrant city and will be a great host for the tournament.
We have loved playing in front of the Venezuela fans. They have great passion and enthusiasm. Last year as a team we watched the Venezuela national team in soccer (fútbol) at many of our team meals. Our basketball players took great pride in watching the soccer team do well last summer.
Every team that hosts a FIBA event and gets to play in front of their home crowd takes extra pride.
Coach a big ‘thank you’ again for taking time out to answer all our questions. We pray to have you with us again as the competition unfolds. For all of us here at SuperSport, we wish you and your team all the best, an injury free tournament and hopefully a ticket to London.