A long overdue post from the tournament I coached with the Titans U-18 girls team in France.
Towards the end of my tenure in Ireland, the U-18 girls team that I was helping coach had a tournament in France. We flew into Biarritz but the tournament was in Anglet, a gorgeous place in the Southwest of France.
Coming into the tournament we knew that there was going to be an extremely high level of competition. Friday night was the opening ceremony where all the teams came together at the gym. Each team was introduced and there was even a traditional Basque welcome dance performed which was pretty interesting.
As this was the first chance for all the teams to come together, our girls got a look at the sheer size of some of the other players. In their defense, some of these girls were HUGE and looked like incredible athletes (they didn’t disappoint). And even in my experience seeing talented female basketball players, some of these girls walked around in socks and sandals and the same swag that a lot of very good female basketball players would walk around with. Essentially their swag said it all. They were good and they knew it. This psyched our girls out a little bit, but I kept reinforcing the fact that they can’t do anything about the other teams. When gametime comes all they can do is play their game, and play their hearts out. One girl even asked me if I thought the hoop looked high? I told her absolutely not, then I decided to pull out the whole Gene Hackman routine in Hoosiers where he measures the hoop and the foul line and assures his team that the other team would have to shoot on the same hoop as them and it’s no different than the hoop they practiced on in Indiana (Ireland in our case).
After this we all went out to the beach in Anglet and enjoyed the sunset while the girls had fun playing in the water and practicing their Haka, with Joe of course.
So the following morning we had our first game against one of the top teams in the tournament. We got smoked and this team went on to lose in the championship. However, it was a great learning experience for the girls. The rest of the day was tough as we had several more games, but our girls got closer with each game. They got better with each game and began correcting mistakes from previous games which was encouraging for them as players and for me as a coach. Come Saturday night, there was a semi-pro women’s game for all the teams to see. Again these girls were enormous and it was a very high level of basketball which was great for the girls to see.
After the game, there was dinner and a little party for all the teams in the tournament. Our girls ended up becoming great friends with the Serbian team, who was by far the biggest and most talented team in the tournament. I remember talking to a few of our players and them saying things like “Hey let’s go talk to the Serbians again, they’re good craic!” So Saturday night was a lot of fun and it was great to see all the teams interacting and having fun the way they did.
It was a good thing that the girls became friends with the Serbians because we had to play them first thing Sunday morning.
Now let me go back and elaborate on just how good this Serbian team was. 2/3 of the team was on the U-20 Serbian national team. 4 of them were already professional contract in Serbia. They had several girls over 6 foot and the one player that was probably under 5’9 or 5’10 was their point guard, who was a BALLER. This girl was the MVP of the first division in Serbia. The previous day they destroyed every team to a point where they were hitting deep 3’s by NBA standards, every pass was either no look or behind the back, throwing ally oops, and literally just putting on a phenomenal display of basketball. So like I said, it was a good thing our girls became friends with them because when we played them it was actually a lot of fun.
We lost by 29 (they ended up beating the first team we lost to by 35 in the championship), but the girls had a blast. The Serbians showed great sportsmanship, letting our girls get some shots off, joking with our girls, and they even loved it when we pulled the whole barking dog play on them.
After that game, we had to play a round robin with 2 other teams for 7th, 8th, and 9th place in the tournament. We ended up losing to one team but beat the Spanish team to claim 8th place in the tournament. We won that game by 1 in overtime and it was a great end to the tournament as our girls hard work really paid off and you could easily see how they’d improved throughout the course of the tournament.
It was a great weekend of basketball in a beautiful area of France. We all had so much fun (as is inevitable whenever you travel anywhere with Joe). The parents Mary Grealish and Tony Cahill who traveled with us were awesome and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. What I thought was best about the weekend is that it opened the girls’ eyes to the level of competition that is out there because this is something that they would never be exposed to in Ireland. Now they realize how hard they need to work to get better and what exactly they need to work on.
Not to mention, Philippe,who was kind enough to set us up in this tournament and was outstanding hosting us and helping us get around town, was talking to me about the possibility of me moving to France for a year to coach and play. Right now we are in the process of trying to work something out. I’ll keep you updated….