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Business, Olympic Edition What it takes to follow the dream

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By: Andrej Lemanis •  4 years ago •  

Andrej1

I STARTED PLAYING AT AGE 6 IN THE U10S AT COBURG. MY PARENTS ARE LATVIAN AND BASKETBALL IS A SIGNIFICANT SPORT THERE, SO BOTH MY BROTHER AND I PLAYED FROM A YOUNG AGE WITH MY DAD COACHING OUR JUNIOR TEAMS.

I

progressed to club basketball for the St Kilda Saints juniors, where I also trained with the senior team. They actually took me on the road with them when they had a few injuries so I am possibly still the youngest player to have played in the NBL.

I represented Victorian Metro on the state team 5 times, 3 times as captain, before moving into the SEABL league with Bulleen and the St Kilda Saints, and then the NBL with Melbourne Magic from 1992-1993, winning a championship. Brian Goorjian was our coach and it was impossible not to improve as a player under Brian. He is both passionate and inspiring. Throughout my playing career, I had been coaching a few junior teams here and there, and by the end of the 1993 season with Melbourne Magic, Brian sat me down. While he didn’t have another playing contract for me, he did think I’d make a good coach and offered to help me as much as he could.

So I decided to give coaching a try and picked up a position with the Sandringham Sailors in the Victorian League, coaching the senior men’s team, and then with my old club at Bulleen. I found that through coaching, I had a greater appreciation and understanding for the game. I wish I’d done more coaching as a player, as it would have improved my playing. I was extremely raw and naïve, and didn’t really know how to help the players. I was more their mate than their coach. Generally, an Assistant Coach can be a little more connected to the players on a social level and be a conduit to the Head Coach on the pulse of the team. However, by the nature of the situation, the Head Coach won’t always have the same closeness of relationship with the players due to their position controlling court time, player contracts and so on.

dyk basketball

While at Bulleen, Ian Stacker, who was the Assistant Coach for Melbourne Magic, received his first NBL head coaching role with the Geelong Supercats, and asked me to become his assistant. It was my first full-time coaching gig and I gave up my successful career with PricewaterhouseCoopers to follow the dream. Although I signed a 3-year deal, the owner ended up selling the club’s licence back to the league only a year later. I found my way to being an assistant coach for another SEABL team before eventually taking a management job with Basketball Victoria. 8 months in, Ian took up the Head Coach role at the Townsville Crocodiles and again I became his assistant, spending 7 great years building a great program, and learning from Ian. The Townsville administration was fantastic, contributing to off-court success as well an on-court.

Ian encouraged me to look for Head Coach roles in the NBL. The New Zealand Breakers took a punt on me, as a new NBL coach, and it was the start of an amazing time. Paul and Liz Blackwell had just taken over full ownership of the club, with Richard Clark as the GM. Together, we were able to set out a 5-year plan of the vision they had for the club, which included growth, development, and investment in its people. We recruited other staff who fitted with our values as well as in skills, ones who would contribute positively to the program. The club supported me to go overseas and learn from other basketball programs, through which I met Brett Brown at the San Antonio Spurs. I stayed at the Breakers for 8 years, winning 3 consecutive championships.

When Brett won the Australian Boomers position in 2009 and asked me to become his assistant, it was like a dream. Thankfully, the Breakers were 100% behind me, so for the next 4 years I was both their Head Coach and Assistant Coach for the Boomers. After the 2012 London Olympics, Brett decided not to continue for another cycle, after which he supported my application for the top job.

THE BEST AND THE WORST OF IT

Andrej2

The great part of representing your country at the Olympics is that they’re wonderful, chaotic, overwhelming, and you see absolutely tremendous basketball. Singing the national anthem with the team before they go out to play gives you chills and is something I’ll always remember.

The worst part, however, is telling players who have given their all to you that they’ve not been selected for the team. You know they’ve invested time, effort, blood, sweat and tears. They’re all talented and have done all the right things, and yet you still can’t take them all. It’s often hard to give a reason for them to latch onto. Sometimes the guys in front of them are just a tiny bit better, or the balance of the team is better in a certain combination. We have to have a proactive plan with each player regarding who they will tell, how to tell it, how they might cope with disappointment. We also have a personal excellence person available and offer help with counselling services if required. It’s difficult and different for every person. Every player has contributed to the results of the team, not just over a training camp or a season, but over years. They are part of our organisation and it is our responsibility to support them. It’s a day I dread, and a tough day from both player and coach perspective. On the same day, you also have the absolute highs of those who are selected. In Australian basketball right now, we have tremendous depth of talent. It’s great for the sport but it’s also harder to then make selections.

Andrej3

Before Rio, we are going to Argentina for two games and then to Sao Paulo for another. Games expose areas of improvement and give us the opportunity to establish our trademark as a team. Our first game is on the very first day of the Games – August 6th – against France. Because of this, the team are yet to determine as a collective whether they will attend the opening ceremony or not. In our minds, we’re going to Rio to win the gold medal. I’m sure every team going has that same aspiration but with us, we believe we have the skill level and team chemistry to do it. Our aim is to play each game on its merits.

MY TOP TIPS

  1. You’ve got to be who you are, don’t try to be someone else.
  2. Keep learning. Every day, try to get a little bit better and take the same attitude with your team.
  3. Don’t read social media, newspapers or anything else other than what you can control. Stay focused on that. Worrying about outside influences is just wasted energy.
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