Nothing but net: The men’s basketball will play the tournament at CedarBridge Academy. *Bermuda Sun file photo
Nothing but net: The men’s basketball will play the tournament at CedarBridge Academy. *Bermuda Sun file photo
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WEDNESDAY, SEP. 26: The men’s basketball team is one of the success stories for Bermuda at the Natwest Island Games. When it debuted in 2003, the squad came away with a bronze medal — and that would be the worst the team would ever do.

Since then Bermuda has won three golds and a silver.

The other islands know the path to the top of the podium runs through Bermuda.

Don Burgess spoke with head coach Roderick Spencer about what it means to have the Games here and what special advantages and disadvantages it poses.


 

How will the team be selected this time?

It’s the same as usual with the exception that because we are hosting it we’ll have several more people try to make the team primarily because there’s no serious fundraising involved that we would usually need to do to travel overseas.

We’ll start the process around October and we’ll try to align this team a little closer to the CBC (Caribbean Basketball Championships) team then we did last year. We’ve had quite a few phone calls and e-mails from players who are based overseas who are interested in playing for us.

Who are these players?

It’s a combination of players who have been born here but live away or who are away and have at least one parent who is Bermudian. We’re going through to see if they are eligible to play for our CBC team before we go through the elimination process. (The eligibility requirements for the CBC are stricter than the Island Games)

It seems like the team might be stronger with extra people trying out.

I don’t see it being any stronger or weaker. I don’t plan on bringing in a whole lot of people who are making themselves available just because it’s in Bermuda. That is unfair to those who have put the work in the past. We already have a very good nucleus so it’s about introducing a couple of younger people who can start taking some of the responsibility from some of the older guys. It’s a very big transition for the high school guys to come into our programme. Men’s basketball is a lot more physical than high school basketball and the pace of the game is very fast compared to what they are used to. Very few make the transition the first time out.

For the overseas players what will be the keys to them making the team?

A lot has to do with the positions they play. I’m not going to take 12 point guards. Some positions transition into our system more easily than others. Someone who plays point guard needs to be here a little more because they need a deeper understanding of what we do on the floor if they are going to be running the team.

You have long maintained the philosophy you don’t take the 12 best players, you take the 12 best players who fit into Bermuda’s system. Why is that?

There are people who are extremely good in our domestic league who I don’t think will be good international players when I look at their game. Then we have some players who are above average in the league, they aren’t superstars, but their skill sets translate better into the international game and our style of play.

Plus the 12 most talented players don’t always gel into the best team — they usually don’t.

If we got Lebron James on our team, I’d change everything to fit his game, but unless that player is off that caliber it would be silly to revamp everything for one player.

Is there extra pressure to defend the gold medal on home soil?

I don’t think so. Some of the players may feel that.

How do you feel about the competition?

Well, it is unfortunate all the top teams haven’t committed to coming yet. If they don’t, then the average person may see just the weaker teams and that may change their opinion on what our success has been in the past.

Many locals have never seen the national team in action. How is this going to help the sport?

We think this an opportunity for us to market our product to local people and the business community that have never seen us play. When we practice locally or play games locally, we’re typically playing against second-tier teams so its difficult for people to see how good we are.

But isn’t playing at home an advantage?

It’s always going to be more difficult at home because the players have more distractions. They’re not focused 24 hours a day on that one goal. That comes into play and that may be why not country hosting the tournament has ever won it. We’ve reached out to some properties to see if we can get some good rates to but the guys up somewhere. That would be ideal – if not we’ll have to work around it. We’ll try to get the guys to take time off from work like they would if the tournament was overseas so we can occupy their day.

Normally, you’d all travel to the court together as well. How will you deal with that?

We’ve already put together a plan to deal with that. The tradition is the home team gets the last game of the day so we’re getting a third gym where we’ll all meet two hours ahead of time we play to go over all of our pregame stuff wherever we would have been staying at, then travel together to the game.

Besides yourself, who is the rest of the coaching staff?

We have a great staff. They don’t get paid and do a great in contributing to our success. Gavin MacKenzie has been with me since the start. I will be missing Tim Trott who has just stepped down after being with us all the previous years. Ralph Scott serves as an assistant coach and Brian Purvey is the team manager. n