O’Reilly still living dream

UCC Demons coach, Colin O'Reilly takes time out during a training session at the Mardyke Arena. Picture: Clare Keogh

C&S UCC Demons v Killester
Tonight C&S UCC Blue Demons take on Killester in the National Cup semi-final, and in the Cork team’scorner there is plenty of experience.

Coach Colin O’Reilly, 30 this year, has had a varied basketball career,ranging from his experiences as anunderage international to a pro career in the European leagues. Along the way he absorbed plenty of lessons. Take his scholarship to Post University, Connecticut.

“Well, we won our conference but I was homesick, I was happy enough to come home.

“Differences? The game is probably quicker, so it maybe looks more physical. And it’s full-time for them: from the age of 14 those kids are fully intent on basketball as a job option, as a future. They put all their time into it, literally, and their standards are high as a result.”

O’Reilly was able to fit in because, in his words, he was a shooter.

“You’ll always find room for ashooter on the court, no matter what attributes they have. If a guy can shoot, you can find a spot for him. If I’d stayed there, though, I wouldn’t have played professional basketball. I wasn’t the most talented player there, but I ended up making a living as a probecause I was European.”

A professional career wasn’t the pipe-dream it might have been, either. As a talented youngster O’Reilly saw the pros up close.

“Playing junior internationals with Ireland you were up against guys from other countries, 18-years-old, who were professionals, guys who were maybe on a million-euro contract.

“Being from Ireland, clubs wouldn’t gamble on you because there aren’t that many Irish pros, but I sent out the emails and spoke to the agents, and eventually I decided to take the risk.”

It paid off. O’Reilly put his third level education on hold and made it happen, playing for Freiburg in Germany and for Cheshire and Plymouth in England. Being a pro. Living the dream.

“You’re not earning Premier League wages,” he says. “It’s a job, you’re in a gym rather than in an office.

“But it was enjoyable. Absolutely. You’re not going to retire on the money, so it’s about the entire experience — enjoying the cities you’re living in, the cities you’re visiting. I haven’t paid for a holiday in a long time because I’ve done so much travelling with basketball.

“Even in England, while there wouldn’t be huge cultural differences compared to Ireland, they treat sports very seriously and you’re treated well within the community. They take a lot of pride in you and they’re keen for you do well.”

They say you can judge an athlete’s professionalism by what he does when he’s not training. O’Reilly agrees.

“If you’re living a healthy lifestyle as a professional, even small things can put you off. A can of Coke late at night can stop you sleeping because your body’s not used to it.

“You have to prepare properly, and you have to do that yourself: the coach doesn’t come around to your house to cook you dinner using the proper foods. It’s up to you to make sure you’re ready. But it’s a small sacrifice for something you enjoy so much.”

Now he’s a coach and, generally speaking, basketball coaches have a reputation for invention and innovation. Why is that?

“Because it’s such a small space, coaches can control a lot,” he says.

“You can force opposition teams to play where your team’s strengths are. And for a game that’s so fast, there are a lot of stops in the game, a lot of time-outs, which give the coach a chance to get his message across. There are opportunities for a coach to micro-manage a game, certainly. You’re always within earshot of a player compared to other sports where they’re 100 yards away.

“Some teams you see, it looks as though the coach is controlling them as though he’s playing a Playstation game, but if your coach needs to do that, then he’s not coaching during the week. To me Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich are the best, because they trust their players to play within a certain scheme.”

Jackson was the man who coached Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. Was he that good or just lucky with his players, though?

“Well, the best coaches always have the best players, and the best players always have the best coaches. No one before him could manage Jordan, and no one after him was able to manage Jordan; the same with Bryant.

“I presume he’s just a very good man-manager, but he’s also obviously able to delegate to his assistant coaches. I think Tex Winter was his right-hand man for a long time, and that’s part of coaching too — to control what you feel is important and to leave others do their jobs.

“Jackson seemed to have a very simple system that he put superstars in, whereas other coaches have over-complicated systems and don’t have the players, then, to implement those systems.”

In his career O’Reilly was exposed to plenty of coaching himself: “I was lucky, I haven’t had coaches who tried to over-complicate things with Xs and Os.

“The year I had here [with Demons] with Doug Leichner, he just left us out to play — he implemented his philosophy in the first two months and then it was down to individual performances come game day.

“In England one of the coaches was a businessman, whereas with Ireland we had Jay Larranaga, who was all about improving the skills of the players and hope that’ll carry into the games.

“And now he’s in the NBA as a skill development coach.

“Did I improve with him? I worked a lot with him, discussed basketball with him, and because he came from such a high level that you’d have to learn from him, even if you didn’t want to.”

The Setanta College student assesses the prospects for this evening’s game.

“Everyone expects this to be one of the big games of the weekend, we have the deepest squads and probably the most talented squads.

“I can’t imagine one team will blow the other out — I hope not anyway — because the American players match up pretty well, and so do the Irish players.

“It’ll probably come down to whoever makes the fewest errors.

“Generally what happens is an Irish player who’s been averaging five points a game comes up with 20 to win it; we’ll be hoping it’s one of ours.”


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