15 December 2012

Nigeria: Argument Against Short-Term Contract for d'Tigers

For most sport associations, the end-of-season is an ideal time of the year to start outlining personal and corporate objectives for the upcoming year. In basketball, especially in the national teams' competitions, things aren't much different and head coaches' positions are often a priority as is the case of the NBBF.

President Umar Tijjani of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) revealed that the federation is still receiving and evaluating CVs of potential head coaches to lead the national teams.

Looking at the 2013 African basketball agenda, some national federations are planning too, but the question is, when are they going to make final decisions and seal agreements?

The old philosophy of signing head coaches on a temporary basis for an international event - usually for a period of two to three months -may be a failed option.

The reason is that it is difficult to implement a team chemistry and mindset in such a short period of time. Historically, very few head coaches have achieved African glory under such short-term agreements.

Spanish-born French head coach Jose Ruiz led Mali's women's team to the 2007 Afrobasket title, two months into his contract.

He argued that he succeeded because he knew and scouted most of the France-based Malian players who formed the national team's backbone. "Otherwise," he said, it was almost impossible to build a team without knowing the players.

This is why longer terms agreements mean higher chances to succeed. The Ivory Coast Basketball Federation (FIBB), the hosts of the scheduled 2013 Afrobasket, was aware of this predicament earlier this year when they signed head coach Christophe Denis of France. Denis coaches French team Paris Levallois. He had an initial training camp with the Ivory Coast national team early in the year.

Short-term contracts may appear to save money, but could be very costly in terms of general evolution for a team more importantly one as strategic as the national team.

For reasons that only Angolan Basketball Federation (FAB) knows, it decided last year not to extend the contract of Luis Magalhães, a man who had helped the country win Afrobasket 2009. Instead, FAB confirmed Frenchman Michel Gomez in May 2011 with the objective of winning the Afrobasket, three months later.

Although, the move did not work out and Gomez was sacked midway through the tournament with Angola going on to lose to Tunisia in the Final nevertheless, Gomez's abilities should not be questioned. A year later, FAB seemed to have learned from the past and signed former Angola international José Carlos Guimarães, an agreement that may last up to the end of next year's Afrobasket.

This past summer, although he had agreed terms in March, Frenchman Michel Perrin only started coaching Mali's women's team 10 days before the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women. The 2011 Afrobasket bronze medallist lost both group games to France and Canada, and Perrin is still waiting to hear whether he remains with the team.

Tunisia's Adel Tlatli is the longest serving head coach in African basketball. He first took over in 2001, but remained in the charge for only five months. Tunisia's Basketball Federation (TBFF) reappointed him in April 2004 and he has been in charge ever since. His continuing work with the men's team has gone from strength to strength. After missing out on qualification to the 2003 Afrobasket, Tunisia finished eighth in 2005, sixth in 2007, third in 2009 and they won gold in 2011 to qualify for the London Olympics.

Coach Tlatli had just landed in Tunis, from Cairo, Egypt - where he attended the 2012 FIBA Africa Congress - where the "short term contract culture" in African basketball was discussed.

Building a team, working with most of the players and helping to develop them with a long term project in mind might be unrealistic in Nigeria as the fact remains that basketball programmes in Nigeria depend on the Federal Government's annual budgets. But, with the rising number of multi-national firms heading to Nigeria's emerging market, hopefully there might be no reason for basketball to remain unfunded. If there are no government funds, then private investors may as well join in.

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