EARLY TIP-OFF LEAVES COACHES COLD

There’s one burning issue being discussed around British basketball as the summer break comes to its end.

So, the new BBL season begins this weekend. Yes.

But not the league? No.

So it’s the Trophy starting? Yes.

Down to serious business then? Um, well, kinda, maybe…

The decision to bring forward the start of the domestic campaign has left players and coaches baffled and bemused. While most leagues around Europe are still very much in preparation mode, the BBL’s revamp means that its teams are going into the Trophy competition with even less preparation than usual – and there wasn’t much in the past.

Signings have still to be made. Visas have yet to be approved. One team, Worthing Thunder, has even yet to appoint a coach after a protracted pursuit of an American player-boss that has multiple strings attached.

Ultimately, the Trophy has been effectively relegated to a warm-up tournament, deemed expendable by coaches who want to experiment and by owners who are less than keen on an extra fortnight’s expense. “If the coaches had voted on this decision, they’d have said no,” one playcaller told me. They didn’t though. And now we have this unsatisfactory mess.

“Some teams are outright saying that they’ll use the Trophy as a pre-season,” said Glasgow Rocks coach Sterling Davis. “We’d like to do well in it but I’m glad the league doesn’t start for a few more weeks because we’ve only had four practices with the whole team. I just don’t think it was a good idea to bring it forward. I hope it’s just an experiment because, as a coach, it’s unsettling starting so early.”

But he – and his colleagues – are stuck with it. Which means don’t expect too much, too soon. With the league tip-off delayed into October – and with a TV deal expected to kick in soon after – the priorities are to be ready for then, not now.

“Due to the earlier start of the season we haven’t been able to get our players in as early as we would like,” said Sheffield’s Atiba Lyons. “We have made the best of the time we have played together.”

It is a buyers market around Europe with salaries, according to one agent, dropping up to 40% from 12 months ago. With players sitting and waiting, and getting ever-more nervous, bargains will be had in the coming weeks. Which is why many, like Lyons, are keeping their wallets closed until the last possible moment.

It won’t make for a better product on the floor on opening night which, surely, was not the intention. With first impressions counting for much, will there be far-reaching implications?

Imagine you’re a Thunder fan, wondering whether it is worth shelling out to go to Plymouth.

“There is no point hiding the fact that we will be going into this first game against Plymouth undercooked preparation-wise,” admitted Worthing director (and interim coach) Alan Sweetman-Hicks.

“From what I understand they have pretty much had their squad together for at least a fortnight whereas we still haven’t had everyone at practice yet.”

In a professional league, that is simply inexcusable. It is just the kind of disorganisation that leaves the game open to ridicule from elsewhere, not least FIBA. And even coaches admit that it is short changing the public.

The BBL has made much of ensuring that 2010-11 is about taking large steps forward. Shame it’s starting off with a backwards move.

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