|15 July 2010|
By David HeinBulgarian women's basketball finds itself in the beginning stages of a revolution, and leading the charge are a pair of Spaniards who preach the Iberian principles of tough defense and the fast break game.
Coach Jose Luis Hernandez is not only emphasizing the Spanish style to Bulgaria, but he is pushing two players from younger age groups at the U20 European Championship for Women.
Bulgarian basketball officials recently grew tired of their women's national teams struggling to come up with the desired results. In the spring of 2009, they hired Jose Maria Buceta as the new women's senior side head coach, and Buceta brought with him Hernandez to serve as assistant coach as well as head man of the U20 team.
The goal was to instill in Bulgarian players and national teams a mentality of playing tough defense, playing with more intensity and more heart while also getting out in transition - and that at all levels, from U16 to senior team.
"It's not been easy," said Hernandez after Bulgaria's opening loss of the 2010 U20 tournament in Latvia.
"After 15-20 years of basketball without much focus on these things it takes time. It's not easy. It's been hard. But we are trying to improve. The results are not there yet but I think they will come in the next years if we continue to work on this."
Buceta and Hernandez are not only working with the young Bulgaria players but also with the coaches of the U16 and U18 teams so there is a uniform system in place in which players can more easily advance up the ranks.
The U20 coach said the focus is on defense and the fast break because Bulgarian women players tend to have a sound offensive game.
"If you look at the Bulgarian league, many players have good fundamentals on offense but physically and defensively we need to work a lot," said the coach.
Another way to help young players develop quicker is by playing them at older levels. And that is the case for 16-year-old center Stela Boneva and forward Pamela Decheva who turns 18 on Saturday.
"We need to work with younger girls because the players of the older youth generations are not strong enough so we are trying to promote some younger players to get more experience," said Hernandez.
The coach was also hoping to have with him in Latvia center Hristina Tyutyudzhieva, who just turned 17 in late June, as well as promising 20-year-old guard Stanislava Stankova.
Hernandez said the federation will send Boneva and Decheva to Slovakia for the U18 European Championship for Women, which runs from July 29 to August 8.
"They will be very important at that championship," Hernandez said.
"Here they are part of the team and have to get experience. And there they have to translate that experience to be the leaders of that group ... I think they can both do it."
Hernandez's start came last summer at the U20s where Bulgaria finished a respectable 10th place. But the goal for this tournament is clearly avoid relegation to Division B, especially with the younger talents and three players from the U18 team which was relegated to Division B last summer.
"That is exactly what I'm trying to say to the girls. You went down but now we're trying to save the division, and that means more confidence, working in the right way. It means we see some results in our work. It's important for the confidence and morale of this team."
With more confidence and some Spanish flair, Bulgaria are hoping for success in the long run.