Hopefully Worth The Wait: Denmark Part II

03 May 2010
By Paul Nilsen

If patience is a virtue, you have to hope that everyone associated with basketball in Denmark are as virtuous as is humanly possible. With an impressive rebuilding strategy at youth team level now underway, the Federation are holding their collective breath and waiting to see their considerable efforts come to fruition.

Quite whether government bodies, the media and indeed the fans themselves are prepared to buy into the long-term strategy remains to be seen and it is a burning issue that Federation Sports Director Jesper Hauge is acutely aware of.

Their decision to tear up the script and start over by focusing on the youth structure doesn't suit the tendency of modern day society to demand instant results.

Make no mistake, this is no one or two year plan or a quick-fix. This bold move to is about the next five to seven years - and beyond. So can they convince people to be patient and wait?

"That is the crucial thing in this whole project." explains Hauge.

"Can everyone show the patience required for it to be successful? It is tough to ask people to think about the longer term but this is why we are helped with this by having the evidence of the U16 Men moving to Division A. It is an early success which helps."

"I have noticed recently that a lot of people now want to get more involved with Danish basketball and they appreciate that something exciting and potentially very good is happening right now."

"Only recently, one of our club teams made it to the Superfinal in the EYBL in Moscow  - so also at club level we have some good things going on."

"This can only help to maintain confidence in the meantime and as we progress, hopefully we can reach many other good landmarks in our plan."

One area of the plan which will definitely require some patience will be the actions associated with the Womens game. With no senior team in place, women currently don't have anything to aspire to at the highest level although the Federation hopes this will be one of the final pieces in the jigsaw and will get the senior team established.

"That is definitely our goal. If not next year then the year after we will include the U20 Women into our programme and start the building process towards a senior Womens team in the future.

This year we are putting in an U20 Mens team and we have never had this at any time in our history before so this is a big positive and we would like to do the same with the Womens team.

We think we have a really good chance of competing and doing quite well with the U20 team this year because this is the first wave of this new generation of players that have had good experiences of competing on the International level in the younger youth levels.

With such a reliance on the stars of the future you might think that it could become something of a burden for those young players who might be charged with carrying the flag in the next ten to fifteen years at senior team level.

One such player is Esben Reinholt who starred in the U16 Men's promotion to Division A last summer. He was named in the All Tournament team and consequently landed himself a spot abroad as he embarks on trying to do enough to convince people he is of good enough quality to carve out a professional career

"It was a fantastic tournament for our team.  On the court I mostly remember the game against Bulgaria because my friend and teammate from my club team in  Denmark , Tencho Tenchev was playing there. I also remember the semifinal against England because if we won that game we would move to Division A."

"I then started this season in Sibenik where I practiced for 6 weeks. At the beginning of October I moved to KK Split, Croatia. I am playing there now on the junior (92/93) team. I am 6th or 7th man on the team and my average is about 15 points per game."

"It will be exciting to see if we are able repeat the success we had with the U16 National Team last summer. It will also be a challenge to play against all the very good nations moving forward."

"We are going to the U18 Division B Championships in Israel  in August. We practice all summer and I do hope we will be able to be at least number 2 and get into the A-group again."

While much has been made of the fall from high that the senior team has experienced in such a short period of time, the starlet is far from concerned about this deterring himself and his peers from stepping up - if and when the time arrives.

"Of course it is a shame the senior team have to play at the C Division but I think all players have a dream about playing for the national team no matter what level it is on."

"I hope the team will win the C-group this year so they are playing in the B-group before I am playing there.

Of more concern to the guard who only turned 17 this month is the fact that after National team sensation Christian Drejer got hurt and retired, there is now no real big star for the team and potentially this could result in less young people knowing about basketball and becoming inspired to take up the sport.

"I think basketball need a big star to get promoted. The sport needs a role model the young players can look up to."

"However I think it is more popular now than 5 years ago. There are games on TV from the Danish league every week.  I think basketball can be more popular in the future if a big star emerges which people know. "

"Soccer and handball are big competitors to basketball but I just think it is because it is the culture in Denmark."

Even if the Danish League has improved, Reinholt is hoping he is destined for even bigger and brighter things. While the Federation might have hoped he could be a shining light in domestic competition, should he excel abroad, then maybe he could be destined to be the big name that Danish basketball is craving for.

It's quite a bit of pressure on young shoulders but reassuringly, the guard shrugged off any fears he could buckle under the weight of expectation.

"I am okay with it I know it is a big responsibility but I will try to do my best, so I improve my game and get better all the time."

"Right now I am not thinking about playing in the Danish league. I have signed a 6 years contract with KK Split in Croatia. "

" I have moved to Split and am now living as a professional.  After that I hope to stay as a professional somewhere in Europe."

Reinholt is obviously at a critical stage of his career development and it is an age and factor which is close to the heart of the Federation. Hague is keen to explain the willingness to learn from other countries and to do more to facilitate the

"We have a project running right now to raise the technical level and I think we are doing pretty well so far when I look down the different age levels."

"One of the things we are focusing closely on right now is the physical capacity and level of players when they grow older."

"It seems that in other countries with a bigger tradition of being successful at developing players, their talent around the U18 level suddenly begin to develop physically to a much higher level and we want to understand this."

"We are spending a lot of time trying to educate our players and to spend some of our resources on making sure they can develop better physically so they can compete with the very best."

"This is one of our main focus points right now - to prepare players at a younger age for the requirements of improving the physical level of their game. We are explaining to them what type of things they need to do from a training perspective to make it to the highest level."

Supporting their new drive and determination to become more scientific in their development and education of young players is another technical matter very close to Hauge - namely coaching.

Hague is excited that the current crop of coaches, many of whom are volunteers can really make the difference in years to come.

"One thing I feel I must mention is that we have a group of young coaches right now in Denmark all of whom do an exceptionally good job and in a lot of cases for no payment."

"They only do this because they love the game and they are really into it and dedicated to the sport.

"Without them it would never be possible to have even started this big project. The twenty or thirty coaches central to our development are so important to us and are doing a fantastic job."

"It is important for the Federation that we recognise their hard work and everyone keeps the same good spirit to achieve success."

"Maybe also some of the coaches we have cane get some experience of coaching in other countries and bring back to Denmark."

Of course it won't only be the up and coming coaches who get their rewards by seeing players flourish in future years, it is of course in everyone's interest. With the re-building programme in full swing and another exciting summer ahead, all that matters for basketball in Denmark is that things continue heading in the right direction and people accept this is definitely a long haul journey.



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