|05 November 2012|
By Paul Nilsen
|Olaf Lange was handed the reigns of UMMC Ekaterinburg after an eight-year absence from the EuroLeague Women |
When EuroLeague Women favourites UMMC Ekaterinburg appointed husband and wife coaching duo Olaf Lange and Sandy Brondello during the summer, it was a decision that came right out of leftfield.
The move by the Russian powerhouse to hand the reins to coaches without any kind of recent EuroLeague Women experience, let alone success , left many people slightly surprised.
And whilst there is significant experience much further back in his career within Europe, it's now eight years since Lange was last involved in the competition when at Ros Casares.
"I wasn't there long enough to have a lot of memories" he recalled.
"However, in retrospect, losing this job was the best thing that happened to me as it made me a better coach and elevated my career."
Despite this eight year gap on the resume, this is a coaching team that has been all around the globe including Australia, but most pertinently the WNBA . And perhaps it is this broad experience which led them to being viewed as such an attractive prospect for the management of Ekat.
"As far as I am concerned, I have a few thoughts as to why the club considered us to lead their team" explained Lange.
"Firstly, we stand for a merging of basketball philosophies as we have extensive experience in Europe as well as in the States.
"Secondly we communicate and relate well because we speak English and know the WNBA basketball terminology leading a team this season with eight players that have either played or are still playing in the USA, either in the WNBA or at College level.
"And lastly, I think that we have a good reputation with players in the USA which I believe eventually helped us being considered."
Of course the relationship between Lange and Brondello both on and off the court is what makes the situation so special - they each bring a different viewpoint to the table but one which often helps find solutions.
"The dynamic between Sandy and me is simple - we complement each other very well" insisted Lange.
"As people may know, Sandy played for me in Wuppertal and I coached her for seven years before she retired and became a coach. Hence we have worked together in different capacities since 1995.
"We have very similar basketball philosophies and think similar yet not the same! We have a lot of respect for each other and as a result work well together.
"Sandy comes a little more from a players' perspective while I think strictly as a coach."
On the specific subject of the aforementioned philosophies, Lange outlined them in more detail and they should be music to the ears of his stacked roster.
He said, "I believe that basketball is a player's game and not a coaches game. Hence I give my team a platform in which the players can excel.
"While basketball is a players game, it is also a team game, so I require my players to play together and to play unselfishly.
"I trust that we will display a style that embodies a merger of the American and European game - pick and rolls, multiple actions and a lot of movement!
He continued, "I love the European game in all its facets. I appreciate the movement, multiple actions and team oriented approach - and that's exactly what we have always tried to incorporate when coaching in the WNBA!"
Lange and Brondello certainly have a star-studded roster to call upon - arguably the best ever assembled in the history of women's basketball, or at least on paper. But, is it possible that a club can have too much talent and not enough hard-working role-players to get the dirty work done?
"We have a great roster and I really like my team, but these roster discussions at the beginning of the season are great for fans and followers - just not for coaches" insisted Lange.
"The game is played on the floor and the best team will win the competition. So all my efforts are directed towards making my team the best it can be.
"I certainly agree that a team needs players that will do the dirty work and I trust that I have players on this roster that will do that for us! But we will have to prove it on the court and time will tell."
The debut win against Novi Zagreb was of course far from straightforward, with the pesky Croatian visitors almost tearing up the script to record what could have been arguably the biggest shock in EuroLeague Women history.
But, Ekat spluttered to victory and with the task of having to qualify for Final Eight already accomplished courtesy after being confirmed as hosts, it's now essentially down to gearing up for one decisive week of action next March.
And, should Lange and Brondello go on to lead UMMC Ekaterinburg to a first EuroLeague Women title in a decade, then the eyebrows raised perhaps unfairly by some at the time of their appointment will need to be deservedly replaced by a much warmer nod of approval.