Now that the dust has settled on the 2009 Easter Basketball Championships it is time to look back over the six days of competition and analyse how the tournament went and whether the teams were content with the $150, team, not club, registration fee levy. From an organizational perspective, the games were on time, referees were well scheduled, team lists were filled well before game time, the playing surface was kept clean and the whole programme was run as professionally as those in charge possibly could, from their combined experience of running a major tournament such as this one. Congratulations to Mala and Max and their helpers for the hard work they put in to ensure that the above mentioned standards were attained and also for their organization of the closing function at the St John's Marist Clubhouse in Flagstaff. It was enjoyed by one and all.
Credit must also go to the hardworking Basketball Fiji outfit headed by BF president, Brigadier General Ioane Naivalurua, treasurer, Lusi and secretary, Caroline. Their combined efforts behind the scenes to find and engage the tournament sponsor, Post Fiji as well as organise the participation of the Yellow Ribbon Program Support and Awareness Group was commendable. Just having the wardens around was enough to ensure one and all, that security of property and person during the course of the games, wasn't going to be an issue.
As with any major tournament there are always little things to improve on for the next one and if not brought out in to the open no one will ever be the wiser. Here's my two cents worth,
There was no need to have the three referee type system for this tournament. For one, the refs and the players were not familiar with it, and in essence all we got as a result of it was another happy camper blowing a whistle. The three referee system was introduced by FIBA to speed the game up and to break the court up into zones that made it easier for referees to officiate. Of course with the players hopefully knowing the rules and being mindful that there were three policemen around and not just two, the end result was a freer flowing game with fewer stoppages. On the weekend we had referees making calls in the frontcourt from the backcourt and vice versa as well as many instances where one referee would overrule the call of another. If there was one disappointing factor in the weekend's tournament it would have to have been the inconsistency of the referee's interpretations. This was a common point of discussion amongst most of the coaches over the weekend and good teams lost games that they should have won, as a result of this. In our registration forms there was a space left for team referees, whom we were told would be called to officiate. We never saw anyone ref except the same few who officiated from day one to the final. All this did was build up a wall of mistrust between players and officials which would not have been there had other capable people been brought in from the participating clubs to officiate. Refs need to understand that people don't come to watch them. They come to watch the game.
After the first filling of a team score sheet prior to their first game, teams should no longer have been required to fill in these forms again. The names and numbers could have been entered on a spreadsheet and used every time the respective team played. Prior to the start of a game the sheet could be given to the team manager for a quick check for verification. In fact this could have been done days before the tournament started.
On the Saturday prior to the tournament the organizers very conveniently, called a Technical Meeting for all participating teams, to answer questions and more importantly go through the by-laws of the tournament with the Referees Coordinator and the Games Commissioner. Most of the clubs in the tournament attended. That a team had to withdraw from the semi-finals of the main men's competition because a decision couldn't be made, even when the by-laws for the tournament were clear on the issue and rubber-stamped by all participants, at the technical meeting the week before, was a tragedy. Commiserations and congratulations to the Boston club, for graciously giving up your spot to Freshmen in the semifinal of your own tournament. Your actions that day spoke a thousand words.
Apart from this, all kudos to the hard working team of organizers without whom the tournament would not have been.
In the final for women Executioners beat Shaq Attaq in a nailbiting final that went into overtime before Executioners pulled away 25-24 in the last seconds of the game.
In the men's final a totally dominant, defense orientated, Shaq Attaq team, completely outplayed the much vaunted Vikings outfit from Lautoka by 52-27. After our first game against Boston, I told my charges, both men and women, that in every game that we played after that one, we would have to build up a large points buffer to take the refs out of the game.
This we did, beating Boston by 7, Bulldogs by 9, Freshmen by 11, Bankstown by 15, Idaman by 17, Warriors by 19 and of course in the final against Vikings we won by 25. Playing seven games in two days is no easy feat and all credit to the guys and gals, who worked hard at our weekly training sessions at ISS and did their own conditioning months before the tournament proper. My apologies if I seem to be blowing my own trumpet here, but we got to give credit where it's due.
In an article in one of the daily on April 13, it was no surprise that Shaq was not mentioned at all throughout the one page commentary. I leave it to your imagination as to what the write up would have been like, had one of the Raiwaqa teams won. Past glory and emotionalism don't win championships. Defense does. Shaq stomped on to Eds Court and won the Raiwaqa Knockout tournament at the beginning of the year, then won the Suva knockout tournament and the league before their crowning achievement over the weekend. Most of these kids had lost at every Easter tournament since the Shaq club was formed some 11 years ago, yet they stuck together until this year when they pulled through for the first time in the clubs history.
Many of our players left, disgruntled, and found success with other teams, as we continued to find our feet over those building years but it was great to see some of our former pioneer club members, featuring for other clubs in this years tournament. We had Sakiusa, Sakenasa and Jo Roko with the Warriors, Robert Pareti with Saints and Noa with G-Unit. That's what the game is all about, spreading the talent and the knowledge around so that more and more benefit.
If anything, what came out strong over the weekend was the fact that basketball is seeing a revival of sorts. There were 28 men and women teams with full rosters of 12, some with more.
We had 15 players on our men team roster. Three national netball reps played in different clubs, adding their strength and experience to their respective teams. There is talk that the Suva and Raiwaqa associations will continue with their weekly club competition. Our Basketball Fiji website is one of the most active and most visited of all the countries under the FIBA Oceania banner, all this an indication of the resurgence in the interest levels for the sport. Lai Puamau and Mark Secombe have started the primary schools league and the interest from the participating teams has been overwhelming. We witnessed some of the talents over the weekend as well. Thanks Mark and Lai, Basketball Fiji is in good hands.
Last but not least, lets give credit to Kelevi Serukalaou and his two young-gun teams from Raiwai.
Watch these kids develop and over the next few years, expect to see their names on national team rosters and of course, one day, on the winners podium at our annual Easter Tournament. If anything we have proven, that this is not an unachievable goal.
l Michael Whippy is the coach of the Fiji national women basketball team and started Shaq Attaq Club 12 years ago to develop players at national age group competition.