Breakers Assistant Coach and Academy Head Coach Michael Fitchett has just returned from a stint coaching with the New Zealand Select Team in China, on a six-match tour (5 and 1 record) that took in two main cities and six games against Montenegro, Cameroon and a local Chinese team.
The tour was successful from a Basketball New Zealand perspective as the growing relationship with China was further developed and the depth of the game increased for the men, with many of the young players on tour in contention for the Tall Blacks now or in the future.
Breakers Head Coach Paul Henare led the tour in his capacity as Tall Blacks Head Coach, with Fitchett and former Tall Black Lindsay Tait his assistants, while Paora Winitana was also on tour in a cultural advisory and mentoring role to the largely young group of players (and coaches).
Both Henare and Fitchett have returned as improved coaches as a result of the tour, with personal development beneficial to them as individuals, but also to the SKYCITY Breakers as an organization.
“This was definitely different, I went away with the New Zealand Select team last year in an assistant role with Daryl Cartwright, working under Pero Cameron,” said Fitchett. “That was my first involvement in a senior national men’s team programme after working in the junior programme for some years.
“This year was different again working with Pauli, he is Tall Blacks Head Coach obviously, but I also knew that I was going to get the chance to act as Head Coach for a few games. Upon arriving in China I found out that would be for four games which was even better and a wonderful opportunity to work the sideline and try and control a few games at senior level. This is all the more important for me given I haven’t coached in the NBL – which is something I want to do, but having a go coaching men and players with a bit more experience than juniors was great.”
Fitchett loved the chance to be thrown in as Head Coach for those games, but does reveal that Henare did not relinquish the driver’s seat too easily!
“This was an opportunity for Paul to spend time giving direct feedback to the players in a one on one situation during a game. But in the first game against Cameroon he couldn’t help himself, he was soon out of his seat in my ear and giving me plenty of advice and I took it on board for sure. But after the game we agreed that he gave better value helping the players out and leaving me to coach the team.
“It was also great for Lindsay to spend time understanding that coaching role, working with me, chatting before time outs and game breaks and putting more emphasis on keeping an eye on the flow of the game, tactics and rotation. So in the end having Pauli concentrate on time with the players on the bench was beneficial for everyone – we would then spend some time debriefing games once we got back to the hotel and take on his advice.”
Fitchett has no doubt as to the benefits of the tour, both in his New Zealand coaching roles, but also with the Breakers.
“I am a better coach than I was two weeks ago. In confidence, addressing systems and tactical things quickly and thinking on your feet and seeing that play out in a game and on a tour – that was all so good for my development and is going to help me in my work at the Breakers for sure.
“I need to thank Dillon and Ant (club Chairman Ant Carter) for allowing me the time and space to pursue this and to improve as a coach – just as we as a club encourage everyone from players to coaches to staff to improve and become better at what we do, this was a great chance and one that I thank the club for allowing me to do.”
Fitchett says the real deal of coaching in the international arena is an experience you can’t replicate in the practice gym.
“I am used to coaching a group through the season, but it is one thing coaching a team at practice – I usually coach our bench team at practice. But when it is the real deal, you have referees, a score bench, a crowd and the game is an international clash – there is so much more pressure and working in that environment has improved me for sure.”
There may also be a spin off for the Breakers in player recruitment, with Fitchett and Henare that much wiser about the talent coming through the system. And with two contracts (not including the two import spots) up for grabs, that is vital for the club’s ongoing success.
“For myself but also for Pauli the tour was a great chance to work closely with the players and get to know them better on and off court. I have watched a lot of tape and spent a lot of time in one on one scouts with players so we know them so much more now. We have a couple of spots available and there are some great candidates from this group and indeed from a wider group at home who weren’t on tour, but everyone that was with us in China did a great job and made our job of selecting players to the final roster that much tougher and yet in some ways, easier given our increased knowledge of them.”