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Call of The Coach




Interview with Gary Gaspard, Head Coach, Tianjin Youth Basketball Team


China began its love affair with basketball long before many other European countries. Unknown to many, it was in Tianjin where China鈥檚 first basketball game was played with the then famous Nankai Five Tigers in Tianjin YMCA. The year was 1895.

So it shouldn鈥檛 be a surprise that the Tianjin Youth Basketball team is working extra hard to bring home the bacon for the next season. 鈥淚t鈥檚 time to bring it back home,鈥 asserts the team鈥檚 head coach, Gary Gaspard. 鈥淚 want my team to make a mark because from my understanding, basketball in China originated in Tianjin. It鈥檚 really time to bring it back home.鈥

Training teams under 13, 17, 21 and senior levels; there鈥檚 indeed a lot on the plate for Coach Gary, who used to play in the NBA and has played and coached for many teams from different parts of the globe. Yet, his passion for basketball and vision for these teams seem to consume him more than anything. It was an honour for the Tianjin Plus team to sit down with this visionary and listen to him share his thoughts about basketball, coaching the Tianjin Youth Basketball team and yes, about his life here in the city.


Could you tell our readers a little about you and your background?

I鈥檓 52 years of age. I have seven children and two grandchildren and I feel that I鈥檓 really blessed in life. Everyone has gone through their ups and downs. I went through a lot of ups and downs as a youth, when I kind of didn鈥檛 understand what I was here for. But I was given great direction from my father and mother. My dad has since now passed, he passed in 2008, and I pretty much take over the responsibility of taking care of my mom and maintain being a father and husband. But the real inside of me is all basketball. I never thought that a child from South Central would be here in China some 40 years later still doing what he loves to do. That鈥檚 why I said I鈥檓 blessed.

What鈥檚 your impression of Tianjin and how do you find it living here?

Well, when I first got here it was extremely cold because I came here during the winter. But at the same time, I saw that the people here are so warm when I go around town or walk to the stores. Even my bosses are really warm people and it鈥檚 for those reasons that I really like Tianjin because I鈥檝e been in Beijing but I didn鈥檛 like it there. It鈥檚 too crowded and it鈥檚 almost like you have to follow their pace. I鈥檓 more of like a traditional guy. I love the big city but I like to be in my small little corner. That鈥檚 what I love about Tianjin.

In your career, what do you think is your greatest achievement?

As a coach, my greatest achievement is to see kids on a daily basis improve and on the inside it really makes you feel good because when you see kids improve, they show growth, when they show growth, they show maturity, and when they show maturity they鈥檙e actually showing you that 鈥淚鈥檓 ready for the world.鈥  A lot of people might not understand but basketball and sports is a form of life and you have to understand how to flip that because we are only on the floor for so long and then you have to teach kids about life. So I think my greatest impact would be that I love teaching. I love to see kids grow on a daily basis and that鈥檚 a very good satisfaction for me.

How has your experience been so far working for the Tianjin Youth Basketball Team?

The biggest thing is to making sure that I鈥檝e adjusted with the cultural difference because you kind of get lost if you try to do things your way all the time without understanding what the culture is about, and what the mentality is about. So I think the biggest thing for me is just having them adjust to playing harder and playing on both sides of the ball. The cultural difference wasn鈥檛 a big deal for me because I鈥檝e been to so many different countries and I understand that I can鈥檛 do it by myself.

How about these kids鈥 potential?

Oh, the potential is off-the-charts! We got an all-star in our team. We call him Kobe, I don鈥檛 know what his real name is in Chinese but we call him Kobe because he can play and score on anybody. We have an abundance of potential. We have two guys on our team right now who are 30+ that are really going to be the catalyst of what we do because they have the experience and they鈥檝e been there.

Could you give us your views on the current state of Chinese basketball?

The current state of Chinese basketball from what I鈥檝e seen is a very grinding game, meaning that it鈥檚 very physical and all of the teams are pretty much the same. We have 17 teams, but only 6 go to the play-offs. Each game is winnable for all 17 teams. It doesn鈥檛 matter from the 1st to the 17th team. If you鈥檙e actually playing the right way, each game is winnable. There are a lot of talents and you see some of them not playing in the league. So somebody has got to believe in these talents and let them go to the league and prosper in it, maybe put a bigger name for Chinese basketball because they do have some talent.

Basketball is not only a physical game; it鈥檚 also a mind game. So how do you train your kids to not only play physically but also mentally?

All sport is 90% mental and 10% physical. What I try to do, in the offense, is teach the Princeton, and the Princeton is reading your defender. I don鈥檛 like to call them plays, per se. I like to let guys react off their defender and react off their offensive men. That鈥檚 the way I try to use their mental (ability) and we use it every single day in practice. We also have an offensive concept called Menthus and what I basically do is attack more on offense without play.

What are some ways to encourage the young people in Tianjin to get involved in the local basketball scene?

Actually it is not just basketball but sports as a whole. My thing is, get your kid involved in something. Get your kid involved in some type of camp. Find a camp that鈥檚 available. If you need a coach on the side, get a coach that鈥檚 available. I know a lot of parents are poor here, but work out something to which you could give your kids training. It could be baseball, soccer, basketball, tennis, whatever it is.

It is often said that a team鈥檚 success on the court depends largely on what happens in practices and training. What do you specifically aim at during your practices?

You have to practice to be perfect and you have to do a perfect practice in order to do that, and what I try to do is to make sure that we aim at perfect practices. I鈥檓 very detailed with everything we do and if I see a kid is doing wrong, I stop practice right away and I correct it. We have to make sure that we have the perfect mindset and focus. It鈥檚 really important.

What鈥檚 your expectation for Tianjin Youth Basketball Team?

The Tianjin Youth Basketball Team right is currently preparing for the National Games in March, and my expectation is to try to finish in the top 6. I think we can do that because we do have kids that are willing to do whatever it takes and they鈥檙e being trained the right way right now. I鈥檝e got great assistance from my Chinese coaches. I believe in my Chinese coaches. I believe in what they鈥檙e doing and they also believe in me. So, the sky鈥檚 the limit with our youth team because we do have some very good talent there.

Finally, we have readers and young people who love basketball. What advice would you like to share to them?

I can only tell them what my dad told me to do 鈥 just dream big! Don鈥檛 be afraid to work for what you want, either. I鈥檓 not a big guy but I made it to the NBA. I mean, I was blessed but I also work my tail off. It鈥檚 not like somebody gave me something. I worked hard every single day but with that work, I also developed an ethic that helped me get to the next level because whenever I had something in front of me like an obstacle, it wasn鈥檛 a big deal because my mind was ready for it and I just went on and moved on with it.

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