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Swiss Hoops

We moved to Geneva in August 2004 when my wife was posted to the Canadian Mission to the WTO. I had coached girls soccer and basketball in Canada, and became a volunteer soccer coach at my daughter's school, Collège du Leman (CDL) in Versoix, where I coached for 5 years.

I asked about coaching basketball and was referred to Theren Bullock ("Coach T"), an American teacher at CDL, former professional player, and coach of the U15 boys team at Versoix Basket, a local basketball club. He took me on, and with a group of very good players, we made it to the Swiss Final Four that season and won the national championship, quite an introduction to Switzerland. We put in a sliding 1-2-2 zone, did not use it at all until the gold-medal game, and it was decisive in the win.

I was then hired as head coach of the junior and senior boys basketball teams at La Châtaigneraie, a campus of Ecole Internationale de Genève. I coached at La Chât for 4 years (more than a few players also played for Versoix). Some memorable moments:

  • The school sent coaches to the Swiss Touring Club for a course on how to drive a mini-bus - throwing one of those around a test track is fun.
  • CDL hosts an annual junior boys tournament, I did a double-take that Kobe Bryant was on the list of past MVPs.
  • Annual tournaments in Leysin, a picturesque ski station (with curling in the sports facility).
  • Playing against Neuchâtel, a team of Canadians including guys who would wear Habs or Maple Leafs hockey socks while playing basketball.
  • Attending an ISST tournament in Waterloo, Belgium.

In my second year at Versoix, the U15 boys moved up to U17, and so did the coaches. Despite having a strong team, we lost a crucial game in a qualifying tournament, missing out on a chance to qualify for the Swiss Final Four. I also coached Ecole de Basket that year, and when the Harlem Globetrotters game to town, one of my players was called out on the floor to take a free throw, and he made it to win a basketball.

In my third year, Versoix Basket created a U20 team, coached by Coach T, and I became head coach of the U17 team. We made it to the Swiss national championship game, but lost to a team from Fribourg, which had created an academy just that year, drawing Swiss and international players.

In my fourth (and fifth) year, I coached the U15 boys team, the U17 players moved up and won the U20 national championship, capping a great 4-year run for Versoix Basket.

I became a Swiss Level 1 coach, which requires 10 days of training. For me it started in July 2005 with a 6-day course held at Ovronnaz, which is an Alpine wellness and ski station high above the Rhone valley. Coaches are paid in Switzerland (by their club, plus a federal subsidy), so coaching is attractive to 20-somethings, and the certification process is used as a filter - including having coaching candidates perform all the drills each day in the gym. At night I went to bed tired while the younger coaches were in the bar, but by the end of the week I was fresh and they were basket cases!

I attended other coaching clinics (e.g. Lausanne, Martigny), including one given in Geneva by an American, Jason Wright, at Bout du Monde, home of the Geneva Devils. I arrived early, paid my fee, waited for other coaches to show up, but they didn't - for the entire clinic I was the only person in attendance, and could talk one-on-one to the clinician in English!.

Swiss Basketball publishes a magazine for coaches, one time I got it out of our mailbox and there was Kadie Riverin on the cover. An Ottawa native, Kadie played on the Canadian national women's team for many years, and one year professionally in Neuchâtel. Making a small world even smaller, my daughter now teaches in Toronto, and Kadie coached basketball at the same school.

On moving back to Canada in 2009, I became assistant coach to the Ashbury College senior boys basketball team, which won the provincial A championship that season - another amazing first-year experience. Ashbury moved up to AA in 2016, won silver that year, then gold in 2017, becoming the first Ottawa-area school to win a provincial boys championship twice.

In March 2016, Ashbury had a basketball tour to Italy (our third European tour, after Paris & Spain in 2010 and Greece in 2012). From Milan we made a day-trip to Lugano (my first time back in Switzerland) to play the SAM Basket Massagno U19 team, which later won the 2016 Swiss championship (we lost by 2 against them, our only loss on the tour). Christophe Varidel, who played many years for Versoix Basket, then NCAA Div I, then for SAM Basket in the National League "A", was one of our guides for the day (here's a shooting workout used by Christophe).

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