Q&A With USA AmeriCup Qualifying Head Coach Mike Fratello
Tuesday marked the second day of training in Indianapolis for USA head coach Mike Fratello, his coaching staff and the 13 players participating in the USA AmeriCup Qualifying Team training. The USA is training daily through Nov. 28 in Indianapolis, then will play Bahamas on Sunday, Nov. 29 (4 p.m. EST) and Mexico (7:30 p.m. EST) on Monday, Nov. 30. Both games will be streamed on ESPN+.
A former NBA head coach and an analyst for NBA TV and for nationally televised games on TNT, Fratello served as head coach of the USA Basketball AmeriCup Qualifying Team during the February 2020 window and led the U.S. to a 2-0 record, earning a pair of wins over Puerto Rico, 83-70 in San Juan and 95-73 in Washington, D.C.
USA Basketball spoke to Fratello to get his insight into preparing the USA team for a pair of FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying games and doing so during the coronavirus pandemic.
You’ve got two practices under your belt. What are your impressions so far? What do you like about what you see from your players?
My first impression is that the people who selected this group of guys did an outstanding job in finding players that I think ultimately are going to fit together very well. They are going to like playing with each other. They are going to like being competitive, once the games start, and they have a work ethic, which is good. You have six days to practice and get ready. You just hope that you can get enough in without trying to get too much in. Sometimes you can force too much in, and they're not hanging on to very much at all. Maybe simplifying it and get them to do a smaller amount of stuff better is the way to go.
Does having the previous experience of a compact training session for the first window help you this time around?
A little bit, but there's nothing like this. Because, I've never in my life coached an entire practice with a mask on. I’ve never coached an entire practice with gloves on. I've never not been able to touch players, meaning put your hand on their shoulder on their arm to move them here or move them there. It's just not the norm for me. So, this is a new experience, not being able to put our hands in together when we break huddles. All that is new, and it makes you change your way of doing things and makes you adjust to a new way. And this is the way it is right now. If you want to play and you want to remain healthy, you've got to do it this way and adhere to all the guidelines. It’s a brand new experience. I've never been through this before.
What does an opportunity like this mean to the players, or what opportunity does it present to the players?
You know what we want? Besides obviously winning games, we'd like to win our games. That's the number one thing. But next to that is each of these guys, if they come in and dedicate their time, pay the price that they're paying by going into quarantine, taking as many tests as they have taken, we'd like them to get a break, an opportunity. What's your ultimate goal? To be a part of the NBA? Well, if that’s it, we hope this can be a stepping stone for you. And, two or three of our guys, maybe four of them from the last windows’ group have gotten the opportunity to go with an NBA team. So, we lost one of our guys. Now, he committed to us that he was coming in, and in the afternoon they offered him a contract, and he signed it. It is sad that we lost him, but it's great. We’re happy for him. Really good young man, and he gets a chance now of chasing a life dream. So that's what I like to see. I like to see these guys get a shot. If God's given them enough talent, then they can't waste that opportunity. Give them a shot. Once we get done on December 1, they can go and chase their dreams.
How important is developing some chemistry? Most of these guys have never played together.
Chemistry, a lot of times is developed when guys together, groups of six, seven, eight guys go out, have dinner together, share, whether they are going bowling one night, or whatever it might be. We don't have those opportunities anymore. It's gone. We can't hang out with four or five or six guys together in close quarters. They go back to their rooms. They don't meet in somebody’s room and play cards one night. So, developing the chemistry is going to be each of these guys making a commitment to themselves to try and get to learn, as best they can, who their teammates are. Whether it be at meals, spaced out, talking six, eight feet away from the guy next to you, or in front of you or behind you, and that's how. If you don't know each other from previous experiences playing against each other, or whatever, it's hard to get to know them in six days.
How hard of a decision was it for you to come back and coach under the circumstances of COVID-19 and quarantine?
It wasn't, because when Sean (Ford, USA Basketball Men’s National Team director) called and said would you like to coach window number two, I was like let's go. I enjoyed window one. It was great. It's a great way to be able to chip in and help out with your country's national team. So, I took great pride in the first time we did it back in February, in window one. And the fact that they asked me to come back again, I was honored. When you can be a part of that, when you've been a coach all your life and all the things you've gotten out of coaching that have been good for you and your family, shouldn’t you want to do something like this if you're given the opportunity? Not everybody gets this opportunity. So for me, there was no hesitation. It was more like, let’s get going.
What's been your impression of the setup here?
Again, I'll go back to Adam Silver and what they did with the NBA in the work and the thought and the preparation. And obviously, our guys followed that, and watched it and saw the successes were and where they might be able to improve something that they saw, maybe this could be a little bit better. But all of the work, people don't even understand the work that's been involved. First of all, to get a hotel. It's closed down to the entire public, nobody can come in the hotel except the teams, and sectioning them off and keeping them away from each other. And then, you get the practice facility right across the street. You walk over a bridge and you’re at the practice facility. Is it the greatest? Coaches always want more. If you have one court, coaches want two courts. If you have two baskets, coaches want four baskets, six baskets. But you make do with what you have, because most of the coaches go way back to the beginning, and you probably were coaching some high school team or junior high school team, and you were lucky if you had one backboard and a rim that was good back then. So, you appreciate the fact that they have given you enough to work with. If you can’t coach your team under these circumstances, somethings wrong with you.