Wednesday 23 January 2019

All-Stars preparing to challenge

David Goulden

EJ's Sligo All-Stars get their National League campaign underway this Sunday with a trip to the Jes in Galway to take on the Titans.

Now in their second year under current head coach Alberto Garcia, the All-Stars are looking to continue their progression under the Spaniard. Injuries greatly affected their advancement last term, with Sligo finishing second from bottom in Division 1B.

2017/18 was the beginning of a new phase for the Mercy College based side who saw dramatic improvements in their post-winter performances.

Like with any new project, Garcia had to start somewhere and now, the 2018/19 season is all about becoming competitive.

"Last year was quite challenging because it was my first year coming to a new club and a new country", Alberto says.

"It's always takes time to get used to the culture, the players and also for them to get used to me and the way I work."

"It took us a while to get to know each other but I think after Christmas, we started to get better in terms of chemistry, things translated a bit better on the floor.

"There were a few injuries and other issues so in terms of results it was very challenging."

In the second of his three year deal, Garcia, who once played and coached with Sunday's opponents, says the goal of building the All-Stars into a team worthy of challenging for honours takes some patience and a lot of support.

"I told the club that the first season was going to be more of a transition season. You learn more from a tough season than an easy one.

"They understood that, so they are happy because they see what the plan is for this and next season."

Garcia has kept the nucleus of last year's squad and has added five new players.

Americans Zack Yonda and Conor McClenaghan join on a student athlete programme. Spanish point guard Inigo Zabalo and former LYIT player Zak Balogun also join up for the coming year. Although Zabalo will not be available until the third game of the year against Eanna due to registration issues.

While Ollie Brockmann joins his brother Tobi as he returns to the Sligo fold.

"A few players have left but we've managed to keep most of our players and we've added a few", Alberto continues.

"Zabalo is only 22 but he has a lot of experience at a pretty good semi-pro level.

"It was very short notice so unfortunately he won't be available for the Titans game but will be here on the 16 th ."

"We're really happy with Zack and Conor because they seem like both good players and good people which for us, is very important. They need to come in and help us and not do their own thing"

Garcia is realistic but determined when he discusses his side's plans for 2018/19.

"We want to be competitive which at times last year wasn't possible", he adds.

"Especially when we struggled with numbers. After that, we will try and push to go as far as we can in every competition we can.

"We're young, still a little inexperienced but we're ambitious. But with the guys coming in and the guys who were here last year, we can push on.

"We had a pre-season at the beginning of August but unfortunately not everyone was here. So we want to take it one step at a time. We need to be patient. We know the results will come if we do what we have to do in training.

"Last year, training methods were hard to develop because attendance was poor with injuries. But this year it will be different and we will be able to put our ideas across.

Last year training was twice a week for one and a half hours, this year it's three per week for two hours so we can raise standards."

Keeping with the realistic trend, Alberto mentions that the All-Stars set up is very much in line with that of the local football or GAA clubs in terms of being run by volunteers. He even points out that one of his new signings was collected at Belfast airport on Sarturday morning last, by the mother of another player.

"It's tricky to get players in from abroad because the resources just aren't here. For example, we can't really offer accommodation or much of a salary. So we need them to work, pay for their own accommodation and play basketball and that's very challenging.

"Some clubs can do it because they have so many sponsors or they have outside support. But not many. Those who do, it makes a big difference if you can bring in a pro. But we do what we can with what we have."

All-Stars welcome LYIT to the Mercy on Saturday week for the first game in front of their own fans.

First up however is the Connacht derby with Titans. "We only have one week to prepare the team for Sunday so we need to be realistic", Alberto concludes.

"We're meeting two teams who weren't at the top last year, but I'm not going to call them easy. It's five on five and it's going to be challenging because we're only going to have three training sessions with our full team before Sunday."

Sligo Champion