Basketball on the rise once more
EJ's Sligo All-Stars have had an incredible run of form lately winning 6 games in a row including 5 home victories and a brilliant away win recently to IT Carlow who are 3rd in the Southern Conference of Division 1.
Despite going behind by a significant 17 points at the break in that game, EJ's Sligo All-Stars managed to get right back in the match in the 3rd and 4th quarters and with some excellent play they won on a scoreline of 74 points to IT Carlow's 67.
The start of the season saw a transition for the All-Stars when former coach Alberto Garcia stepped down as Head Coach in October after 13 months.
Shortly after and another Spaniard, Carlos Rodriquez was named as Head Coach with fellow Spaniard Pau Vila who has been in Sligo 4 years, his Assistant.
The impact the duo have had has shown in the impressive performances of late, the All-Stars winning a remarkable 6 games in a row.
Carlos has coached many teams around the world and has played professionally for his home club in Seville so his experience speaks for itself. He is adamant however that the All-Stars good run is not down to him as coach but the team's work ethos, attitude and motivation is what is driving them on and how the players are willing to work hard in every match.
And of course he adds, the crowds have been the extra man, adding that the home support in the Mercy College has really played a huge part when the players needed to dig deep and perform.
Pau also helps out with the All-Stars ladies team and said the underage structure is going well too, with teams from as young as U6 upwards.
He said initially he came to Sligo for only 2 years but is now here 4 so the Northwest must be doing something right.
It was fellow All-Stars coach Shane O'Meara who asked Pau to come to Sligo as they were looking for a Spanish coach when they met in his home city Mataro, an hour from Barcelona. He previously played and coached in Spain too before coming to Ireland.
Pau said that basketball here was quite different to what he had known back home. "I found it different, the commitment is different and the hours of training is different. Maybe in Spain we have more teams and clubs and so we are more competitive I suppose because we have to be more competitive. Here the players do a lot of sport during the week, a lot of different sports. They could do maybe 4 sports during the week so that means to have 2 or 3 practise can be hard.
"In Spain, basketball is the second sport in the country so it is really big. We are really happy with the All-Stars club and the commitment of the players and everybody.
"In terms of the underage, we have U6, U8, U10, U12, U14, U16, U18s boys and girls. We have a recreational ladies team this year and the idea of the club is to have a senior ladies team in a few years' time," he added.
Carlos who is also a trained psychologist, said that there is good communication within the club and there is good chemistry between the players and the crowds which is important.
Having such a wealth of experience in basketball having Carlos as Head Coach is a definite coup for the All-Stars and the performances are clearly telling. He is a trained psychologist and is also doing a phD in Sports Psychology. He wanted to come to a different culture and improve his English and decided Sligo was the place to come to.
Carlos explained that since he was a child he was in a professional club back home and then he started coaching senior level when he was 23 and he had the opportunity to go to Mexico with a professional contract when he was 27 and after that he could travel around the world coaching in different countries so he could learn from different cultures and he coached professionally while he was in Spain too. He could then combine everything he learned in terms of coaching and playing and now studying Psychology and working with players he has merged the too.
When he came to Sligo first Carlos said he liked the Irish culture and coming from Mexico, South America and the Middle East it was a new culture to experience. He said: "I found the Irish people very charming and their welcome was very nice, everyone is very friendly. I like the way the Irish people work with each other and help each other," he added.
The All-Stars itself team includes numerous locals and players from abroad who have gelled together. Carlos said from the education and values the players get from a young age from their families and schools plays a big part for when he wants to propose something like a challenge they are willing to do it or willing to succeed at the challenge in a positive way.
The All-Stars have attracted many foreign players such as Zack Yonda, Connor McCleneghan and Jesus SanMartin to name a few who fit in with the local players. Carlos said that he is used to having players from so many various countries because in a professional environment the whole team comes from different countries and cultures and so forth. "Coming from a small town like Sligo, you identify the club's project as yours and that feeling is stronger coming from a small town as opposed to a big city. The relationship between the foreign players and the local lads is very good. The locals are helping them to settle in and all of that."
He brings his experience from the professional background to the All-Stars but added that the main thing is to create a recipe altogether. It is about bringing his experience and putting it along with what the club and the players bring too. "I am learning lots from the people and the Irish people as well so everyone together can build the club for the future," he explained.
Carlos said he is not sure how long he intends to stay in Sligo as of yet. "I am happy in Sligo and the country and we will see what happens."
There were 2 awards for the All-Stars recently with Carlos winning Coach of the Month and Zack Yonda claiming Player of the Month for December. Carlos explained that these are not individual awards as such but show how the whole team is working well together. "With these awards it means that a lot of people are working to get something and this award you have to put a name to win the award. Zack is a really good player but he is just the face of the work of the whole team, like a lot of people and that is the same with my award. I am just the face of the work that a lot of people are doing and I would like to see a lot more people getting the same award because that means that our work as a group is good. Zack is the type of player that helps his teammates. We are like a family and the award is for everyone."
In terms of the 6 victories in a row, Carlos said they are working on different goals, the goal is not solely just to win but creating different habits to make the team grow as a group. "The win is a consequence of our hard work. Hopefully this hard work is going to bring us to building for the future."
Carlos said the crowd plays a integral part in the team's success too. "Crowds have a very important part to us. We had different home games and we were building the team and we were trying to build self confidence in each player and the crowd helped a lot in that. The last week we had a very tough game and after half time I think the self confidence was because of the crowd and they gave the players some time and they were patient and this built their self confidence.
"I am not changing anything, we keep working on what we had before. I wouldn't be able to bring any new details if the club or the people within the club hadn't put in the work years ago."
Assistant Pau said he too is really enjoying life in Sligo. "I came for 2 years first and now this is my 4th season. I am happy here." His degree as a psychologist has helped him a lot Carlos adds, as a person and as coach. "When in Mexico and South America coaching I was coaching in very rough environments. I was using sport to help players not get into a life of crime. It was about showing them your life can be healthy and that fact helped me a lot as a person."
For now both Carlos and Pau are happy in Sligo and both say that hopefully the club will reach bigger heights with the society and town working together with it for the future. EJ's Sligo All-Stars have a big home game this Saturday with Ballincollig who top the Southern Conference. Tip off 7:30pm in the Mercy College gym.