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European Basketball Characteristics

European basketball at the professional level is a mosaic of teams competing in each country’s domestic league as well as in European, cross-continent competitions, under conditions that are very different compared to those in the NBA or the NCAA. This unique environment creates specific challenges for player and coaches, both on the tactical and the physical preparation level.

In this post, I summarize the most important characteristics of the European basketball scene.

Playing in multiple competitions

The top teams in each country compete in multiple competitions throughout the year. First, they participate in their domestic league of their respective country, a competition that usually spans nine months (October to June). Then, the best teams of each national league compete in a European competition, either the Euroleague (highest level), the Eurocup or the FIBA Champion’s League. The various European competitions end somewhere between the end of April to the end of May.  

There is also the prestigious Cup competition, that involves a limited number of games between October and February. Usually, there is a break in domestic and European competitions so these games can be played. The Super Cup is a one-game shootout between the previous year’s champion and the Cup winner and is held early in the season. This is – in most countries – the first official game of the season and it bears a high significance. since it’s a team’s first chance of the season to win a title.

To add to the complexity, during the season there is the National team “window” break. These windows are designated periods (about 10 days) when national teams compete in international tournaments or qualifier. Top players from each team (excluding American players that don’t have such midseason commitments) represent their national teams in high-stakes games after a brief preparation period, typically spanning around ten days. These games can take place anywhere in Europe, so there is also travel involved. Upon their return to their clubs, these players continue with their team obligations with minimal or no rest at all. Meanwhile, the players that don’t compete with their national teams have to practice without playing any games.

Having such a diverse and congested annual schedule poses several challenges to the teams, the players and coaching staffs. The elite European teams have to play three to four games per week, more than 80 games per season and a competitive period stretching from October to late June.

An important complication is that these games are played under different conditions, because every one of these leagues and competitions has slightly different game rules, their own brand of balls, different standards for the arenas and unique eligibility rules for their “foreign”, non-passport holders (see below).

Long-term planning becomes a difficult to solve riddle, many games are set (date and time) based on the combination of each team’s obligations in the various competitions. There are also frequent breaks and last-minute changes that must be considered when designing training blocks and training programs.

With the need to accommodate all these obligations the season becomes too long, as players report to training camp at the end of August and finish between the middle to end of June. Having to compete for ten months, without almost any breaks between, places a heavy load on the body and mind. Importantly, the long season leaves very little time for rest and personal development during the summer months.

Roster Limitations

In Europe, a professional team’s roster consists of two types of players. The “domestic” players, that is, those who have the nationality of that country and the “foreign” players – also called “non-passport holders”. The federation of each country – in an effort to support their “domestic” players – has different rules in place regarding the number of “non-passport” holders that are allowed to play in their national championship matches. For example, Greece allows six foreigners to compete, Turkey five, Italy five or six (depending on funding rules) and so on. Besides such limitations, in some cases, there are rules that mandate to have specific number of domestic players on the floor any given time.

However, in the European competitions, there are no such limitations. That means that a Euroleague team from France, can have a roster of 12 non-French player participating in the official Euroleague game. To better understand why this can be a significant problem for the teams, here is an example:

In a typical week, a team in Turkey will play on Thursday (Euroleague game) and on Saturday (Turkish League game). In the Euroleague game, they can have a roster with 12 non-Turkish players, since there are no eligibility limitations. However, on Saturday, they must include at least seven players holding a Turkish passport (only five foreigners allowed in the Turkish league).

This results in certain non-Turkish players that played on Thursday not to be able to play on Saturday (coach’s choice) and four Turkish players that didn’t play on Thursday that must now be included in the roster for the local league game. Practically, this means that two very different teams will have to compete in these two games.

Rather than having a consistent group of players who build chemistry over the course of a season, coaches must constantly change rosters based on the schedule (whether European or local games). Beyond the tactical complexities this presents, maintaining an optimal physical condition and mental well-being of players with diverse workload patterns becomes a significant challenge. Tracking individual workloads, lifting schedules, and practice routines in the face of such variability is significant logistical challenge.

National Team Participation

I already mentioned the complications in a team’s function form the FIBA national team “windows”. National teams continue to have obligations during the summer. Following a short post-season rest, tehe elite players transition from playing their regular season games until the end of June to participating in intense summer national team training camps somewhere in the middle of July. Following this, they play in highly competitive international tournaments and then swiftly join their team’s training camp in September. Consequently, there is never time for these elite players to focus on their body’s restoration and personal development.

This demanding schedule often persists for years, especially for top players who represent their countries from a young age. The toll of this grueling schedule becomes evident later in the season, manifesting as reduced performance or an increased risk of injuries

Travel Conditions

European league teams face extensive travel throughout the continent. While most Euroleague teams use charter flights, Eurocup and Champion’s League clubs often rely on commercial flights. These journeys can be arduous, especially when opponents’ locations are far from major airports. In domestic leagues, even elite teams frequently endure long bus rides or commercial flights, impacting performance and health. Over a ten-month season, minor inconveniences like flight delays, crowded aircraft cabins, and lengthy check-in lines take a toll on players and staff

Resources and Funding

The demands for the organization and the players have increased dramatically during the past eight years, since Euroleague changed the competition format.  Especially, on the physical side, the increased number, frequency and intensity of the games have been taking their toll on players’ health and performance.

Despite this reality, many teams have been hesitant to invest in new facilities and emerging  technologies to enhance support for their players and staff. While some teams have made significant strides in terms of organizational efficiency, staff structure and overall operations, in Europe, coaches must do more with less.

Allocations for funding and investment, particularly in health and performance departments, remain limited when compared to the NBA or  elite level football (soccer). In some organizations, these departments are understaffed and the compensation for their members significantly lags behind that of teams competing the NBA, NCAA or elite soccer,

Despite all theses differences and unique characteristics, European basketball offers a very high level of competition, featuring exciting games, skilled players and coaches and a unique style of play. Importantly, the Euroleague is ranked only second in attendance and popularity to the NBA. The inherent conditions in the continent, result in the formation of a distinct coaching culture, both in the tactical and the performance side.  

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Joel O.Thamreply
28 May 2024 at 11:30

This is a really profound breakdown of the existing challenges leagues present holistically to its subjects.Thanks for creating such an awareness and enlightenment.What are the possible solutions you would suggest?

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