heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Simon Cote, the first year head coach of German BBL club LTi Giessen 46ers. They discussed the turbulent start to the season, struggling to win on the road, German point guard Heiko Schaffartzik, what it’s like as a first-time head coach and facing off against Deutsche Bank Skyliners, the team he served as an assistant coach for four years.

heinnews: Let’s start with early October when Giessen was close to having to call it quits due to feared bankruptcy and the club placed a lot on their home game against Telekom Baskets Bonn. Your team ended up beating Bonn and the club was saved. Talk about that first month of the season and how crazy it was for you and the club.

Cote: It was a difficult time. We weren’t sure with the bankruptcy looming. We weren’t sure how much longer we would be able to continue. But we have a great group of guys and great character. They kept playing hard and doing what we wanted them to do. We had a tough schedule to start the season at Oldenburg, a home game against Alba Berlin and at Artland Dragons. We played Artland close there and that was a morale victory. But at the time it was just a loss and we were 0-3. The start was disappointing because we played pretty good at the end of the pre-season. We played well for a half against Barcelona and that was inspiring. But we started with a difficult part of the season and had no momentum. I think there were some games in there that we could have won but didn’t. But that’s part of the basketball life.

heinnews: At the end of October you and the players received word that the club had been saved. How big of a relief was that?
Cote: Obviously very big. When the players and coaching staff don’t know where they will be in two weeks it’s unsettling. But our management did a great job rallying the sponsors to help the community and the team. But we made it through. Every team has their obstacles and we have to be positive. If we use excuses, we can’t focus on the things we need to do to get better.

heinnews: The next couple weeks saw Giessen beat Jena in the BBL Cup but then lost to Bonn in the Round of 32.
Cote: We played against Bonn with no point guard and only lost by 11 points, which was a minor miracle. And then against Göttingen we had no back-up point guard against a team that presses a lot. And Heiko Schaffartzik had to play 38 minutes. We just need to get over the little things and find a way to win.

heinnews: The same period saw Danny Lewis leave the team. What was the situation with that move?
Cote: It was a tough situation for Danny and for the team. It was best for both sides. The role I wanted Danny to play was not the role he felt comfortable with. And that happens. Sometimes, it’s best just to go your own way. But we have Ricky Hickman and he has done a great job for us. And he will improve as he’s more comfortable with the team.

heinnews: In mid-November, the team failed to show up on time for the game in Ludwigsburg and was forced to forfeit and given a 1-0 loss. How embarrassing was that incident?
Cote: I have been late with other teams in the past, but never so late that the other team wanted to cancel the game. On a normal day we left for the game with plenty of time. But we just happened to go a route with construction. One 10-kilometer stretch took three hours. How many times has that happened? It’s extremely disappointing that that happened. But it could have happened to a lot of teams. And I am not the kind of guy to think about something like that for two weeks. I don’t worry about the things I can’t control.

heinnews: Okay, then let’s move on. Since then, Giessen has won their next two home games against Paderborn and Trier. But they continued their nightmares on the road in dropping to 0-8. What is the state of the team and why can’t you win on the road? There have been some close results, against Artland by one point and twice by just five points. Is it just a matter of finally getting a win to help the psyche?
Cote: The psyche is part of it. The home team normally has the advantage with the home crowd and the home gym which they know and maybe the odd call. But you really have to out-play an opponent to get a win on the road. We have played teams close on the road. But we haven’t out-played anybody. We’ve managed to get wins here and there but only at home. And one of the reasons we have been so good at home is because the fans have been so fantastic, always supporting us. It was extremely loud against Bonn and again against Paderborn. And they really have given us energy. It’s amazing how big confidence and momentum are because that’s what the home fans have given us. On the road, we really just need to improve offensively and need to shoot better. You can’t win if you don’t hit threes.

heinnews: Have you ever been through such a stressful first third of a season?
Cote: I never broke it down like that. As an assistant coach there was a year in Frankfurt where we really struggled and it was very frustrating. But it’s just a different level as an assistant and head coach. You are responsible for the team and the decisions for the team and there is more weight on your shoulders. The biggest lesson I have learned is that momentum is such a positive factor. There are some parts of momentum that are out of your control. A couple of shots falling or a lucky break. But you can do things as a head coach to try to get momentum going. But you need some help, and that’s what we need – momentum and confidence.

heinnews: Talk a little bit about the improvement of your point guard Heiko Schafftartzik. He is 24 years old now and slowly really coming into his own and being the leader that many in German basketball thought he could become.
Cote: He’s come a long way this season. He still has a lot of growing potential in him to be better and better. We need him to get better in organizing the team, getting other people shots and making the offense flow. Defensively he will always give you 100 percent. He gives others fits. But we need him to make the offense flow.

heinnews: On Saturday, Giessen host Deutsche Bank Skyliners, a team you know very well from serving as an assistant coach for four years. It’s not going to be in Frankfurt, but what feelings do you have going into the game?
Cote: It’s a special game obviously. I worked with them for four years and still know a few of the guys there. Pascal Roller, Dominik Bahiense de Mello and Jimmy McKinney. And I worked one season with head coach Murat Didin. It will be a special game. Plus it’s a derby which adds more intensity. I expect a very intense game and hopefully we can give the crowd something to cheer about.

heinnews: What do you think about the whole situation revolving the release of your former co-assistant at Skyliners Daphne Bouzikou?
Cote: I don’t know the details, so I couldn’t tell you. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s sad since she worked with the team for such a long time and they had issues that couldn’t be resolved. But that happens in sports and people need to move on.

heinnews: You are about five months into your first experience as head coach of a basketball club. How do you feel? How has it been how you expected or how has it been totally different?
Cote: I have to say it’s what I expected it would be – stressful and extremely challenging. There are challenges every single day. At practice every day you try to get better and that’s a big challenge if you’re not wining how you hoped to be winning. If you’re winning and are near the top of the table, practice would be a lot more fun. Practices this season have been a grind at times. And there are so many decisions to be made every day – big and small ones. But it’s been a great experience. I have made a lot of mistakes so far but I think I’m getting better. All I can do is try to get my team better every day. I really enjoy working with the guys. There are some really great character guys and that’s been really rewarding. And seeing them get better is exciting.

heinnews: So, last question: LTi Giessen 46ers will not be relegated because ….
Cote: … we’re going to have a great second half of the season. There is a going to be a time when we really gel as a team. And when that happens we are going to play a lot better offensively and consistently. I hope and we expect that we will beat a lot of the teams we lost to in the first half. It’s a matter of gelling and maximizing the strengths of each guy. We need some positive experiences and to learn about each other. And then we will play more consistently and with more confidence. I believe that will come. I know that will come. The second half will not have nearly the difficulties as the first half.

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