heinnews’s David Hein was at the U18 European Championship and met up with Douglas Leichner, associate men’s basketball head coach at the University of Maine. They discussed the level of the U18 tournaments and players in Europe; European players compared to their U.S. counterparts; players from Europe deciding on going to institutions in the United States; and what it’s like dealing with the NCAA regarding international players and their eligibility.
heinnews: First of all, perhaps you can describe the University of Maine’s past and present and future with international/European basketball players?
Coach Leichner: First off, all NCAA college basketball teams want to find the best players possible wherever they might be in the world. Regarding UMaine, we’ve had a long history of attracting international players. By the 2011-12 season, Maine will have had 10 countries outside the USA represented on our roster over the years.
heinnews: You have been attending the Under-18 European Championship Division A and B in Wroclaw, Poland and Varna, Bulgaria respectively. What is your opinion of the level of talent at those two events in general and the 1993 age group in particular?
Coach Leichner: NCAA rules don’t allow me to comment specifically on players but only in general terms. Having said that, the level is very high and these events afford an opportunity to evaluate players in an intense environment while they compete for a European Championship. The passion displayed while representing their homeland gives insight into how they will perform under pressure at the collegiate level. Also, the amateur players interested in NCAA opportunities are competing against high-level players; some with professional experience.
The European 1993 generation overall is of high standard and I’ve been following that age group for a few years. Many players are projected to have long careers in Europe and some at the Euroleague level. However, talking with NBA scouts, they’re still searching for that elite can’t miss prospect to emerge.
heinnews: Watching the youth European events over the past couple/few years, which nations from the lower ranks would you say have really made strides in their development of players and in what regards do you see that improvement?
Coach Leichner: Poland, Denmark, Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Czech Republic are countries that may have surprised people who follow European youth basketball. They have developed many players to a high level that are either playing professionally or receiving interest from NCAA programs.
heinnews: What is the biggest reason you believe young Europeans decide on attending U.S. colleges and universities instead of staying in the European club system?
Coach Leichner: There are many reasons to attend schooling in the USA and the ultimate deciding factor can vary depending on the person and what they deem important. First off, the student-athlete will receive a great education, earn a diploma and that can never be taken away from them. Eventually the basketball stops bouncing for everyone and to have an education is priceless. College is a great experience that exposes a person to travel, different cultures and ideology etc. Second, the player will receive high-level training and access to all modern technology and facilities. Having traveled extensively throughout Europe, I know there are countries that don’t have the infrastructure to develop players and the USA can fill that void. Also the competition level is high and the European player will be exposed to a different style of play that will make them a well-rounded player. Lastly, I know most of the players coming to the USA have professional aspirations either in the NBA or Europe. Many believe the time spent in the NCAA will create a pathway to a higher level of ball after college.
heinnews: Many basketball observers generally say European players are better fundamentally at the game than their American counterparts. How much truth does that thought process have from your experience with these players?
Coach Leichner: I feel it’s more of a style of play than a skill set issue. There are both American and international players that are highly skilled as well as some that are deficient in regards to passing, dribbling and shooting. The 24 second shot clock in Europe along with the expanded trapezoid lane (before it was recently changed) were conducive to a style of play promoting certain basketball characteristics.
heinnews: How difficult is it dealing with the NCAA and their recruiting regulations from the perspective of international basketball players?
Coach Leichner: The NCAA has regulations in place to ensure that all basketball programs and prospective student-athletes are treated fairly. The NCAA produces a manual detailing rules and regulations that all must adhere to. Also, coaches must pass a yearly test of these regulations in order to recruit prospective student-athletes. At times it can be confusing, but each university has a compliance director who helps navigate the athletic staff through the rules and provides interpretations of such rules. In my opinion, the biggest reason international players fail to become eligible and play in the NCAA is not lack of talent but being unaware of the eligibility process. The NCAA requires a prospective student-athlete to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center in addition to passing a standardized test such as the SAT or ACT.
heinnews: Well, thanks for your time, it’s been a nice chat.
Coach Leichner: I would like to thank heinnews for the opportunity to give my perspective and insights on European basketball in relationship to the NCAA and in particular the University of Maine. Go Black Bears!