Pavel Googe's Observations From The 2015-16 Season

VTB-League.com presents a brand-new Expert Opinion, our blog that lets you see inside the sport's top minds and their analysis of the VTB United League.

Russian coach Pavel Googe has prior experience at Ural-Great and as an assistant to the legendary Dusan Ivkovic at CSKA, in addition to coaching league newcomers Vita this season.

Googe shares his thoughts on working at a VTB United League club and the biggest surprises of the season thus far.


Russian athleticism: Even before the season started, it was clear that the league's speed and athleticism would be at a very high level. The process was simple for foreign players. Depending on the budget, sign raw talent from established university programs and/or pick up more experienced players from the NBA, D-League or top European leagues that were returning from injuries.

The biggest revelation was the level of athleticism demonstrated by the league's Russian players. It wasn't just one area of the game that jumped out at me, but rather their overall ability to compete at a high intensity, play physical defense and fight through contact. A new generation of athletes has matured, developed under the watchful eye of very talented coaches. Experience on the bench, years of practice and interaction with more experienced teammates has made a difference. They've competed in Europe. In terms of self-motivation, professionalism, physical fitness, skill (especially on defense) and effort, Russian players have reached a new level. It's exciting to see. The national team has a solid foundation to build on and the strength & conditioning coaches deserve a big thank-you. Their role behind-the-scenes continues to grow.

Scouting depth: I was impressed by the level of preparation for each opponent. Everyone analyzes everyone. There's not a big drop-off in scouting between the league leaders and teams at the bottom of the standings. Scouts from different teams work closely together. The programs used during game prep allow the coaching staff to access extensive, in-depth analysis. When you've got a decent number of talented players on the roster, preparing for games is quite enjoyable. It's both interesting and informative and the volume of analysis gives you enough space for strategic maneuvers. 

Player interest in the league: Beginning in mid-August, I began getting dozens of emails every day from basketball agents around the world.

It's clear that for many players in the USA and elsewhere, participation in the VTB United League is seen as prestigious. The top priority is getting an opportunity to play in the league. Yes, the size of the contract is still important, but agents and players are willing to sign for less than desired for their first year in the league. 

Excellent coaching: Every team in the league is unique and the coaching is a big reason for that. Coaches also have an impact on the roster. The coach dictates the team's approach on and off the court and decides on offensive and defensive tactics. He also has a direct impact during games.

I'll be honest: I found it very educational to be exposed to different coaching philosophies.

Personally, I found the teams that have had the same coach for more than one season most interesting: CSKA, Khimki, Zenit, Nizhny Novgorod, UNICS, Tsmoki-Minsk, Kalev, Bisons, Astana.

The teams in the league are very different on the court. But everyone is prepared to play aggressive, high-energy basketball. Different types of pressure defense, match-up zones, and screen defense are used. A lot of attention is paid to speeding up transition offense and attacking as quickly as possible on offense.

The type of defense used might switch during a possession. As a rule, the coach mixes and matches on defense, in addition to switching up the offense during the course of a game. Specifically, it's fascinating to observe plays that are used out of timeouts. 

Big-time stars: Being able to watch incredible talents like Milos Teodosic, Tyrese Rice, Petteri Koponen, Alexey Shved, Keith Langford, Kostas Kaimakoglou, Malcolm Delaney, Victor Claver, Victor Rudd and Ryan Toolson is a treat. It's just as interesting to go up against veteran players like Quino Colom, Jeff Brooks, Travis Peterson, Paul Stoll, Delroy James, Jeremy Chappell, Semyon Antonov, Kyle Landry, Andrey Vorontsevich, Vitaly Fridzon, Dmitry Khvostov, Janis Timma and Nik Caner-Medley. Young players in the league are very lucky. They are in the right place at the right time.

The league has many experienced players that impact the game in a big way. It can be very difficult to officiate games with so many stars. I wouldn't want to be in a referee's shoes when he's forced to decide on plays involving star players. They are very talented and artistic.

For a coach, participating in a league of this quality is extremely useful and interesting. 

Fans and cheerleaders: I was very impressed by the fans that came to support Lokomotiv-Kuban in Tbilisi. The size of the group, their gear, passionate support, friendly attitude and energy... Everything impressed me.

It's tough for me to compare because I didn't see anything else like it. I hope that other teams in the league also have that type of support. It was very nice to see the players exit the arena after the game and be greeted by a tunnel of fans excited to see them and cheering their names. I'm happy for the club and the players.

I was also struck by the atmosphere at St. Petersburg's SIBUR Arena. It was very alive and upbeat. There were a lot of young people. The cheerleaders were simply on another level with their dancing during pauses in the game and it made for a very festive atmosphere in the arena. 

Pavel Googe,
ex-Ural-Great, CSKA and Vita coach