Whilst there is still CBA basketball being played, the 2011/12 season has obviously ended for the Shanghai Sharks. Although the players are now having enjoy some hard earned holiday, Sharks coach, Daniel Panaggio, remains in Shanghai, working with the club’s youth teams. With those very players going through their drills in the background, Coach Panaggio was kind enough to give his thoughts on the Shanxi series, the development of the Sharks’emerging young players and what will be waiting for the squad from their break in a few weeks.
AC: You gave a pretty emotion press conference immediately after that decisive Game 4 against Shanxi. Was that a heat of the moment thing or would you say the same things now about the players and the team as a whole as as you did then.
DP: No, I love them. They’re great, they really are- and this group here [motioning to the youth team players in the background]– these guys as well, are just so respectful. I’ve been coaching in the US for a long time and sometimes the guys there have a little more edge to them. These guys here, they are just so respectful, they work really hard and they’re learning. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun- that’s why I’m here.
AC: Looking back, how do you feel that Shanxi series went? Do you think it was a missed opportunity or do you think the better team won?
DP: Well, I think the better team won- I don’t think there is any question of that. They beat us 3-1 including twice on our home court and the only win we got, we had to dig in and fight for. They had two really outstanding players in Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines as well as a couple of Chinese players who also played exceptionally well; I thought Lu Xiaoming had a really good series and created some problems for us, and Duan Jiangpeng is a good player as well. Overall, I think we did the best we could. There’s some things we could have done better and I think we could have won both of our home games but we made some mistakes that cost us.
AC: For most of the players, this was their first time in the playoffs- what was it like for them?
DP: Well I certainly think they were happy to get there. They were disappointed we didn’t do a little better but at the same time, they were really felt great about themselves after that road win [in Game 3]- that was certainly the biggest road win we got this year.
AC: You said in the press conference that for the players, the day after getting knocked out of the playoffs was going to be hard. How did you feel when you woke up the following day [after the Game 4 defeat]?
DP: Its always hard, and that’s why I told those guys what it was going to be like. All of a sudden, you’ve got a big void in your life- the season’s over; you don’t have any practice to go to, you don’t have any film to watch, you don’t have any players to converse with, and then there’s the disappointment of shoulda, woulda, coulda.
AC: I’ve spoke to some of the fans who sit behind the basket opposite the players entrance, and for them, their player of the season was Zhang Zhaoxu. Mike Harris says Zhang’s also made the most improvement out of all the players in the team- what’s your thinking on Max [Zhang]?
DP: I think he’s getting better. He has some really unique things for a seven-footer- especially his mobility and his agility. The one thing that holds him back a little bit is his conditioning. He’s improved his conditioning in leaps and bounds since October to where we are today. We need to need to keep moving forward with Max in that regard, but we’ve also got to get him more comfortable with the ball, especially in traffic. There is lots of room for improvement and he’s still a young guy; they talk about twenty-five, twenty-six as the age when a player will really come into his own but with big guys, its more like twenty-eight, and Max has got several years before he reaches that, so if he can remain healthy, improve his conditioning and keep learning, [he can go far].
AC: Yao Ming has retired and Wang Zhizhi is calling it a day after the 2012 Olympics- are you concerned at the pressure he will be under seeing as he will be expected to be the next starting center for China?
DP: No, I think it might be good for him. It’s always good to be needed and to be depended upon because it forces you to step up. I think after this Olympics, Max is going to be a more confident guy.
AC: Two other young players that fans have been really excited about are Feng Tian and Meng Lingyuan. What have you thought about their form this season?
DP: Sky [Meng ] brings intensity, he brings toughness, he brings defense and one of the things he has done for us this season has been to penetrate the lane and score for us, so I’ve been happy with his development. Sweet [Feng] is coming around and I’m really looking forward to working with him this summer and try to get him to be a little bit more explosive.
AC: As the season progressed, Liu Ziqui came into the fold more. What did he do to earn that starting shooting guard spot?
DP: Jeffrey [Liu] has got good size for a shooting guard. He’s got some athleticism, he’s got some quickness and he’s got a knack for playing good defence.With Jeffrey, its getting consistent effort and performances in practice so he can climb the ladder, so to speak, of improvement. Those were some of the things we were wrestling with at the start of the season.
AC: Ryan Forehan-Kelly is obviously back in the States already, and Mike Harris and Marcus Landry have gone back now as well- what did they bring to the team besides their athletic skills?
DP: Well those three guys have my utmost respect because they accept and fit into the Chinese culture. Their team mates have a lot of love and respect for them, and that’s not always the case when foreign players come to China. Sometimes, those players are a little more ahead athletically and have more basketball experience than some of the Chinese players, and they have a little bit of arrogance about them but these guys did not. If you asked our [Chinese] national team guys here, how they feel about those three- they’ll tell you to a man that they really, really like them, and that’s important as we all spend so much time together.
AC: How do you feel Tseng Wen-ting has done in his first season in Chinese basketball?
DP: Well it was an adjustment year. He’s gone from playing in Taiwan with guys he’d grown up with and was very comfortable with, to coming to a whole new environment so he was a little up and down. I think he had some really good games for us and he showed some things that really whet your appetite for more, so its important that Ding have a good summer with us. He’ll have some obligations in Taiwan but we need to get him here as much as we can; we got to get him stronger and in better condition, but also we’ve need to get him playing with a tenacity and confidence that sometimes wasn’t there this year.
AC: You’ve mentioned conditioning and attitude a couple of times. Has that been something you’ve had to work on with Chinese players- to get them to be aggressive and get themselves in good condition?
DP: We’ve set the bar high with these players. We want them to be razor-sharp and the only way they can be razor-sharp is to start in the off-season and to make a commitment to being as good as they can possibly be, and to do so with almost reckless abandon.
AC: Finally, its been a really long off-season. What’s the plan for the club over the next few months once the players return from their time-off.
DP: We’ve got to work on some individual development with these guys. We want them to get stronger and we’ll have James [the team’s physio/trainer] work with them for the first couple of weeks and just do general conditioning and get them quick and strong but also give their knees and feet a rest. After that we’ll get ready for the basketball; we’ll work them in small groups, we’ll work them altogether but we’ll also work them in competition because some of our guys need experience guys like Smile [Zhang Xiaowei]- so we’ll be playing in Australia again this year, I think we’ll be playing in the Philippines, we’ll be training in Italy and maybe in Taiwan as well so we’ve got quite a good plan for the summer.