A hoops traveler stops to teach - The Explorer: Sports

A hoops traveler stops to teach

Belgian shares understanding, passion with Green Fields campers

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Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:21 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Green Fields Country Day School head boys' basketball coach Joseph Umstead was a little winded after his summer basketball camp ended on Saturday.

"After this week, I can't run with these guys down the court anymore," said Umstead with a laugh.

The reason: the camp's international guest coach, Jean-Pierre Fransquet.

"The drills we were doing, they were college and pro level drills," said Umstead. "It's the first exposure they've had to how the game can truly be played."

Gaining exposure to new basketball ideas is something Fransquet has been doing for more than 30 years.

The former Belgian Olympic coach, who lives in Liege, the third-largest city in the country, has traveled the world, first as an athlete and now as a coach.

Learning, gained from experience, has assisted Fransquet in providing guidance to young basketball talent.

He has coached more than 300 basketball camps all over the world, and established a youth basketball league in Belgium, as well as tutored squads from U.S. colleges like Duke, the University of Connecticut and Virginia Tech.

Credentials are obviously not an issue for Fransquet, who will coach the professional Belgian squad Geel next season after spending this year in Luxembourg.

"Basketball is my life, I eat, sleep it, and breathe it, and it's helped me to meet people in many different countries that I'd never been to before," said Fransquet. "I've been to Norway, Finland, Turkey, Portugal, Hungary, and many more because of basketball."

In addition to expeditions across Europe and the Middle East, Fransquet has also spent his fair share of time stateside.

"This is my 15th trip to the U.S., and my third to Arizona," said Fransquet.

The first two trips were with the Belgian national team during the 1980s, some of them in Tucson to play the University of Arizona.

While his first experiences in the Old Pueblo were more of a whirlwind, Fransquet said this time around, he's taken some time to take in Tucson and the surrounding area.

"Usually with the national team, you are here to play, then you get on the plane right away," said Fransquet. "This time I got to know the south part of Arizona, and I like it."

Despite allowing himself some time to see the sights, Fransquet made it clear that no matter where he's looking, his eye is always on the game of basketball and its changing landscape. That's what he truly enjoys exploring.

"U.S. basketball is the best," said Fransquet matter-of-factly. "But I think the gap between European and US basketball is maybe not as big as it was."

"When you watch the college game here (in the U.S.), it's much more physical," he added. "But in Lithuania and Spain they are 6-10 and they are shooting three's."

It's that kind of global outlook on the game that caused Umstead to jump at the chance to invite Fransquet to Green Fields, a chance provided by a mutual coaching friend.

"I thought it was a fantastic experience for all the participants," said Umstead. "To bring in a guy that had been doing this for so long, it was great for them, and it's really fortunate that I knew someone so this could happen."

Fransquet has noticed the camps are smaller this year (the Green Fields camp totaled around 25, both boys and girls), reasoning the shrinkage is "probably economic," but that hasn't stopped him from sticking to the coaching goals he's adhered to for years.

"Coming here is very serious, the first goal is to learn something," said Fransquet.

"But at the same time, to have fun."

According to Umstead, those goals paid off for the athletes, most of whom attend Green Fields.

"I just saw the guys and girls grow tremendously throughout the week," said Umstead. "All the facets of their game improved."

While Fransquet brought an eclectic and varied background to the table, Umstead points at one coaching technique that seems to be universal.

"Obviously he's very passionate about the game," said Umstead. "(The athletes) picked up on that."

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