American coach Joe Ward, currently the acting coach of the UP Fighting Maroons, has no plans of a repeat of last season, when the university’s community threw a bonfire celebration to honor the team’s breaking of a two-year losing streak in Season 77.
He doesn’t want a bonfire next season, but not because he has anything against the festivities itself.
“I’ve heard UP had two consecutive winless seasons, so when the team got its first win, there was a bonfire celebration and a lot of people within the community felt so happy,” Ward told InterAksyon.com in an exclusive interview.
“There won’t be a bonfire this time. That’s because we’re gonna win more than just one game. If the players could continue to play defense the way we’ve been doing things regularly in practice, I think we can win four games in the UAAP with the line up that we had.”
Ward has been in the Philippines for a while now, serving as a skills coach under coach Siot Tanquingcen at Barangay Ginebra in the past. He has also worked with Gee Abanilla as part of De La Salle University in the UAAP.
But when Ward, who once served a skills coach for NBA player Leandro Barbosa, was recently hired to run the Fighting Maroons’ practices, he admitted he was caught by surprise at what awaited him over at State University.
“One time, there were two players who were taking engineering courses and they told me, ‘Coach, we cannot attend the practice because we have to attend important classes and review for the exam,’” Ward shared.
“I asked, ‘What?’” he added.
Now that he has adjusted to the school’s philosophy – where education still takes precedence over sports for its student-athletes – he’s eager to dig in and take on the job to the best of his abilities.
“Now I know that UP is like the local version of Stanford, Yale or Harvard,” he said. “Education comes at a higher level and winning basketball is a lot less important. This is a big challenge for me. But I like what I’m seeing with the team now.”
The first thing Ward did was to give his players a much-needed re-education on the fundamentals of the game.
“I saw where the problem was because when I joined the team. I’ve noticed that players were not taught the right way. It’s like coaches before just rolled the ball and let them play without teaching them to play the right way,” added Ward.
He’s confident now, though, that his team will show some improvement in the coming season. Ward isn’t predicting a championship or even a Final Four appearance, but he does guarantee a different UP team taking the court in Season 78.
“You’ll see a defensive, fast-paced UP squad,” Ward said. “You’ll see players playing with a different kind of effort this time trying hard each game to get a win.”
Ward understands that he might not be the head coach of this team by the time the season rolls along – especially with the existence of a rule from the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines pushing for local coaches getting priority when it comes to head coaching jobs in the country.
But no matter what capacity he may find himself in, the American mentor is just looking forward to helping the team and is hoping that some like-minded individuals join him on the coaching staff.
Ward has spoken to management about tapping Allan Gregorio, who handles the UPIS squad playing in the UAAP’s juniors division, to be one of those additions.
“I have no problem with that (rule) as long as the coaches who will be installed on the team would all be on the same page with me,” he said.
- This article originally appeared at Interaksyon