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Is Sweden becoming the new Eldorado for talent scouts?

March 24th, 2010 · 7 Comments

With the success of Jonas Jerebko in the NBA, Sweden has emerged on the map of Basketball followers recently. But Jerebko is not only the first Swede to play in the NBA, he is the first sign of a big movement in the Scandinavian country to improve the playing level of their different national teams. Europeanprospects features a major story on the development of Swedish Basketball those days and checks out who are the main talents coming out of Ikea country.

In the summer of 2009, Sweden finished 5th in the U16 B Division, 1st in the U18 B Division and 4th in the U20 B Division. With these results, one team managed to promote to the A Division of Youth Basketball and the two other age groups are on the same way. If you follow the progress of the Scandinavian country over the last years, you see that the number of talented players coming out is growing and that the overall level of Swedish basketball is increasing. spoke with two Swedish insiders to get to understand better what has changed in Sweden and what the nation is up to for the future.

David Leman is currently the assistant coach of the U18 National team and he is also in charge with the responsibility for the U15 program with the purpose to find future NT players and educate players in the U15-age group from the regions of South and East Sweden. He also works with the Uppsala gymnasium basketball program. Tommie Hansson was head coach of different Swedish Youth National teams over the last five years and he is taking a year off in those functions this summer. He works as assistant coach for Plannja Basket this season and still holds a position within the Swedish Basketball federation with the same responsibility as Leman but for the North region of Sweden.

When talking to these two Swedish basketball enthusiasts, I wanted to know what is the impact of Jonas Jerebko in general and what they consider as the main reasons for the recent upwards trend. Hansson explains what the Swedish federation has done in order to find and scout young players with potential in such a large country as Sweden.

I think it’s because of long term work that Per Källman started 10 years ago with the youth national team program. We start earlier nowadays with camps for players being 12-15 years old in the districts and the regions. This means that the young players start to play basketball instead of ice hockey and soccer. These camps are the beginning of being a national team player. Jonas Jerebko started in this program too. And today we are really trying to make all the media to write or broadcast as much of Jerebko as possible.

Leman adds the following concerning this point.

I wouldn’t say that its only a "Jerebko-effect" even though his publicity of course is a positive factor and it helps young players to believe in their dreams. The upward trend has of course many reasons: I think the program by itself with regional selection/education in the age group U15 together with the U16-U18-U20 program with camps every year at specific times are key factors. The youth NT program has become more and more serious and it looks the same from year to year which gives it a professional impression to the players, parents and clubs. The regional program started for the age group born -86/87 and this season the current age-group is born -95, that means players at the age of 14-15 the last 10 years have gone through the program.

Leman has given other explications that seem to be important for him.

I would also say that the success on the women youth side also helps out. All the youth women’s team advanced to the A-division the last couple of years and of course the boys want to do the same. Basketball was big in Sweden in the 70s and 80s and the generation that played at that time now has children growing up playing basketball. A lot of players grow up in an environment where the knowledge about basketball is bigger. Some grow up with parents who played and some maybe just play in the same group where there are formers players coaching or working in the clubs.

The Swedish League is certainly not among the most looked at in Europe. But the clubs are giving more and more minutes to their young players. As the discussions about promoting local talent is heating up in different European countries (see the HGP changes in France, Germany is increasing the number of local players and Italy is discussing once again the foreigner rules these days), I wanted to know what is the situation in the Svenska Basket Ligan.

Tommie Hansson, who works as assistant coach right now in the Swedish League sees it as follows.

There are no rules to promote Swedish players (maybe it should be). But I think the clubs can do an even better job than they are doing right now. Many clubs still don’t give the young players the minutes they should. The reason why some young players are getting minutes is because the coaches simply can’t hold them back, the players are too good. One of the reasons that the youngsters get minutes might be that a lot of the current coaches in the Swedish basketball league are former youth national team coaches.

David Leman confirms what Hansson told us.

There are no special rules to promote young Swedish players (the only rule they have is that a team can only have 2 non-European players). I think it’s a combination that the players have talent and deserve to play. In some cases the players should play even more. The other factor is that this year due to the financial situation more young players got chances to get spots in the League-teams.

All of this sounds very promising for the future of Swedish basketball. But is the level of the Swedish League high enough to develop these young players to become Euroleague level candidates for example. Jonas Jerebko chose to emigrate and played in Italy. So I wanted to know if the coaches consider the Basketligan as a good place for young talent to develop.

David Leman thinks that this is the case.

I think the Swedish League is a very good league for young Swedish players to develop. The 2nd division is also a good league for players who are on the border-line to the top league. Many former players, older with experience play there, so the level of competition is quite high. Like everywhere a situation is good for talents to develop if they have good coaches and club leaders who understand the total picture and are willing to DO the work. With young players comes a big responsibility to WORK with them, it’s not enough to just keep them on the roster, which in some cases is the case.

Leman gives also indications what should and could be done better to improve the quality of the league.

I believe the clubs should put more resources on the coaching staffs. Right now the teams might have a full-time head coach but the assistant coach have to do it "beside a regular job". I think they need to have more clubs and environments where 2-3 coaches are employed to work with the players so everyone get the attention they need to prepare them for the next level. That includes individual work, video analysis and physical work.

Tommie Hansson sees this a bit different.

I think Sweden is perfect for the youngest players until they reach the age of 15-16. But when they becomes juniors (16-19) we have a lot to improve. During that age we practice too little and we don’t get enough of international or good national games. But I think the biggest thing during this period is that we don’t work enough on our strength. The clubs don’t have physical trainers that know how to develop strength.

The Swedish Basketball federation supports two National sport schools with specific basketball programs in Sanda and in Lulea. These two schools are part of the national sport gymnasium program. Hansson gives more details on this.

Sanda and Luleå Basketgymnasium are the two main basketball schools supported by the Swedish federation. I worked for two years at the one in Luleå. These schools recruits 5-8 players every year and they go to normal classes but with basketball as one of their subjects in the schedule. Basketball practice is held twice a day and then school classes during the rest of the day. Both schools play in the 2nd highest league in Sweden.  A lot of their players play now in the Swedish national teams.

The Swedish Basketball federation has certified six other schools that run basketball programs in Uppsala, Norrköping, Östersund, Sundsvall, Södertälje and Växjö. All these programs have basketball classes during the school hours giving the players the possibility to practice twice a day and combine it with high school studies.

In the second part of our report on Sweden, I will talk about the most talented prospects coming out of Sweden.

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