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Always upbeat Joyce thrives while writing new chapter with Kaohsiung Aquas
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - "You can't look in the rearview mirror. You look forward."
Words of wisdom uttered by one of Australia's finest, veteran coach Brendan Joyce.
If you live Down Under, you know Joyce well, first as a player from 1979 to 1991, but since 1996 as a coach, be it with club teams or with national sides.
Among his many jobs, he assisted national team coach Brian Goorjian when a young Boomers team played at the Athens Olympics in 2004. He was also assistant coach at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2006 in Japan, the Melbourne Commonwealth Games when Australia won the gold medal, and at the 2008 Olympics when Patty Mills and Joe Ingles had their first campaign with the national team.
The international basketball community will better remember Joyce for his time in charge of the Opals, whom he coached from 2013 through 2016.
The Opals clinched third at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2014
Joyce is now relishing the opportunity to coach overseas. He's at the helm of T1 League leaders Kaohsiung Aquas in Chinese Taipei.
"It lights a fire," he says of the opportunity.
"We're now 9 and 1 with two good wins over Taiwan Beer,” he said. Taiwan Beer are an established powerhouse in the country.
If it's a strange sight seeing Joyce pace the sidelines in Chinese Taipei, it's something he has really enjoyed.
"It's actually something I've wanted to do for a long, long time. But having four kids didn't allow me to leave for a long, long time. With the national teams, you go away, but you come back. My kids are grown up, mature, great jobs. The time was right."
"YOU CAN'T LOOK IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR. YOU LOOK FORWARD ... I'VE GOT ENOUGH RUNS ON THE BOARD TO KNOW THAT I'M A GOOD COACH"
Joyce is really in his element. He loves competition, and he loves to teach basketball.
"It's not just about winning the championship," he says. "I can see the development of the players."
During his time as the women's national team coach of Australia, Joyce always harped on player development and deepening the talent pool. He says the Opals took strides in this area during his time in charge.
The results were also good. Australia, under Joyce at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2014 in Turkey, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the FIBA Women's Oceania Championships (2013, 2015), were a combined 14-2.
The biggest success story was the World Cup. Australia, despite losing their best player, Liz Cambage, to injury just a couple weeks before, put one of the best teams on the court and finished third. The only team to beat them was the USA, in the Semi-Finals, and that was a close contest.
The Opals trailed by a handful of points in the fourth quarter before falling, 82-70. It's a game Joyce will never forget.
"USA coach Geno Auriemma saw how disappointed I was after and walked over to me and said, 'Brendan, that was the toughest scout of we (the Opals played) had come against in many international campaigns.' He cited how difficult it was to figure out what we do, and when, and by whom, noting various leading scorers in the games in the tournament and the versatility of how we defended. We played so well in Turkey. We had Nat Burton, our best defender, who could defend any player on the court.
"We also did this without Liz."
Expectations were raised and after a second straight Oceania Championship win, Australia went to Rio, this time with Cambage. Australia won all of their games in the Preliminary Round but uncharacteristically turned the ball over 23 times in the Quarter-Final against Serbia and lost, 73-71.
Joyce believed the program was moving in the right direction and could point to success with the youth teams, too, which he was involved with. But Australia elected to put former star Sandy Brondello, someone Joyce calls "a great coach", in charge.
"We're over it now, but we're disappointed," he says. "We were 14-2. We were in a rebuild, and my role was also developing the junior players. The junior teams won titles. Everything was put in place, but it was pulled apart ... But you just move on. That's sports."
Joyce's final game with the Opals was a painful 73-71 defeat to Serbia in Rio Quarter-Finals
Joyce is not the only coach to be shown the door after an Olympic defeat. Belgium's Philip Mestdagh, who'd led Belgium to a couple of third place finishes at two of the last three EuroBaskets, was let go after the Cats lost at the buzzer in the Quarter-Finals to Japan last summer.
Valerie Garnier of France claimed an Olympic bronze medal. She never got Les Bleues to the top of the podium of a major event but her teams were runners-up at the EuroBaskets in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021.
Joyce coped with the disappointment of leaving the Opals by putting his head down and getting to work.
"For the next two years, I put a lot of time into development, both for myself and players," he says.
"Then I coached Ballarat (Miners), I did international coaching clinics."
Ballarat is a city that's 90-minute drive west of Melbourne and the Miners play in the NBL1.
"Then Taiwan (Chinese Taipei)," Joyce says, enthusiastically talking about his latest role.
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He likes being overseas and helping a club raise its profile but also seeing his philosophy net positive outcomes.
"It's about teaching pace and concepts," he says. "We do have set plays but it's more about playing on the run, teaching players to read the game, making decisions, learning how to play the right way, to share the basketball. We've got six or seven players averaging in double figures."
The club is making Joyce feel right at home, including housing him in an extremely comfortable hotel. He likes everything about the job, from the good relationship with the owners to CEO Wilson Lee and General Manager Devin Wang, who recruited him. "They've been great to work with," he says.
Equally, and perhaps most importantly, is that the players are responding to him and in a good way.
Joyce’s Aquas are playing well, and very different to other teams. There has always been an emphasis on the three-point shot but he also has the players getting to the rim and hitting pull-up jumpers.
"I've got this team playing a different style of basketball," he says. "We’re locking teams up, defending the full court, half court. I like the development of the players. They have really bought in."
It's been an adventure, and so far, a fun one.
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"For me, it's about staying focused on the process of the moment," he says.
That is also what he tells his players, along with, "Improve, get better."
He stresses the importance of "pace, conceptually, so we are hard to guard." He talks about individual improvement, team improvement.
"Whether we win or lose, I keep saying we have the performance measures in place and stay on an even keel. Even though we've won, I always show them how we didn’t do well in this quarter or this quarter."
Joyce has signed a one-year contract so both he and the club will evaluate things after the season, which is looking as if it will last into the playoffs, from mid-May to the end of June.
With the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup being staged in Australia later this year, Joyce will probably reminisce a little and maybe wonder "what if?".
He'll have plenty of other things to occupy his thoughts, though. Joyce won't spend too much time looking back, but rather looking ahead.
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