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Watch: Coach Walls heaps praise on the squad as Malta face Azeri in European Championships debut

From left: Malta players Tevin Falzon, Sam Deguara, Aaron Falzon and Nelson Kahler. PHOTO: MATTHEW MIRABELLI

All preparations for the FIBA Small Countries Games come to an end as the European tournament tips off in Malta on Tuesday.

Malta heads into the Games under new coach Alan Walls and he believes the team has what it takes to win gold.

Walls, brought in by the Malta Basketball Association (MBA) in February as a replacement for former coach Andrea Paccarie, said that despite the fact that the full team started training together only recently, he is happy with the players he has at his disposal.

“It being my first year coaching Malta, I can’t really compare (teams) but I think that this squad is probably the most complete team that Malta has been able to field in the last two championships,” Walls said.

“Unfortunately, due to timing, we’ve tried to install our offensive and defensive systems, but had to re-do it when another player joins in. Fortunately, we have not had any injuries during training.

“With the full squad that we have now, I’m very happy with what I see. It is a very versatile squad.”

Walls insists that even though the team will have the most dominant post player in Samuel Deguara, the best shooter in Aaron Falzon, as well a number of young energetic guards, the team’s ‘calling card’ will be its defence.

This comes especially against offensive threats like Azerbaijan’s Jordan Davis and Andorra’s Guillem Colom, both guards plying their trade in the Spanish Liga ACB and both facing Malta in the group stage this week.

“We’ve got a lot of versatility and we can do a lot on offence. But our defence is going to be our calling card. Our defence is going to lead to offensive opportunities,” he explained.

“In the case of Jordan Davis, of Azerbaijan, we’re not going to stop him one-on-one – we’ll have to stop him five-on-one. We have to play team defence and wear him down.

“We have to force him to play a bit hectic and make rushed decisions. If he gets rid of the ball, he’s not dangerous. But I think they are very reliant on him and we can’t let him get comfortable.”

While Nelson Kahler, member of the team that played in the 2019 GSSE, returns to the squad after an absence related to COVID-19 restrictions in Australia where he plays for the Sunshine Coast Phoenix, big man Samuel Deguara will be the name most teams will be looking out for.

The 7 ft 7 centre won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award back in 2018, when Malta won the FIBA Games, and will be a focal point yet again.

“(Deguara) fits very well into the squad because offensively we play a lot of four-out motion around him,” Walls said.

“Sam’s a very hard worker, he loves to practice and doesn’t take any time off. He’s also very

unselfish so he knows that if he’s triple-teamed, he’s got players who can shoot so he moves the ball.

“Whenever you have a player of his size, not just height, but his girth and strength, you have to take advantage of that. Nobody else in this tournament can match up with that.

“But we’re not going to rely only on him, and that’s where other players need to play and not just be watching. We need to keep the ball moving and we’re not a one-man show.”

Turning the page

This year’s Games will be a chance for Malta to redeem themselves after going home with bronze medal in controversial fashion last year in Dublin.

Walls insists on turning the page and believes his players will have each other’s backs.

“Our goal is that we’re here to win, on home soil, in front of our home fans. And we have the team to do it,” he said.

“That’s our expectation, and second will not be acceptable.

“This group is very tight knit and very positive. They’ve got each other’s back and no matter what the situation, we’ll remain positive and make sure that everybody understands what is needed of them.

“Guys that get five minutes will be as happy as those who get 25 because we want to get the win. At the end of the day, it’s about Malta being successful. This is a great opportunity to turn the page especially at home in a beautiful arena and hopefully with packed crowds.”

Hawaiian coach Walls has been in Malta to prepare for the tournament since the beginning of June but has clearly taken the position to heart, expressing his appreciation to the MBA for the support he has found, while urging his players to become more than team-mates through his enthusiasm.

Most recently was the initiative to support other Maltese national teams like the football team at Ta’ Qali.

“I’m a very energetic and enthusiastic coach and I love international competition, no matter what it is,” Walls said.

“When I saw that opportunity, I thought it would be great for team building and for us as the Maltese national basketball team to go out and support the national soccer team for the fans to see us there and for them to know that they can come and support us too. It’s all one country to support, no matter what sport it is.

“Coming in as a foreign coach into a situation like this, you have to be flexible and be prepared for any type of situation that might come up and thankfully I didn’t have to be too flexible because the players are very professional with the way they approach things and the way they practice.

“The association has also been very professional as far as taking care of my needs and the lead up since February in terms of players invited to participate.

“Everything has been first class but the key to coaching around the world is being open minded.

“Basketball is the same simple sport, the rims are the same height, the three-point line is the same, and what is required to win is the same.”

TUESDAY’S MATCHES

San Marino vs Gibraltar            16.15

Malta vs Azerbaijan    18.30

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