Q&A: PTL standout Swetalla discusses time in Europe

BY BEN SCHUFF | JUNE 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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This summer marks Dain Swetalla’s eighth appearance in Prime Time League. The native of Bettendorf had the opportunity to be a player-coach for a professional team in Romania during the 2008-09 season, and The Daily Iowan talked with him about that experience.

DI: How did you deal with playing and coaching at the same time?

Swetalla: It was pretty difficult to balance the playing time schedule [and] maintain my focus on the court to handle what I needed to do out there as a player. At the same time, I had to be mindful of what [was] going on from a team perspective, to manage substitutions and end-of-game situations.

It’s hard when you need to think about how you need to act on the court [and] at the same time keep everybody on the team focused to set the plays up that we need to go to. Everybody is looking at you, but at the same time, you’re used to looking at somebody else for those end-of-game calls.

It was a struggle but a great learning experience, too.

DI: What was the one aspect that was the most difficult to balance playing and coaching?

Swetalla: It was clearly maintaining my focus on the court [as the coach] with what I needed to accomplish as a player to advance my career. It was difficult balancing my on-the-court playing time and what I need to work on to get better as a player but at the same time really trying to run a team.

You can do that when you’re on the bench and you can see where defenses are having breakdowns or where you have matchup issues.

When I would play in the post, I had to play inside and read what was going on — read matchup situations and see what they’re playing on defense, all while running down the court and setting up the offense. A coach can sit on the sideline, look down and say, “OK, they’re in a zone, so we’re in this or this.” But it’s hard to do on the fly when you’re running up and down the court.

DI: Did it change the way you view the game?

Swetalla: It’s hard to say that it would change your perspective, because it’s such a rare perspective that few people get to have. You say that things get changed from a perspective when you go from just a player to just a coach on the sidelines and how you see the game differently.

But when you’re involved in both, it doesn’t change your perspective. It just gives you a whole different perspective that you’ve never been exposed to and can’t prepare for.

Changing a perspective isn’t a good way to look at it; just throwing a completely different form of basketball at you is a better way to look at it.

DI: Did it make you a better player?

Swetalla: Yeah, I think so. It required a lot of mental focus on the court. There were no days to just go through the motions, even though you shouldn’t have those as a pro anyway. If there was a day where you go to practice and things aren’t right, you still got to prepare yourself every day as a coach. I got to set up a game plan every day for practice, I’ve got to set up a game plan for what we’re going to do for our pregame talk, go through what we’re going to run on defense and offense. It really kept you sharp mentally.

It really helped my focus preparing for situations, too. I’ve had to dissect things from both perspectives on the fly. So now as a player, even though I’m 6-9, I can run the point and can see and survey the court and know where the reads and the matchups are going to be.

DI: Are you more appreciative of coaching now?

Swetalla: Any coach who says his job is easy is lying. The way you talk and address your players with confidence and being articulate is huge. We had a couple guys who were older, and all of a sudden I come as a 22-year-old kid right out of college.

They could see what I could do on the court, but at the same time — and understandably so — its hard for a 35-year-old Romanian player to come and listen to a 22-year-old American kid who doesn’t speak the language. Now I’m coming in all of a sudden and giving him orders what he needs to do.

DI: What did you do to overcome those barriers?

Swetalla: I sat everybody down before we even started playing and to make sure [they knew] it wasn’t a dictatorship, I said “What do you guys run? What are your systems you’re comfortable with? What [are] everybody’s strengths?”

It was all about gaining their trust before we even stepped foot on the court, so they knew I’m coming in and listening to what they have to say and learn from them. I wasn’t going out there thinking I was the next best thing to come to Romania and I was going to take over the show.

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