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Szifris mind a maze of plays

At first glance, the world inhabited by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, the stars of the Los Angeles Lakers, might seem more than an ocean away from the charms of Musselburgh Sports Centre.

The National Basketball Association champions play in a 20,000 seater venue before a crowd of Hollywood celebrities - with their top players earning millions of dollars.

However Toni Szifris is hoping to work a little Lakers magic of his own as the newly-established East Lothian Peregrines progress through their first season in the Scottish League.
The veteran has always looked across the Atlantic for inspiration. And the tactics employed by Lakers' masterminds Phil Jackson and Tex Winter
- who previously coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls -  will be fully incorporated into his bag of tricks.

"It started with me in 1980 when I went on a Churchill scholarship to the States and studied the work of four or five different coaches," he revealed. 

"I was looking for a style of basketball which would suit Scotland. I believed, as I still do, we needed to play an up-tempo style.

"The famous Lute Olsen, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month, was one. I went down and studied his work and took it away with me. 

"In 1990, I spent a year on work exchange in Woodstock, Illinois. When I was there, I watched the Bulls a dozen times and I wrote to Tex Winter who was working there with Jackson. He sent me it back his notes on their offense with the hand-writing still on the page. 

"I know it back to front. And I've used it in Scotland on a few occasions."

Szifris also doubles as chief of the Scottish men's team and his house, he admits, is cluttered with videos and notes of strategies culled from watching the NBA's elite panel of coaches. 

Even during his season working as assistant to then Edinburgh Rocks coach Jim Brandon, he was picking the brains of opposing playcallers.

"I have shelves of material which I keep updated with different kinds of plays. When basketball appears on television, if I see something I like, I'll stop the tape and chart it down on paper and file it away for
future use.

"You have to change what you have. But I've always believed that you need systems which can be taught easily. You can't do too much. You may have masses of knowledge but you can't use it all at the same time."

It's not just on the court where the American style has been Tartan-ised.

"I've especially looked at the way these coaches have treated people, how they use the psychology of the game to get players performing at their best level," added Szifris. 

"Phil Jackson and his philosophies have made a lot of people laugh but they work. When he signed Dennis Rodman, everyone thought he was mad but he set rules for him and it paid off."

With a collection of experienced players - including two ex-Rocks favourites - the Peregrines will hope to make an instant impression this term. After losing narrowly to champions Troon in their debut, it has been plainer sailing since.

East Lothian has established age group sides at Under 12, 14 and 16 levels, with satellite squads in Meadowmill, Dunbar, North Berwick and Haddington. 

With a wheelchair team also in the mix, Szifris has been energised by his return to the club ranks. 

Although the basics come from his archive,
he promises that the Peregrines will bring a fresh look to the Scottish scene.

"Because I've been involved in the Scotland set-up, my mind has never been away from basketball. And since this is a new team, I've taken the opportunity to develop new strategies, things which you won't find in
any playbooks.

"Looking at it, inventing it, seeing how it worked with the players and making adjustments - that was fun. It's going to be a little way down the line before we perfect what we're doing but it will come and I think
we'll be competitive."

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