The American coach leaves Bhutan after being involved in promoting the sport for the past two years

Profile: Michael Andrew Behnke, 45, popularly known as Coach Mike is busy observing the finals of the Pepsi A League basketball tournament at the Swimming Pool Complex in Thimphu.

The tournament will be Coach Mike’s final involvement with the Bhutan Basketball Federation (BBF) and with the sport of basketball in the country.

Come next week, the American coach who contributed immensely to the development of the game in the country for the past two years will be gone.

However, Coach Mike leaves the country after delivering its first international win against Bangladesh in the first Women’s South Asian Basketball Championship (SABA) in Nepal last week.

Coach Mike was behind the creation of the first national women’s team for the country. As the head coach of the newly formed team, Coach Mike led his team into their first ever international tournament in Guwahati, India in February.

Coach Mike first visited the country in June 2013 for BBF to conduct a youth basketball programme in Punakha. Later towards the end of 2014, Coach Mike returned to train the men’s team for a 3-on-3-basketball tournament in Thailand.

Following a decent result from the team at the competition, BBF offered Coach Mike a contract to lead the national women’s team and also help the men’s team for the SABA games.

“Bhutanese are more athletic, it’s just a matter of teaching them basketball,” said Coach Mike. “The players are very fast and most of them have good skill. Although they haven’t won an international game yet, I believe if they undergo the same level of training and receive proper coaching, they will definitely win games in this region.”

Besides starting the first women’s national team, Coach Mike, also played a key role in promoting the game to the youth. He headed youth basketball camps in places like Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdue. He helped in the development and coaching of the under-16 and under-18 teams.

Coach Mike also helped the federation in organising the first Thimphu Elite Youth Basketball League (TEYBL) last year. TEYBL is a grassroot developmental initiative of the federation to promote basketball in the country and to encourage youth participation in the sport.

“During my stay here I came across several good players but what was lacking was a team,” said Coach Mike. “You don’t blend into a team right away. A good coach helps in building this chemistry among the team members and this is exactly what we did with the women’s team.”

Coach Mike said that the key to build a good team is to define the roles of each player on the team. “Not everyone can shoot every shot,” he said.

One of Coach Mike’s biggest contributions to the game was the introduction of a system where match statistics are maintained. During the major leagues Coach Mike maintained a record on how many points and rebounds each player made during the game.

He said that maintaining statistics helps players realise their exact potential and to work on their weaknesses. “Stats are important because they are the truth,” said Coach Mike. “Besides, players are excited to see their performance during the game which is reflected in the stats.”

Coach Mike thinks that with the same amount of practice and proper guidance Bhutanese basketball players, both men and women have great potential in the near future.

“For basketball to improve further in Bhutan, facilities need to be improved,” said Coach Mike. “But most important of all, there should be qualified coaches to train the players and currently, there is only one FIBA certified coach with Coach Jamtshog (Tenxin Jamtshog) stepping down.”

According to Coach Mike, in the next four to five years the Bhutanese basketball team should be competing for silver or bronze medals at regional tournaments.

“Bhutanese have a good chance to compete in the regional tournaments and win,” said Coach Mike. “There are some good tall guys in the team. But basketball is not all about heights.” He added: “Height helps but you can beat height with speed, and fortunately Bhutanese have speed.”

 Younten Tshedup