American vs European Basketball: The Differences

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american vs european basketball

When talking about differences between American and European basketball we have to consider many aspects, some of them belong to the game of basketball itself, and some others have to do with the European environment and expectations set for import players. In this article we want to point out the differences, but also give you some insight and valuable information on what to expect about European basketball . 

What is the Difference Between American vs European Basketball

For this article we have had the experience of Europrobasket owner Brad Kanis along with coaches Nikolai Gospodinov and Thomas Roijakkers

american vs european basketball

1. Style of play and tactics

First things first, the style of play is the main aspect we have to focus on. The general assumption is thinking that american basketball is more individual and european basketball is more about the team. Is it this assumption true? 

Nikolai Gospodinov 

“American basketball relies primarily on the individual actions of their players based on their athleticism and good physical performances. American coaches do not focus on too many set offenses and defensively players are not used to playing team defense, they (players) rely on 1/1 defense using more of their arms and usually in Europe it’s called a foul violation.  In Europe basketball is different. The team relies on collective play and they really move the ball well trying to find the best situation to shoot.  

In Europe, coaches use a lot of systems in offense, for example some Euroleague teams have more than 30-40  systems. Coaches would like their players to keep tactical discipline on the court and run the system all the way through. Defensively, they insist a lot  on defense and if you are not getting ready for defense probably you gen can not get more minutes on the court. They insist on team defense and properly rotations after that. Also most of the coaches would like to change defense systems during the game using zone defense or some zone press defense.  Generally  European basketball is more of a team game.”

Thomas Roijakkers 

“In Europe we play more as a team. In general our style involves more ball movement and more player movement off the ball. Having said that, know it’s not only about you, even though you might be a key part of the team.” talking about tactics “Every coach has his own tactics. However there are certain tactics that are often being applied. An example is to “intentionally” foul at the end of the game, without making an intentional foul. This tactic is often used when a team is up 3 points, so the opponent can only score 2 points from the FT line.”


2. Rules

Basketball rules are global, nonetheless, there are some little nuances you have to be aware of when playing in Europe. 

Thomas Roijakkers

“A couple of examples of different rules are: 4 quarters of 10 min, shot clock of 24 seconds and reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound, the amount of time outs and only coaches can call for a time out on a dead ball moment, once you have crossed half court you cannot through the ball into the backcourt on a out of bounds situation.”

3. Grassroots and Coaches

Brad Kanis

“You cannot speak about basketball in a region without discussing the grassroots and how that affects the level and style of basketball. I personally believe the grassroots system in Europe is superior to the American style due to these four concepts:

1)      Coaches in Europe need a certification to coach any age of player.

2)      Every coach is trained and certified by the same book/federation, and know what should be taught to players in each age group

3)      Clubs have Sports Directors which oversea each coach and monitor the improvement of the players and the work of the coaches

4)      The clubs (president, board members, sports directors) consciously select the coaches and trainers that work with their teams, and will replace them if they see fit

american vs european basketball brad kanis

When I was a young player, I was lucky to have a father that played basketball growing up. He also played college ball, so the basic knowledge of basketball was there to teach me and my older brother. He was also our coach growing up in all the teams we played for until middle school. We were the lucky ones though as many young players are coached by someone’s father or uncle, who bless his soul, is coaching out of necessity or lack of a better option. There is a massive lack of knowledge and experience in grassroots basketball in the USA. If you are a young player and switch between various teams or clubs, chances are you will be missing fundamentals that should have been taught to you at a young age. A lack of structure and certification in the grassroots of USA basketball allows anybody to be a coach.

This does not happen in Europe. Every coach is certified so it does not matter what team you play for at what age. You will be taught the fundamentals of individual and team basketball. Even if you move to various clubs throughout your childhood.  If your coach is not a good fit for the team and there are poor results, he will be replaced. The Sports Director of the club selects the coaches and monitors their performance.  Said sports director is usually a very experienced coach and or former player. In Spain there are 3 main certifications. Each takes about a year to obtain and requires essays, exams, clinics and even experience coaching a team. To finish all three and acquire your professional coaching certification is basically the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in basketball.”

4. Environment & Facilities 

Thomas Roijakkers

“This can be one of the most challenging situations for players. This goes especially for players/rookies who leave their country for the first time, not counting that 3 week holiday you once had. When you go to a different country or continent expect many things to be different! Some of the differences could include: language, time difference, mentality of the people, weather, food, and the kind of shops and restaurants there are. Two things to remember… 1. Know that you are in their country, meaning you are the one who has to adjust. 2. Remember different is just different, not better or worse, it’s just different. If you have a growth mindset and embrace the opportunity to learn / see something new it can be a great experience.

Since I have been in the USA many times, I know the facilities you are used to are great. Big difference is that gyms in European countries are mostly owned by the government and are being used as multifunctional facilities and are rented out to schools and clubs. That means you will probably not have your own locker room, you will see different lines on the court (other sports), and a lot of times gym time can be limited, especially during the day. I would advise you to focus on what is there and make the most out of what facilities and time you have. Of course the higher level you play at, the better the facilities will be.”

5. Clubs System in Europe vs American University

Brad Kanis

“I believe the University system in the USA is excellent for the development of players. The coaches are some of the best in the World, and there is not just one or two per team. There are offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, player personnel, player development, scouting, recruiting… the list goes on. Regarding many NCAA D1 programs, there can be 7-10 different staff members. The strength and conditioning coaches are brutal. In the best way. They test you in every way. Every day is a struggle to get through workouts. Your toughness and character are tested and evaluated daily. It will most likely be the most difficult training you have ever experienced. It makes players stronger and tests their limits. University basketball is probably the main reason many American players have great work ethics.

The resources that University players receive are better than most professional European clubs. Even with some organizations at the D2 or D3 level. The trainers, training tables, supplements, recovery equipment…is top of the line and trumps most pro clubs in Europe.

The fans are diehard as well. Most fan’s of a specific collegiate team stay with that team their entire life, for all sports in the University. Many of them donate to the booster programs. Arena’s are massive reaching 20k+ seats that will fill for each game. Games are broadcast across the country to 300+ million people.

One of the main bonuses to growing up and playing in Europe, say around the ages of 15-18, is that you will be playing on multiple teams in your club. Players will practice and play games with players their own age, where they will gain confidence and excel. Then they can also play with teams in ages above them where they will be tested and bang with adult professional players. A 16-18 year old can potentially practice and play games on 3 different teams in 3 very different levels, gaining experience and confidence.”

Thomas Roijakkers

“Some teams are full professional and some teams are semi-professional. That means when you are on a semi-professional team your teammates could be going to school or working during the day. You might be, together with another foreign player, the only professional(s) on the team. Even though the team might be semi-professional, they still expect you to be a professional! Almost all clubs are independent and they have no connection with a school. Some clubs even have multiple sports within their club.”

6. Season Schedule

Thomas Roijakkers

“A big difference is the length of the season. Many teams will start their pre-season in August and depending on the league and how far your team will get, you can go as long as the month June. Some of the leagues are “open” leagues. Meaning that top teams can move up to a higher league the next season, and the bottom teams can move down to a lower division. This makes the competition very interesting, however can also cause a lot of stress with clubs who do not perform well. Therefore every game is important and also winning the tie breaker is key for the rankings at the end of the season. Coming back to being a good professional, if your team is not performing well, but you are being a good professional, you can understand that the decision to keep you is much easier than if you were not acting correctly. My tip for you when you arrive in pre-season: get in good shape and do not use the pre-season to get into shape!”

7. Player characteristics

Brad Kanis

“American players: They can be categorized as strong, athletic, hard-working, and individually focused. Individualism comes from the way Americans are raised. When you are a baby, you most likely had your own room and slept in it the day you came home from the hospital. At 18 you are usually pushed out of the house to college or to work. Individualism is celebrated. Coaches in the US have been known to favor star or franchise players. Many serious American players will train all summer without taking long vacations.

European players: High IQ, technical and team oriented. Europeans are very family oriented. Individualism is not praised like it is in the USA. Team performance comes before individual performance. Many Europeans attend college while living with their parents. They live with their parents into their mid to late 20’s without any social pressure to move out on their own. Europeans typically take full advantage of vacations. Many professional players will take weeks off in the summer.”

8. Responsibilities besides the game of basketball

Thomas Roijakkers

“Depending on the club you play for, you might have to do some extra things besides playing basketball. Some clubs will have you run practices with a youth team and coach their games. Other clubs might have you do clinics at a school and some might have you do both. It is a great way to give back to the community and for those to want to go into coaching after their playing career it is a chance to see what coaching is all about. I hope I gave you some useful insights on the differences in playing basketball in Europe and playing in college. Hopefully this will help you to prepare better and have a great career. Wish you all the best. 

In college your focus is on school and basketball, and you do not get paid. When you are a professional your only focus is basketball. You get paid and that comes with certain responsibilities. 

You have to be a lot more independent. In college you have A LOT more people on staff (coaches, managers, trainers, D.O.B. etc. etc.). Players get help and they are being monitored in a lot of areas. Professional teams have less staff and coaches expect you get a lot of more things done by yourself. This does not mean you have to figure out everything by yourself and that you will not be supported, but now since you are being paid, teams expect a certain level of independence. Like in a regular job, the employer isn’t going to “chase” and check up on his employer all the time to see if he is doing his job. 

Learn how to be a good professional. You might have played 4 years in college, but you still need to learn how to be a good professional. Take this seriously, because this can be the difference between you getting or not getting a job. Some of the things a good professional will do are: fitting into the style of play, having a good lifestyle that supports your profession, showing good behavior towards staff, team mates and other club members and being a good example to the youth players of the club.”