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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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Feb: Letter To A Friend
February 2014
To: Mark Wilson
Captain, Team USA
St. Charles, MO

Re: The Hopes of a Nation

Dear Mark: Congratulations on being named captain for Team USA for the 2014 Mosconi Cup. The appointment is a great honor. Then again, Captain Edward J. Smith was probably pretty proud when he was handed the keys to the Titanic.

If anyone understands the pressure of playing in and coaching in the Mosconi Cup, it's you. After all, you played in the very first Mosconi Cup in 1994, and sealed Team USA's 16-12 victory by pocketing the title-clinching 9 ball. You've also been one of the game's top instructors over the past decade (even Jeanette Lee acknowledged that at her recent Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame induction), and have developed, from the ground up, a collegiate pool program at Lindenwood University - the first of its kind in the country.

I'm sure you realize the timing of the announcement is a strong indication that this is really important to Mosconi Cup promoter Matchroom Sport. Matchroom has spent 20 years building the Mosconi brand. That one team has won four consecutive meetings, and five of the last six, isn't really the issue. Heck, the U.S. won seven of the first eight contests, and 11 of the first 13. But during that period, Team Europe was gaining strength and confidence. The contests were competitive, spirited and crowd-pleasing. (As is the case with golf's Ryder Cup, one team's dominance can sometimes draw as much interest as back-and-forth wins.)

No, it's the way Team USA has lost, particularly during this past December's 11-2 shellacking, that has Matchroom worried about the Cup's future. Team USA was fractured, disinterested and unprepared. Additionally, the players were boorish and disrespectful. It was an embarrassment and, as Matchroom would be the first to admit, it was bad for business. And yes, Mark, the Mosconi Cup is a business.

You've got a great opportunity here. You've got 10 months to get a quintet of American players ready to battle Team Europe, which currently boasts as strong a team as there is in the world. And your coaching counterpart, Johan Ruijsink, is no slouch either. He's become the "Bear" Bryant of European team pool.

While it's great that Matchroom has given you complete autonomy in selecting the 2014 squad (the cook should be able to buy the groceries), that latitude will come with pressure. Naturally, the process by which you select your team will be scrutinized. Your every decision will be questioned and dissected. Some people have already questioned whether you're tough enough to handle the egos that will come with the players. I guess that's what you get for being such a dang nice guy!

But, truthfully, are you prepared to tell a few top-echelon players that they don't fit the plan? You told me you'd rather lose with players of character, who respect the game and give 100 percent, than win with players whose only attribute is pure talent. I'm behind you, but that philosophy will test your resolve.

Obviously, you don't have the luxury of a long-term contract here, but I think that a good showing in Blackpool in December would constitute a success. I don't think anyone expects the U.S. to win in 2014, but some indication of recovery will be important.

Under your leadership, I am certain that Team USA will represent itself better in 2014 than it did last year.

Actually, the thing I'm most excited about is the opportunity you've been given to help create a structure for the American pool scene. You're a builder, Mark. You sold a college on the idea of setting up a billiard program and offering scholarships to students to participate. That was no small feat! And you're teaching them not only how to play the game, but how to respect the game and one another. It's the team concept that is so lacking in Team USA.

And this opportunity goes well beyond the Mosconi Cup. I love your idea of interviews, tryouts, team trials and road trips, not only to build the team, but to use the exercise as a way to give back to the pool community. The American pool scene needs to see purpose and goals. It needs to see players trying to get more from the game than an easy score.

This will take money, which means you'll have to bring your plan to the industry. I can't imagine companies not wanting to be part of a program that could give younger players something to strive for.

The Mosconi Cup is the immediate task at hand. But, in a way, this is as important as building a Team USA for the Olympics or the World Cup.

Matchroom has selected you because they desperately want to see their product preserved. And I don't blame them.

But they've also provided you with an opportunity to something much larger, much more long-lasting.

I know you see that, Mark. And that's why I know that you're the right man for the job.

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