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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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January: Make America Great Again
January 2017

I had a lot of time to think on the flight home from London, where Team Europe pasted Team USA in the Mosconi Cup. The final score was 11-3, which is bad enough. But it was the way Team Europe rolled to victory that really gave me pause. The Europeans were machinelike in their execution. They simply didn’t miss. They didn’t make mistakes. It was a beautiful thing to watch. For the stats-driven fan, Europe posted a collective .899 Total Performance Average over the four days. A .900 TPA is considered “world class.” Professional level is .850. Team USA’s cumulative TPA during the event was .838.

The beat down was so thorough, talk spread that, after 23 years, the Mosconi Cup’s future could be in peril. Personally, I don’t buy the notion that the Mosconi Cup as we know it is in peril. At least not yet. Defenders point out that the U.S. dominated the early years. During those years, however, Europe was continually closing the gap. Anyone who has watched the last five Mosconi Cups can see that the gap between the sides is widening. What I do see, though, are ticket sales and television deals that have grown exponentially over the past four years. Europeans love to battle the U.S. in anything.

Still, it is painfully obvious that Team USA needs to do something dramatic to make this a horse race again. Which brings us to Mark Wilson. Three years ago, Wilson, one of the game’s top instructors and most ardent supporters, presented Matchroom with a three-year plan to get Team USA back on track. He stripped down the squad and rebuilt it based on character and commitment. In his spare time, he generated more interest and enthusiasm in the U.S. for the Team USA “program” than anyone before.

The results? The first two years showed promise. The third year, however, was a disappointing step backwards. As it is wont to do, social media exploded with posts slamming Wilson and the team for its latest failure. A handful of self-proclaimed experts shamelessly threw their hats into the ring as replacements for Wilson. Here’s a tip: Posting your intentions on Facebook pretty much eliminates you from serious consideration.

So, what’s the answer?

I don’t think anyone in the U.S. is more qualified than Mark Wilson, and I have far too much respect for him to suggest that he be replaced as captain of Team USA. But even he acknowledged that is a possibility. After all, the Mosconi Cup is Matchroom’s product, and they certainly don’t need to explain or apologize to anyone for taking the steps necessary to ensure continued growth and success.

So, in the event Matchroom finds it necessary to make a change at the helm of Team USA, here is my suggestion: Johan Ruijsink.

For those not familiar, the Dutch-born Ruijsink led Team Europe to a 6-0-1 record in seven captaincies. I know. I know. He’s not American. I realize Willie Mosconi just spun in his grave. Hear me out.

Johan Ruijsink is one of the world’s top instructors and coaches. The 50-year-old Dutchman took over Team Europe during those years of American domination and turned the squad into a force. Team Europe has never tasted defeat with Ruijsink in charge. Think he was simply fortunate enough to take over Team Europe as they were peaking? The last time Team USA won (2009), one of only two times between 2006 and 2014 that Ruijsink was not Europe’s captain.

Now, about that “he’s not an American” argument: Who says the coach must be American? Sports history is littered with instances of foreigners running national teams. Were Americans offended when Romanian gymnastics coaching legend Bela Karolyi took over Team USA and turned it into a gold medal machine? Were American soccer fans up in arms when Sweden’s Pia Sundhage took over USA’s women’s team and produced a pair of Olympic gold medals? The bottom line is not simply to maximize Team USA’s chances of competing in the Mosconi Cup. The bottom line is to drive Team USA to win the Mosconi Cup.

Of course, Ruijsink is much more than simply a once-a-year-captain. He is a coaching legend in Europe. A former top Dutch player, Ruijsink turned to coaching in the ’90s. His training methods turned Holland into a European power, with the likes of Rico Diks, Alex Lely, Nick Van den Berg and Niels Feijen turning their games over to him. A voracious student of training and coaching techniques, Ruijsink earned a Master Coach degree from the Dutch Olympic Committee in 2000. It is the highest level of coaching in Holland, allowing him to coach any sport. The past two years, Ruijsink has been coaching in Russia, where he was hired to develop its crop of talented young shooters, like Konstantin Stepanov, Ruslan Chinakhov and Maxim Dudanets. Ruijsink will be bringing his Russian brigade to the Derby City Classic in January.

Of course, there are questions I can’t answer. Would Matchroom go for such an idea? Matchroom president Barry Hearn is a pretty shrewd operator, so I’d guess this idea has already crossed his mind. And given the fact that he desperately wants to see the U.S. competitive again, I can’t see why he wouldn’t entertain contacting Ruijsink. Would Ruijsink consider coaching Team USA? Can’t say for sure, but two years ago he told me he was stepping down as coach of Team Europe because he “didn’t see the challenge in coaching Team Europe any longer.”

The $60,000 question is this: Would American players allow themselves to be coached by a foreigner? Having lost seven straight, I’d hope they’d keep open minds.

I guarantee one thing: Ruijsink as Team USA captain would scare the living bejeezus out of Team Europe.


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