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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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July: The “I” In Team
July 2018

Americans sure seem to hate the idea of sacrifice for self-improvement.

A maelstrom of opinion and accusation blanketed billiard forums and social media following Team USA Captain Johan Ruijsink’s release of formal invitations to candidates for the 2018 Mosconi Cup (see Wing Shots, pg. 12), and most of it centered around two topics: top American Shane Van Boening’s decision to not participate and the incredulous notion that American players would be required to make a few sacrifices to earn spots on the squad.

The gist of Ruijsink’s invitation to 14 American players was that the process of selection and participation for the 2018 Team USA would include a demanding series of training sessions, or “boot camps,” as Ruijsink referred to them. A few camps would take place in the U.S., and a few would take place in Europe.

Ruijsink had discussions with a number of players prior to sending out his formal invite. It was during these discussions that Van Boening told the Team USA coach that he would not commit to participating in the camps. Ruijsink told the American star that all players must participate to be included. The line in the sand was drawn and neither has budged since.

I’m not sure where I stand on this part of the equation. Van Boening is far and away America’s best player (Mosconi Cup track record notwithstanding), and no player works harder at his own game. He has long been his own coach and trainer. On the other hand, Ruijsink, who galvanized Team Europe at a time of U.S. domination, was handpicked by promoter Matchroom Sport for the sole purpose of rescuing a disjointed, uncompetitive Team USA. He has a strict system and should stick to it. He was visibly frustrated in 2017, when he allowed his American five more latitude than he prefers, and the team responded by failing miserably. I don’t blame him for insisting that his process be followed to the letter this year. No player can be bigger than the team.

That said, I still hold out hope that the two can find a middle ground.

It is the notion that the camps and Ruijsink’s carte blanche in player selection are ... well... un-American that has left me in stitches. Charges of politics and player persecution have run rampant on social media. “The camps will cost players thousands of dollars,” people moan. “The selection process is unfair and should be (fill in the blank).”

Let’s start with these “boot camps.” The two camps in the U.S. are scheduled to take place the two days following tournaments that virtually every player will already be attending. Total extra outlay: Two nights lodging. The third camp is scheduled in Russia to play in the Kremlin Cup, one of the top international tournaments of the year. By this time Ruijsink will have trimmed the potential roster to seven or eight. Each player’s trip will be completely covered by the promoters of the event. Totally paid for. The players don’t even have to repay a stakehorse for the money they win. Total outlay: Zero. The final boot camp is scheduled in Belgium the week prior to the Mosconi Cup. Since Matchroom is paying the players’ airfare to the Mosconi Cup, this trip is simply an extra leg. Total outlay: Minimal.

What the players are expected to give is time. And in return they will be working on their game in ways they likely have not for years. Ruijsink is a master coach. Any player who participates in these camps will undoubtedly improve his game. (Oscar Dominguez is on record saying his time with Ruijsink last year was invaluable.) Isn’t that alone worth the effort? Any player (or fan, for that matter) who looks at this solely from the point of view of making Team USA for the Mosconi Cup is shortsighted and foolish. This is an invitation to become a better player, period. How hard is that to figure out?

As for Ruijsink’s leeway in player selection, I am reminded of pro football coach Bill Parcell’s quote when asked about coaching but having no input in player selection: “Don’t hire me to be the cook and then not let me buy the groceries.”

In the case of the Mosconi Cup, the team concept is critical. Players must trust the coach and the process unconditionally. Everyone thinks pure talent is all that is important. Go ahead and ask former Team USA players if the makeup of the team plays a significant role in the team’s success. Ask them if overall performance is affected if even one player is a cancer. So, yes, figuring out which players fit the team concept is important. And that’s Ruijsink’s responsibility. No ranking system can determine that.

Let’s face it. American pool is behind both Europe and Asia, and the gap is widening, not narrowing. Yet American players and fans act as though their games have no flaws. There is no room for improvement, so no need to put in extra work. They get their training in action.

American pool will not close the talent gap without a recommitment to formal training and without participation in international tournaments. That is a guarantee. (Even Van Boening has said American players need to play in more international events if they hope to improve.) Here is an opportunity to do both, yet players and fans are whining about travel and FargoRate and rankings and who was left off the list. Please.

It is time for the American players (and their sycophant followers) to make that commitment to become better players. For once, assume you don’t have all the answers. And the opportunity this Mosconi Cup invitation offers is an excellent starting point.