With the one month gap between the NCAA men’s and women’s seasons we decided to go another direction with our monthly coaching interview and it is one that we believe you will enjoy. There are not many water polo coaches that one can call a “living legend” with confidence. However, Ricardo Azevedo is one of them.
It is tough to briefly summarize the career of such a great coach in one paragraph, but I am going to try anyways. Ricardo Azevedo has been the coach of the United States Men’s National Team, the United States Junior National team, Long Beach State University and Long Beach Wilson HS. Azevedo is currently leading RN ElettroGreen Camogli in Italy. This famous club from the Genoa region of Italy is the neighbor club to EuroLeague heavyweight Pro Recco. I caught up with Coach Azevedo while he was in the midst of both writing a book and preparing for the upcoming season and below is our interview.
You took over RN ElettroGreen Camogli in 2007 and led what was a young team to the Division Championship game in 2008. Can you tell us a little bit about that team and what you are expecting from your squad this season?
The 2007-2008 season was very rewarding. Our club had just been demoted to Division 2 and all our stars left, players like Scheki (Goalie of Gold medal team), Wazeloski (High scorer of Hungarian league this year) and many National level Italians. I was asked to build from within as with the demotion some of the sponsors left, leaving a smaller budget for the team. We averaged twenty-one years old and were not expected to reach playoffs. However, the players really responded to training and we grew into a very strong team, reaching Finals and losing on a penalty shootout.
This year we have changed our President. After some discussion about the next few years, besides my responsibilities as the head coach and director, I will also coach the junior level. Last year we won under-15, under-17, and took second in the under-19 Nationals so our team this year is basically those kids with two 22-year olds, a 25-year old and a 34-year old so our average is actually a point under 20. Despite this, I am confident that they will play well and ensure a long future for the club and national team as four to five of our players have already being called for Junior teams.
From a strategy and tactics standpoint, what would you say is the biggest difference between the game played overseas and the U.S. college game?
The main difference is that college teams are constricted to archaic NCAA rules that do not allow players in team sports to develop. They play for three out of twelve months together, and have to rely on creative ways by the way of coaches to get extra playing time. We have outstanding players and coaches, but over here they coach full-time for twelve months, and the players for ten months with as many as sixty games played on a weekly basis. We have to rely on tournaments where a true result can’t be taken as true.
Players here have more tactical knowledge and are able to maximize their talent where in the United States we many times have players playing below their potential due to lack of exposure to high level water polo. It is a fact that the United States has done well in individual sports over the years in the Olympic and World theatre but in team sports we have struggled. Finally in this last quadrennial there has been some movement by the USOC. This has helped out team sports resulting in nine out of sixteen team sports medaling as opposed to five in Athens.
What do you think the Olympic silver medal did for the standing of USA Water Polo overseas?
A new desire of bringing our players overseas has been renewed at this time as there are over twenty players playing in Europe from the United States. The Europeans and the rest of the world have always known about our capabilities but our lack of programming and constant change of players after the Olympics have damaged the effort of our coaches and players in the past. The 2008 team was recruited and molded in the 2000-2001 seasons, with the exception of Tim Hutten and J.W. Krumpholz. All of the others were on our training squad. Krumpholz and Hutten were added in 2003 so the team showed great poise and unity in dealing with all the adversities surrounding them. We need to take this result and build on for Rome next year.
Coaches and players should be congratulated on a monumental effort.
I have heard that you are in the process of writing a book about water polo. Can you give us some information about the specific subject matter and when you think it will be coming out?
Over the years, I have seen a lot of philosophical type books that showed some great knowledge. However, I wanted to do something different. From my experiences, I have gathered different defenses, offenses, six on five sets, etc. so I just put all of them together with graphic explanations plus written variations. I wrote it in Italian as everyone here was excited about it and we sent it to print last week. I am in the process of making the same book but in video graphics in a near future.
I know I asked you this once on "Talking Water Polo at The Planet", but I would be remiss if I didn't ask this again. Any chance of Ricardo Azevedo coming back to the States and coaching NCAA water polo again?
At this time I am very involved with developing water polo from the ground level, but who knows what the future will hold.
You have had a ton of great wins in your coaching career. Looking back on your coaching career, which wins stand out as being the most memorable for you?
Probably my second CIF final when we were down by four in the last quarter and at the break the boys looked at me and in their eyes they knew they were going to win. We went on to play one of the greatest quarters played at that level in front of 4500 people. I remember telling them let’s have fun and that is what we did.
With that my interview with Coach Azevedo ended. Admittedly, I am a newcomer to following the professional leagues overseas. However with more and more Americans going over to play in the European leagues, it is becoming a must-watch the water polo junkie. We look forward to RN ElettroGreen Camogli building off of their outstanding season from last year and to the promising future they have with Ricardo Azevedo leading the way.