PoolRoom

MOSCONI SHOCKER!

Ruysink out, Jones in as Team USA captain; Lely replaces Chamat for Europe.

In a stunning move, Dutchman Johan Ruysink, the winningest captain in Mosconi Cup history and the architect of Team USA’s resurgence, was not invited back to lead the Americans for a fourth year. Instead, event producer Matchroom Multi Sport announced that Texan Jeremy Jones, a highly respected American player and Ruysink’s vice-captain for the past two years, will take the helm when Team USA travels to London in December to defend the Mosconi Cup title it has won in both of the past two years.

Ruysink out, Jones in as Team USA captain.

Matchroom also announced that another Dutch coach, Alex Lely, will replace embattled skipper Marcus Chamat of Sweden as the Team Europe captain. Chamat had won three consecutive Cups with Team Europe from 2015-2017 but was at the helm as the Europeans’ eight-year winning streak came to an end in London in 2018 and when the U.S. successfully defended that title in Las Vegas in December.

“The Mosconi Cup is undoubtedly the biggest event in pool,” noted Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer. “It is growing by the second and we continue to push boundaries. The captaincy picks are critical to the event and take serious consideration.

“Marcus has been a fantastic captain,” Frazer added. “He is highly respected and a valued mentor for the pool industry. However, times are changing, and the sport is developing. The decision is no disrespect for Marcus. It was simply time to bring in someone different. The back-to-back losses made the decision a little easier.

“We have had an overwhelming number of applications for the European position, but Alex stood out from the rest. He’s very knowledgeable, with lots of new ideas.”

“Every year there are two possibilities,” Chamat said. “Winning or losing. Obviously, it stings to lose. The Mosconi Cup is tough pressure and not all players are made for that. We had some teams that were so strong, and no one really struggled, like in 2016. But I learned something every year, and every year had good memories. The team spirit was always great, and we had a lot of fun.”

While Chamat’s ouster was mostly expected, Ruysink’s departure comes as a surprise. After leading Team Europe to a 6-0-1 record earlier in the decade, Matchroom appointed Ruysink Team USA captain in 2017 with the charge of revitalizing the down-in-the-dumps American side and helping save the then one-sided event from becoming irrelevant. After a disappointing effort from Team USA in 2017, Ruysink petitioned to have Jones join him in preparing the team for the 2018 Mosconi Cup. Jones, a cerebral player and teacher, was integral as a conduit between Ruysink and the U.S. players.

Following Team USA’s successful defense in December, Ruysink commented that his original plan was for three years, but that, at the urging of his top player, Shane Van Boening, he wished to stay on another year. Matchroom had other plans.

“Johan has played a significant part in the rebirth of Team USA,” said Frazer. “He had a three-year plan and he executed it two of the three, and he should be congratulated. He is unarguably the greatest coach in this game. We at Matchroom will forever be grateful for his services.

“But Jeremy also played a key role in this resurrection. He communicates very well with the players. He is a great player and is in all likelihood the most respected man in pool. The show is progressing, and the captaincy involves 10 times more work and planning than what the public may perceive. The demands, expectations and organization required has been lacking in the structure of Team USA since the beginning. New plans and qualifying structures are in place for 2020, which Jeremy has been heavily involved in. He is ready to keep the fire lit and catapult the team to a new level. He will make a great captain.”

“I’m disappointed about not having a chance to have a real Mosconi Cup goodbye,” Ruysink confessed. “After a difficult start as a European captain for Team USA, I felt I was becoming much more accepted by both the players and the fans. I also felt that the players wanted me to do one more. “But the Mosconi Cup opened the door for bringing my system and methods of fueling players’ passion for pool and knowledge about the game to the United States, so I am very grateful to Matchroom and Emily for giving me that opportunity.

“In the end,” he added, “the Mosconi Cup is a settled phenomenon, and it is here to stay. No player or coach or sponsor is bigger than the Mosconi Cup. I am just very glad that I have been able to do my part in helping it become what it is today.”

For Team USA, Jones’ promotion will allow for the selection and development of the team to be purely American, which was a point of contention to many U.S. fans when Ruysink was first appointed. And having had Jones at their sides for the past two years should make for a smooth transition.

“Jeremy is a good fit for this team,” said Van Boening. “Definitely.”

“Johan did a great job,” said two-time Mosconi MVP Skyler Woodward. “He really helped our guys and knew how to get us ready for something like the Mosconi Cup. There’s so much pressure but he always knew exactly what to do in every situation.

“Personally, I think Jeremy deserves this shot,” Woodward continued. “He’s a great guy and knows the game and knows us players very well.”

“I’m excited, of course,” said Jones. “I always thought I could help the team. I got that opportunity in the last two years helping Johan. I thought it would be a one-year thing, just helping him connect with the players. But the job evolved, and I thought maybe the chance to be captain might come when it was time for the torch to be passed.”

And is taking over for Ruysink bittersweet?

“He said he had a three-year plan, and I think Matchroom just leaned toward me,” Jones said. “I’ve thought a lot about the things I learned from him relative to preparing for the Mosconi Cup and working with the players throughout the year.

“I think there’s a good bond and a lot of trust with the nucleus of the team,” Jones added. “And I think some of it was the American side would like to have an American captain.”

Of course, Jones is aware of the pressure on him to continue the team’s hot streak. Will a U.S. loss have fans or players second-guessing the decision to move on from Ruysink?

“There’s pressure there, but that’s what you want,” Jones said. “I can’t look at it as being in a no-win situation. I feel good about it. Everyone knows the Mosconi Cup is unpredictable.”

To replace himself as vice-captain, Jones said he went “with my gut” and selected journeyman pro Joey Gray of Oklahoma City.

“He’s a great player and he has started to dedicate himself to teaching in the last few years,” Jones said. “I’ve known him since he was pretty young. He’ll mix well with the type of players that will play in Mosconi Cup for America. I just think he’s a good fit.”

The change at the helm of Team Europe sees the return of Lely, a former Ruysink pupil that captained the Euros in both 2008 and 2009. His European squad hammered Team USA in 2008, scoring an 11-5 win in Malta, but lost in Las Vegas in 2009, 11-7.

According to Lely, he is a different coach and leader than he was a decade ago.

Lely replaces Chamat for Europe.

“I had very little coaching experience back then,” said Lely, widely praised for his television commentary in recent years. “I’m much more experienced now, working with elite players as well as serving as head coach for the Dutch team for four years. Communication is so important for when the ride gets rough, and I didn’t do a good job of that in 2009. You have to have a structure and core in place to be able to withstand the rough times. You need to be able to fall back on things that have been expressed and determined beforehand.

“The European players that go to Ally Pally in December know how to play,” Lely continued. “We need to have them operate with 100 percent trust and commitment in and towards each other. It’s all about trust, leadership and task.”

“This is a heartbreaker for Marcus,” said fellow Hollander and 14-time Team Europe team member Niels Feijen. “But he had a great run. Taking over from Johan was a lot of pressure and he won three in a row. After five years it might be okay to switch it up.

“Alex has developed a lot since his captain years in 2008 and 2009,” Feijen added. “He worked as a Dutch national coach and did various courses that helped him go beyond just a good trainer and become a good coach. I feel he has a great bag of tools now to bring out the great quality of all of the players. It should be exciting!”

Team Europe will also have a vice-captain in 2020, four-time Mosconi Cup champion Karl Boyes. The former world champion and now TV commentator for Matchroom events will take his opinions from the studio to tableside.

“Having a vice-captain enables you to put your points across and come to a common ground,” noted Boyes. “We both have knowledge about the game and the players, but it’s easy to miss something when you’re on your own. “Alex has a lot of experience playing and managing,” Boyes added. “So, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot.”

“There is excitement in the air following these announcements from players and fans,” said Frazer. “That is always our goal.”

Defending Champs Overthrown at BCA Junior Nationals

113aAt the Billiard Congress of America Junior Nationals, in DeKalb, Ill., Aug. 8-10, the 18-and-under-open quarterfinal saw the surprise upset of the tournament: Three-time defending champion Shane McMinn, now 18, lost to 15-year-old Joey Gray. Gray was runner-up in the 14-and-under division at the past two Junior Nationals, and has now graduated to the older division. Gray, a dapper Paul Newman look-alike, met his match in the finals against lanky 18-year-old Beau Runningen (pictured here). Runningen reached the finals undefeated, and lost his only game to Gray in the first set, 11-10. Runningen then took hold of a slim lead in the tiebreaker game, slowly increasing his advantage until he could take the case game with a well-planned 2-9 combo to win, 11-7.

In the girls’ 18-and-under division, Eleanor Callado, in her first time at the Junior Nationals, defeated defending champion Michelle Rakin in the finals, 9-8. Rakin is a friend of Callado’s, and the person who had urged her to come to the event in the first place. “I’ve told her about it for three years,” said Rakin. The Rakin family — all of whom play pool — brought Callado with them to the tournament, and there seem to be no hard feelings. Both girls are already focused on their next piece of action: college. Rakin is going to the University of San Francisco, as a premed, with plans to be a doctor. Her education will be financed in part by the scholarship money she’s won at past Junior Nationals. Callado is going to San Francisco State University to be an advertising/marketing major.

In the 14-and-under-open division, Justin Hall beat Mike Banks, Jr. in a forced tiebreaker. Banks beat Hall decisively in the first set, 9-3, but lost steam in the second, allowing Hall to win, 9-6. Hall started playing pool with his dad at 8; Banks has been playing in his father’s poolroom since he was 4. Both boys have considered being professional pool players, though Hall also has anesthesiologist on his list of potential careers.