PoolRoom

MATCHROOM’S WORLD 9-BALL TAKEOVER

How it happened. What it means.

There were several “tells” in World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) President Ian Anderson’s early January letter to member federations that the WPA Board of Directors had voted to terminate the Qatar Billiards & Snooker Federation’s contract for the men’s World 9-Ball Championships. According to Anderson, the QBSF’s decade-long run as promoter and producer of the world championship event was terminated because the association was unresponsive when pressed to make improvements to the event, which suffered from lack of promotion and organization.

The letter also stated, “We do have another organizer who will take over our prestigious Championship as of this year and will do the event very proud.” In other words, the WPA had clearly been in discussions with another promoter while the QBSF still had a year to go on its contract and seemed determined to get them to breach that contract. To astute followers of the sport, that could mean only one thing: Matchroom Sport, pool’s knight-on-white-horse, was once again riding in to save the day, as it had with the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship.

“Obviously, it didn’t just happen last week,” Anderson said, referring to Matchroom’s Jan. 22 announcement that it had “acquired the rights in perpetuity” to the World 9-Ball Championship. “We had been discussing this for some time.”

Not surprisingly, the idea to regain control of the world championship, which the U.K.-based promoter staged from 1999 through 2008, was hatched by creative and tireless Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer.

“It stemmed from a brainstorming meeting in our offices,” said Frazer. “We’re always talking about building the pool lineup to grow the sport and also have more to offer our sponsors and broadcast partners.

“We don’t necessarily say, ‘What’s out there? Let’s go take it,’” Frazer added. “The U.S. Open more or less came to us and [Matchroom founder] Barry [Hearn] liked the idea. The Word 9-Ball never really came to us. We did a little research on the event, where it is and where it’s been. I approached the WPA in Russia in September, then we put together a proposal for Barry. He loves the idea of building Matchroom Pool. We’ve got five major unique events under our belt and the World 9-Ball was the perfect piece to add to that.”

Not surprisingly, the news of pool’s biggest and most respected promoter taking over the World 9-Ball Championship, which had devolved to an almost secondary event that a number of top players avoided, was met with great joy.

“Wow, what a day for our sport!” gushed International 9-Ball Open champ Jayson Shaw.

“Unbelievable news for the pool world!” echoed Russia’s Fedor Gorst, who only three weeks earlier won the world title in Qatar.

And just what can players expect from the Matchroom-run event?

For starters, Hearn announced a $200,000 prize fund for 2020, which will be held Oct. 14-18 at a yet-to-be-determined site. Hearn also stated that “the 128-player event will be open to men and women.”

The latter statement makes fairly clear that Matchroom will now make the decisions that affect qualification for the world championship. Previously, it was the WPA that dictated the player allotment and parceled them out to member federations. While Frazer insisted that the system won’t be dramatically changed, some changes will be instituted to assure a field that Matchroom would deem most representative and, of course, marketable. “For one,” said Frazer, “we’re in an age where women should be competing with the men. The WPA is in agreement with that, and I think that all federations should be open this and should actually be encouraging it.

Women at the top of the WPA ranking list can qualify as such. I think that if 10 players come through the EPBF, one of them should certainly be a female. “As for allotments and qualifications,” she continued, “we’re not looking at coming in and completely changing the qualifying criteria. It should include all of the different federations and we want to keep that consistent, but there are changes that we think should be made. For instance, Matchroom champions will have a spot.”

“It’s far too early for us to comment on this from a federation standpoint,” said Rob Johnson, CEO of the Billiard Congress of America, the North American federation member to the WPA. “We are expecting follow-up with the WPA and Matchroom to learn more details. But we are thrilled Matchroom has commited to this event and look forward to seeing them work with the WPA to take it to the next level.”

While players in the U.S. unanimously applauded the change-of-hands, in universal agreement that the event will return to its glory days of the early 2000s, they’d better have their passports in order.

“We are looking at a lot of venues,” Frazer said. “But it isn’t likely that the event will be held in the U.S. For starters, events in the U.S. are so costly. Also, the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship has found its place in the U.S., and we’d like to keep the U.S. Open and the World 9-Ball Championship separate. Also, we’ve got other plans for the U.S.

“The U.K. is a consideration,” she added. “But it won’t be in Cardiff (site of Matchroom-produced World Pool Championship from ’99-’2004). I don’t like repeating history. This is a new event for us and we have no desire to turn back time. We are also interested in Asia — Macau, the Philippines, etc.” According to Frazer, the October dates were a coveted timeframe.

“Often times, our dates are driven by venue availability and/or our broadcast partners,” she said. “But with the World 9-Ball, the dates we chose were based on the pool calendar. We had always had our eyes on putting something in those dates. The World 9-Ball will fit nicely as the end of the ranking year for U.S. and Europe as it relates to the Mosconi Cup and the marketing and promotion of Matchroom events. Previously, the World 9-Ball was not in a great time of year, right before the holidays and right after Mosconi Cup. It was tough on the 10 players that had just finished playing for their lives.”

While few people in the pool world would question the WPA’s wisdom in handing off the event to Matchroom, whose record in pool promotion is spotless, a few admitted to raised eyebrows Hearn’s use of the term, “in perpetuity.” Anderson quickly dismissed any concern.

“While ‘in perpetuity’ does mean forever,” Anderson rationalize, “it’s not really forever if Matchroom, for example, cease to do the event or players stop playing it. Matchroom simply wanted assurance and security that they won’t build the event up, only to have someone else hijack the event from them because their contract expired.”

What is not open to any question, however, is Matchroom’s reputation for promoting and producing the best events in the sport.

“Our first goal,” said Frazer, “is to increase the prestige of the World 9-Ball Championship. And as long as we can see that there is a future to the event, we’ll stick with it.

“I think this says a lot about the vision we’ve shown,” she added. “We want to see pool grow.”

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.”

Matchroom Acquires U.S. Open

After several months of questions and speculation, the mystery surrounding the future of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship has been unveiled. British event producer Matchroom Sport, promoters of the Mosconi Cup, World Pool Masters and World Cup of Pool, has taken over ownership of the world’s longest-running major pool tournament.

According to both Matchroom Sport president Barry Hearn and Brady Behrman, son of the late U.S. Open founder Barry Behrman, a deal was signed that gives Matchroom “complete ownership” of the 42-year-old 9-ball championship.

“There are probably only four or five major pool events out there,” said Hearn in a phone interview with BD. “They may not all even necessarily be profitable events, but they have history and profile. One of them is the U.S. Open. I think Matchroom has most, if not all, of the others. We like to have control of a brand, and our brand is 9-ball.

“We are going to take a historic event and make it mainstream,” Hearn added. “That is our charge.”

Hearn confirmed that the Matchroom-produced 43rd U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship would not take place until 2019, and that the event will shift to Las Vegas and boast an increased prize fund.

“We’re going to smash it up right from the start!” Hearn said.

“This relationship is not about ownership or money,” said Brady Behrman, who assumed control of the U.S. Open with sister Shannon Paschall following Barry Behrman’s death in 2015. “It’s about the event itself and growing pool. Knowing that our father went down this path, and knowing how he cared for the event, the fans, the players, the industry and that he wanted the event bigger and better, there is no doubt that Matchroom will carry on our father’s legacy.

“My dad once said before a finals match, ‘These players should be playing for $100,000, but I can’t do it alone.’ With Matchroom, we’ll see increased prize funds and international expansion of content syndication for the Open, which ultimately grows the event, the purse and the nostalgia of the U.S. Open.” Behrman said he contacted Matchroom in January to gauge their interest in taking over the event.

“Shannon and I are both very busy in our own businesses,” he said. “And we wanted to ensure that we take the steps necessary to elevate the event our father produced for 40 years in an effort to give the players, fans and sponsors something special, something monumental. We can’t make that happen. Matchroom’s vision aligns perfectly with our ideals.”

In fact, Barry Behrman had contacted Hearn nearly four years ago with a similar offer.

“Barry contacted me a few years ago about the Open,” Hearn recalled. “He was enthusiastic and loved being the front man for the event. He wanted someone else to assume the risk, but at the same time he wanted to maintain control. I considered it briefly because I’m a pool fan. But it would have been financial suicide.

“This time it was the right time and the right place,” he added. “The Barry Behrman legacy will live on. We’re going to rename the trophy the Barry Behrman Trophy.”

Questions about the future of the U.S. Open surfaced in February when Behrman informed the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, site of the U.S. Open for the past three years, that the 2018 event would not be held there. The Sheraton had been holding the week of Oct. 21-27 for the annual tournament. Accu-Stat’s founder Pat Fleming, who had taken over as the event producer for the past two years, said in February that talks with Behrman had gone nowhere and that his future as part of the event — as event and/or live stream producer — was unclear.

Based on that uncertainty, and with the Sheraton about to release the October dates, Fleming announced plans to produce his own international 9-ball event at the Sheraton in the U.S. Open’s stead. [See side story below.] Meanwhile, Hearn pointed to the U.S. Open’s potential as one of the factors in procuring the historically rich tournament.

“The value of the U.S. Open is its history,” the promoter said. “Our goal is to make the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship a global event.

“The sports business is all about perception” Hearn continued. “Perception to the broadcasters and audience and to the public about how big an event is. How big an event is and how it is perceived is all in your hands. When we do big boxing events, the perception is that if you don’t get a ticket on the first day, they’re gone. That snowball works. In darts, we sell 11,000 tickets in 10 minutes. We’ve built the perception that these are must-see events.

“In pool, you can show up whenever, or if, you feel like it. That’s a killer. The Mosconi Cup now shows what you can do in pool. You can create that demand and that perception. In pool in the U.S., there has never been that fear factor that you might miss out.” While increased prize funds and first class production are important, what Matchroom brings to the U.S. Open’s future is broadcast reach that the event has not yet enjoyed. Accu-Stats-produced broadcasting of the U.S. Open over the years has satisfied fans willing to pay to view the event, and rights deals did deliver packaged content to parts of Asia, but the addition of the U.S. Open to Matchroom’s vast portfolio of sporting events ensures a wider audience.

“The U.S. Open will be part of our Sky package,” said Hearn, whose Matchroom Multi Sport portfolio (of which pool is part) recently inked a new seven-year broadcast deal with the European sports cable network. “So, Day One, I know the U.S. Open will be broadcast live in 35 countries.”

And in the U.S.?

“I’m hopeful for the U.S. broadcast market,” he said, adding that the U.S. Open will be aired live in the U.S. in some form or fashion. “We’re almost there. What is changing the dynamic is the packaging of Matchroom as a company. We come in with 12 different sports and 2,000 hours of live coverage. There’s a movement in the digital marketplace. Whether it is ESPN Plus or Turner Broadcasting, there is a need for programming and heightened interest in niche sports.”

Neither side would discuss details of the U.S. Open’s sale, other than to say that the Behrmans were paid a nominal license fee, with potential to share in future profits.

“It’s important that people understand that we didn’t sell out,” Behrman reiterated. “We want to see the U.S. Open grow and go on forever. Reaching out to Matchroom was the best way to make that happen. They will do incredible justice for the event, and for pool in the U.S. and internationally.”

According to Hearn, as part of the deal, Behrman and Paschall will have input, but Matchroom will have the final say on event decisions.

“We will keep the family as part of the event,” Hearn said, “But we have the freedom of ownership to say, ‘This is the way forward.’”

Hearn added that particulars about the U.S. Open under his stewardship are still being worked out, but international qualifiers will be part of the equation.

“We will make the U.S. Open truly global,” he insisted. “I want players from around the world. More importantly, I want people around the world talking about the U.S. Open.

“We have an ego as well,” Hearn said. “We like to grow events. Can we ever get to a $1 million prize fund? One thing players know is that with Matchroom you get paid and you get top money.” As big as the U.S. Open is in America’s pool history, Hearn insists there is much work ahead.

“This is a big job to be done,” he said. The U.S. Open is 42 years old and it hasn’t grown. How do you fill an arena for the U.S. Open like we do for Mosconi? We need the event to be inspirational. We need to inspire. We have to have kids saving their money for their entry fee or to make the trip to Vegas to watch the U.S. Open.

“Do I expect the U.S. Open to be profitable from Day One?” Hearn wondered. “No. But I will spend the money to make sure the U.S. Open is produced properly on Day One. And I’m confident that over a three or four year period we will end up with a major event.”

Fleming Announces New Event in U.S. Open Time Slot

The Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va., will, indeed, host a major pool tournament in late October for the fourth consecutive year. But it will not be the 43rd Annual U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship. Accu-Stats founder and promoter Pat Fleming said he has signed a contact with the Sheraton to run his own international tournament on the dates previously held for the U.S. Open.

Fleming announced his intention to run an event called the U.S. International Open, Oct. 21-17, 2018, at the Sheraton. He did so without knowledge that U.S. Open owners Brady Behrman and Shannon Paschall, the son and daughter of late U.S. Open founder Barry Behrman, were in the midst of selling the U.S. Open to Matchroom Sport.

“The dates were saved with the Sheraton for Oct 21-27, 2018,” said Fleming. “The [World Pool-Billiard Association] blocked those dates on their calendar. We also made some commitments with hotel for risers and such.

“I had to make a decision on the hotel,” Fleming continued. “They loved our event.”

Fleming said he send the Behrmans an email stating his intention to move ahead with his own event.

“I have the support of Diamond Billiard Products and WPA sanctioning,” Fleming said.

Fleming said he plans to restrict the field to 128 players. The prize fund will pay 32 places, and the payout will be the same as the 2017 U.S. Open: $40,000 for first place and $2,250 for 24-32. As with the U.S. Open, the entry fee will be $1,000.

“We will still be paying a quarter of the field,” Fleming said. “And, we will grant free entry to the most recent 10 U.S. Open winners. Players who won prior to that will pay a $500 entry fee. We still want the past champions in the field.”

Ruijsink to Coach U.S.

Ruijsink will switch jerseys for the Mosconi Cup.

In a move that was met with mixed reviews, Mosconi Cup promoter Matchroom Sport announced Holland’s Johan Ruijsink as 2017 captain for Team USA. The 50-year-old Ruijsink is well known in Mosconi Cup annals as the undefeated captain for Team Europe, having led the squad seven times between 2006 and 2014. Ruijsink voluntarily stepped down as Team Europe after the 2014 event, in part citing the lack of a challenge in leading the European team.

Ruijsink replaces Mark Wilson, who helmed the U.S. squad for three years, coming closest to victory in 2015, when the U.S. lost, 11-7.

With Team USA posting just one win in the last 11 Mosconi Cups, Matchroom said it was seeking a game-changer to “revive America’s flagging fortunes,” even if it meant appointing a European coach.

The announcement caught many American players and fans by surprise. Numerous posts on social media decried the decision as “an insult to the Americans,” while others applauded the selection as America’s “best chance” to become competitive again.

“The reason to take on this job is quite obvious,” Ruijsink commented in the Matchroom release. “I am an authentic lover of the game and especially of the Mosconi Cup. In 25 years of coaching, the Mosconi Cup has proven to be by far the most exciting event in the world of pool.

“As a coach in pool, there is no higher goal then working in the ‘home of pool,’ the U.S.A. My entire coaching career has been founded on seeing the American players compete at the World Championships in Bergheim, Germany, in 1990. There I saw Earl, Varner, Davenport, Mizerak, Mataya, Lebron and a young Johnny Archer, and they made me love the game even more.”

Ruijsink is credited with coaching Holland into a pool powerhouse, mentoring stars like Alex Lely, Niels Feijen and Rico Diks in the ’90s and early 2000s. In recent years, he has been coaching in Russia, developing a talented crop of players, including recent World Pool Series champion Ruslan Chinahov.

“I was shocked at first,” said American Justin Bergman, who has played on the last three U.S. squads. “But I don’t think it’s a horrible idea from a player’s view, since he probably has good ideas and he’s a knowledgeable coach. I think we should all support him.”

“I think it’s good, since he was so huge for Europe’s team,” echoed Skyler Woodward, Team USA’s best player over the past two Mosconi Cups.

According to Matchroom, Ruijsink will get to hand pick his five-player team, so long as each player is ranked in the top 10 in Mosconi Cup points in 2017. Additionally, Ruijsink plans to travel to the U.S. several times during the year to meet with and observe potential team members.

Ruijsink’s first decision was selecting Archer as his vice-captian.

MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN

Mark Wilson announces his resignation as Team USA Captain, today, Dec. 22, 2016.

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 actually 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 difference is glaring. The beat down was so thorough, talk spread through the event that, after 23 years, the Mosconi Cup’s future could be in peril.Matchroom’s Barry Hearn even went so far as to announce his intention to start a Europe v. Asia event, to “test the Europeans.” 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 in the same way. 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 see, though, are ticket sales and television deals that have grown exponentially over the past fouryears. Europe against the U.S. in tiddlywinks would draw a passionate crowd. Still, it is painfully obvious that Team USA needs to do something dramatic to make this a horserace 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 year of the experiment resulted in a one-sided match, which was somewhat predictable. The second year showed promise, with Team USA gamely battling well into the final day. 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. 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 does find 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 captained Team Europe seven times between 2006 and 2014 and posted a 6-0-1 record.

I know. I know. He’s not American. I realize Willie Mosconi just spun in his grave.

Just 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 the fierce competitors that they are today. His first year at the helm was 2006, when his team tied the Americans, 12-12. After that, Team Europe won six times against zero defeatswith 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), was 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 BelaKarolyi took over Team USA and turned it into a gold medal machine? Were American soccer fans up in arms when Sweden’s PiaSundhage took over USA Soccer’s women’s program and produced a pair of Olympic gold medals? The bottom line is to maximize Team USA’s chances of not just competing in the Mosocni 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 small, six-table room in The Hague was open only to players committed to training. Ruijsink’s training methods turned Holland into a European power, with the likes of Rico Diks, Alex Lely, Nick Van den Berg and NielsFeijen 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 coaching education in Holland, allowing him to coach any sport. Over the past two years, Ruijsink has been coaching in Russia, where the Russian federation hired him to develop its crop of talented young shooters, like Konstantin Stepanov, RuslanChinakhov and rising star Maxim Dudanets. Ruijsink will be bringing his Russian brigade to the Derby City Classic in January.

Trust me on this one. If change is necessary, this is the right man for the job.

Of course, there are questions I can’t answer. Would Matchroom go for such an idea? Hearn is a pretty shrewd operator, so I’d have to guess this idea has already crossed his mind. And given the fact that he desperately wants to see the U.S. competitive again, and the fact that he loves a good storyline, 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, though, is this: Would American players put aside their egos to be coached by a foreigner? Unless they are more pigheaded and self-absorbed than I imagine, they should.

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

Teams Set For Mosconi Cup

With the announcement of the final “wildcard” selections by the opposing captains, the final rosters for Team USA and Team Europe are set with four weeks to go before the 23rd Mosconi Cup commences at the Alexandra Palace in London, Dec. 6-9.

Team USA captain Mark Wilson used his wildcard picks to add Mosconi Cup veteran and recent Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame inductee “Rocket” Rodney Morris and 29-year-old Justin Bergman to the roster. It will mark the tenth Mosconi appearance for Morris and the third consecutive appearance by Bergman. The duo will join Shane Van Boening, Skyler Woodward and Mike Dechaine, who earned automatic spots on the team by finishing in the top three in points over 28 tournaments throughout the year. Only Morris did not play on the 2015 team that fell to Team Europe, 11-8, in Las Vegas. (Corey Deuel was the fifth member of Team USA in 2015.)

Team Europe captain Marcus Chamat handpicked reigning World 9-Ball Champion Albin Ouschan of Austria and England’s Darren Appleton, who will be making his eighth consecutive appearance, to join Holland’s Niels Feijen, Scotland’s Jayson Shaw and England’s Mark Gray. The three automatic berths on Team Europe were awarded to the points champion of the EuroTour (Feijen), the top European points earner on a World Events Rankings (Shaw), and the highest-ranked player on the Combined (Gray, who placed third behind already-qualified Shaw and Feijen). Feijen, Appleton and Ouschan also appeared for Team Europe in 2015.

As is customary, the wildcard announcements were greeted by second-guessing in social media. American fans questioned Wilson’s selection of Bergman, ranked sixth on the U.S. points list, over fifth-place finisher Oscar Dominguez. (Morris finished fourth in points.) Given the fact that the 2015 squad was made up of the top five point-earners, and the fact that Bergman lives in southern Illinois, not far from Wilson’s St. Louis home, charges of favoritism and “politics” were bandied about as fans weighed in. “I don’t have a bias and I don’t give those claims any credence,” said Wilson. “I simply picked the team that I thought gave us the best chance of winning this year. I analyze things like late-season performance, strengths and weaknesses and how they fit in with the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of the team.

“In the case of Rodney,” Wilson continued, “He went to the last six events. The effort and results were there. He gives us the best chance of winning.Last year it just happened that the team I chose finished one through five in points. That doesn’t mean that is the way it was meant to be. People seem to have a hard time with the concept of what the wildcard pick means.”

The concept of a “wildcard” selection was even more pronounced in Chamat’s selection of Appleton for Team Europe. While the former World 9-Ball Champion has been a member of six Mosconi Cup-winning squads, Appleton suffered through a subpar 2016, failing to crack the top 10 in the European Combined points list.

“No player really stood out for me for the last spot,” said Chamat. “There are so many good players in Europe, but I had to weigh the ups and downs. Darren is a big-match player with huge experience. And he is an awesome team player. I could have picked other players, but I believe in Darren. This is the biggest event for all of us and the pressure will be amazing. I think Darren will be amazing, too.”

Mosconi Junior

With the well-documented success of the Mosconi Cup and the emergence of the Queens Cup, it was only a matter of time before international team clashes reached the junior ranks.

Enter the Atlantic Challenge Cup, an event recently announced by the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) and the European Pocket Billiard Federation (EPBF). As with the Mosconi Cup, which pits players from the United States against a team of European stars, the Atlantic Challenge Cup will be a transatlantic clash. Four boys and two girls will represent Team USA and Team Europe at the inaugural Challenge, which will take place July 1-4, in Rankweil, Austria. Players must be 19 or younger.

“The future of the game lies in our ability to develop tomorrow’s players,” said BCA Chairman Mike Serra. “The prestige of competing in an event of this magnitude will further promote the game to today’s youth.”

Europe, through the EPBF, already enjoys a strong youth program, and EPBF officials suspect the addition of the Atlantic Challenge Cup will further fuel the efforts.

“We expect the desire from the players wanting to be included into the team will be very strong and will further increase the standard within pool,” said EPBF President Gre Leenders. A seven-person committee, chaired by longtime instructor and referee Rick Doner, was assigned by the Billiard Education Foundation to select the U.S. squad The committee included players Jeanette Lee, Johnny Archer and Laura Smith, along with instructor Randy Goettlicher, instructional author Phil Capelle and longtime tournament director Earl Munson, who will also serve as coach and captain for Team USA. The BCA was expected to announce the Team USA members on May 4.

Meanwhile, the EPBF announced its roster, which will include Germany’s Joshua Filler and Raphael Wall, each of whom earned a pair of gold medals at the 2014 Youth European Championships. Maxim Dudanets of Russia, currently ranked 34th on the Euro Tour, will also participate, as will Sweden’s Daniel Tanguud. Youth Euro Championships silver medalist Marharyta Fefilava of Belarus and youth 8-ball champion Kristina Tkach of Russia will round out the squad.

While details have yet to be determined, the four-day event is expected to be a race to 11.

WILSON ANNOUNCES FINAL SELECTIONS FOR TEAM USA

After making “some of the roughest telephone calls I’ve ever had to make,” Team USA captain Mark Wilson announced his five-man team for the 21st Mosconi Cup, scheduled for Dec. 1-4, in Blackpool, England. The squad features a mixture of veteran players and youth.

Not surprisingly, newly minted U.S. Open 9-Ball champion Shane Van Boening will lead the U.S. squad, which has dropped four Mosconi Cups in a row (and six of seven) to Team Europe. The 31-year-old Van Boening will play in his eighth Cup, and will be joined by Cup veterans Corey Deuel, also making his eighth appearance, and John Schmidt, who played in 2006 in Rotterdam. Making their Mosconi Cup debuts will be 27-year-old Justin Bergman of Fairview Heights, Ill., and 26-year-old Justin Hall of Palm Harbor, Fla.

The “tough calls” Wilson made were to Brandon Shuff, Oscar Dominguez and Jeremy Sossei, who have been offered coaching positions in Blackpool. Dominguez and Shuff have each participated in one Mosconi Cup, with Dominguez being a member of the last U.S. team to win the title, in 2009.

“This represents a new era for Team USA,” said Wilson, who was named captain by Matchroom Sport in January, just a month after Team USA was humiliated by Team Europe, 12-2, in Las Vegas. “And I’m counting on these players to be leaders. “The final decisions were difficult,” Wilson added. “Every player put a lot of time and effort into their game over the past nine months. And they all represented the sport and the U.S. well during that time. There were a few close calls, but I’m confident in these picks. It was a pretty thorough process.”

According to Wilson, the three players left off the final squad were asked to travel with the team to England, expense-paid, to assist during the event. “This won’t be a holiday,” Wilson added. “Each player will be assigned special duties, setting up little refresher drills for the team before each round.” Wilson said the duties include an Offensive Coordinator, a Defensive Coordinator (to work on safeties and kick shots) and Specialty Shots Coordinator (for breaking and elevated cue shots).
“I will have drills for the players to work on,” said Wilson, “and the coaches will help the players run through the drills.”

According to Wilson, the team will meet in St. Louis, Nov. 20-21, for intensive practice sessions at Lindenwood University, where Wilson coaches the billiards program. The team will participate in Mosconi Cup-style match play at Starship Billiards in Decatur, Ill., the following two days. After several more days of practice in St. Louis, the team will share a Thanksgiving dinner, before leaving for Blackpool on Friday, Nov. 28. “I feel great about Team USA,” Wilson said. “I’m ready to go to war with these guys.”

SEALs Of Approval For Team USA

In his new book, “Play Great Pool,” Team USA captain Mark Wilson recounts a special guided tour he took of the U.S. Navy SEAL facility near San Diego in 2009. He refers to the trip as one of the most inspiring, motivational and uplifting experiences of his life. In late May, Wilson hoped to get a similar response from his Team USA squad. Seven of the eight Mosconi Cup hopefuls were scheduled to visit with the Navy SEALs, May 22-25, as part of a combined training and charity mission in preparation for Mosconi Cup XXI in Blackpool, England, Dec. 1-4. (Shane Van Boening had a scheduling conflict with the San Diego dates.)

According to Wilson, in addition to a tour and lecture at the Navy SEAL facility, the San Diego camp will include a visit to a Veterans Administration hospital, a full clinic, a charity event and challenge matches. “This is all about motivation, discipline, core values and professionalism,” said Wilson. “If this visit doesn’t get the players dialed in and pumped up, nothing will.”

Wilson has expressed interest in getting the team together for several “boot camps” before selecting the final five players who will compete in Blackpool. He added that he would be compiling physical evaluations on each player — statistics on break speeds, cue ball control, spot shot accuracy and more (“like the NFL Combine,” he said) — and plans to post the results on a Team USA fan page.

To listen to Team USA promotional spot, click on the link.
http://billiardsdigest.com/audio/Mosconi-PEP.mp3

Wilson Names Team USA Hopefuls

Mosconi_CupAs was his original intent, Mosconi Cup Team USA Captain Mark Wilson worked quickly to select the players who will compete for the final five roster spots for the 2014 event in December in Blackpool, England. Wilson announced the selection of eight players who will train and compete together through the summer, before the captain whittles the list down to the five players who will wear the red, white and blue in Blackpool.

Not surprisingly, Wilson tabbed America’s No. 1, Shane Van Boening, and immediately announced that he will expect the taciturn star to provide leadership to the 2014 squad. “Shane sets a great example,” Wilson said in a press release. “And I expect to rely on him for leadership this year.”

Wilson also named seven-time Mosconi Cup veteran Corey Deuel, who many thought should have been on the team in 2013, to the squad. John Schmidt, Oscar Dominguez and Brandon Shuff, each of whom has participated in one Mosconi Cup, were named to the team was well. Leaning on America’s youth, Wilson rounded out his selection with Southern Classic One-Pocket champion Justin Bergman, Derby City titlist Justin Hall and Connecticut’s Jeremy Sossei.

“I’m really excited by this team,” Wilson said. “Every player seems so genuinely appreciative and excited. They’re all willing to do whatever it takes to develop a strong team and a strong sense of unity.”

More interesting than who Wilson selected, of course, was the list of players who weren’t invited to “camp.” The most notable omission was Johnny Archer, whose string of 17 consecutive Mosconi Cup appearances will come to an end. Fourteen-time Cup participant Earl Strickland and nine-time team member Rodney Morris were also left off the roster. In fact, Van Boening will be the only holdover from the 2013 squad that lost 21-1 to Team Europe in Las Vegas.

“I didn’t interview those players,” Wilson admitted. “And I explained to Johnny that I thought it best to go in a completely different direction this year. A lot of it is about attitude. Last year I felt there was no sense of urgency. There seemed to be a sense that it was a yearend bonus, and if the team won, great.”

Another player conspicuous by his absence is Mike Dechaine, one of the most consistent American players over the past three years.

“I spoke to Mike,” said Wilson. “In the end I felt that his reputation among the players wasn’t a good fit at this stage for a team event like the Mosconi Cup.”

Wilson added that his plan is to get the players together several times over the summer and fall for practice and team bonding. Wilson said he planned to make the final cut to five players after the U.S. Open, and that Team USA would meet and practice together for a week at Lindenwood University near St. Louis before departing for London. The dates of the 2014 Mosconi Cup are Dec. 1-4.