PoolRoom

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.

Gene Nagy Dies at Age 59

Gene Nagy, legendary straight-pool player and longtime coach and mentor to many players including Jeanette Lee, passed away yesterday, July 13, at age 59.

Visitation will be held this Sunday, July 16, from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at:

Kearns Funeral Home
61-40 Woodhaven Blvd.
Rego Park, N.Y.
(718) 441-3300

Nagy died of emphysema and cancer of the lungs. He is survived by his aunt, Jean O’Brien, and many close friends and students.

Nagy was born Oct. 6, 1946 in New York. Before he became a highly respected pool player he was an accomplished musician. He started playing the trumpet at age 12 and attended the Juilliard School of Music at age 17.

Nagy didn’t start playing pool until he was 18 years old, and by the time he was 23, he was invited to his first professional tournament. His lifetime personal high run of 430 is topped officially only by Thomas Engert, Min-Wai Chin, and Willie Mosconi. He is also known for running 150 and out in the 1973 World Straight Pool Open against Allen Hopkins.

Luther Lassiter was quoted as saying of Nagy, “That man was born to play this game.”

Willie Mosconi commented on Nagy’s style, saying, “It was the finest I had ever seen balls taken from the table.”

By the late 1970s, Nagy had retired from competition, but continued to teach and mentor young players. Jeanette Lee, famous the world over as “The Black Widow” was one of his best students, and considered him a father.

Lee said of Nagy:

“Everything I know, I learned from him. He was my coach, my mentor, my friend, my father, my everything. Particularly for the first five years or so, when I first started playing pool.”

Lee met Nagy when she was 19, through her then boyfriend, at a New York poolhall.

“From really that day on, he played me everyday of my life until I moved away. The poolroom opened at 11 a.m., we got there at 10, had coffee, and played until they closed at 11 at night. He never kept score. He really taught me the love of the game to always stay a student.”

Lee credits all of her ability to Gene, as well as her character. She says that he taught humility by example. When she hit her first high run of 122, the very next inning, he ran 238.

“He’s the one who really gave me compassion and gave me humility. People probably wouldn’t call me that, but as a student of the game I am. What it came down to was, he just taught me to love pool for the love of the game, above and beyond any kind of competitiveness or materialism or glory you could take from it. That’s where my willingness to want to give back to this sport and do things for the growth of the game itself, comes from.”

Lee also dedicated her 2001 book, “The Black Widow’s Guide to Killer Pool” to Nagy.