In the end you moved around the league going to Birmingham and Sheffield. How did you enjoy those experiences.
Jimmy Brandon took the Job in Manchester and did not want to renew my contract. I was very disappointed in Jimmy because weeks leading up to his interview he called me daily asking me questions about the organization and what he should expect. I helped him get the Job and in the end it cost me my job at Manchester.
I think for me that was a time I fell out of love with the game of basketball. Not because I was let go, but the way Jim “No Balls” Brandon handled the situation. I would have still helped him get the job even if he was not going to renew my contract as I wanted the best thing for the team and the city. In fact I had the same conversations with other coaches who wanted the job and they were up front with me and told me they would not renew my contract if they were offered the job, simply because they felt I was bigger than the team due to my interaction with the community.
I then signed with Sheffield and it was a good situation for me. We won a cup championship and I finished my Ph.D. But I knew I just didn’t want to play in any other city. For me it was not about the Manchester Giants it was about the city of Manchester and the North West. That was where I felt the most comfortable and protected as a player as well as having a strong fan base. I knew going to another city was going to be tough due to my style of play. I was the type of player where you love me if I am one your team but if I am on the other team you hate me, that was the deal and I got it. But now I was being asked to leave a team and city I love and become the guy on the other side of the fence and I did not like it at all.
I enjoyed Sheffield mainly because of the type of people that ran the club. Other than Manchester, I would say Sheffield was the type of club that made you feel like family. Whatever you needed they would make sure you got it.
Often I would go by the office and you could tell the folks working in the office like Nic and Sarah Backovic were serious about marketing basketball and chasing sponsorship religiously. They also took a genuine interest in players well-being. I also spent a great deal of time at the University and made some real friendships with many graduate students, which was enjoyable.
I don’t rate my experience with Birmingham on any level as the coach at the time was inexperienced and in over his head with the type of players he had on the team.
The mentality was one of a high school program not a professional team and the results showed on the court. Doing tip drills in practice with players that have played D1 basketball is an insult especially since the coach himself was never a player. I rarely socialized in the city of Birmingham.
Can you describe the state of the British Basketball League back in those days?
The game then was played with 6’9 and 6’10 forwards and centers and 6’5 shooting guards. The game overall seemed bigger. The game now seems to be played from around the 6’7 size to 6’0. Thats ok if it sells tickets to have a faster pace game but you can forget playing in the Euro championship, with that size. The money was much better then, a guy could make anywhere between 50K to 100K pounds or more depending on contract and bonuses.
How do you view the British Basketball League today?
I see a number of people working in the British game who either played or worked in the league when I was a player. It pleases me to see a guy like Fab having success and guys like Yorick Williams and Mike Bernard still playing. However, the British game is not on a level I would expect.
In fact many of my colleagues continue to say the game is in worst shape then its ever been. I refuse to believe that because it is still growing. But I do think the game could be moving along at a much faster pace then it has been.
If you look at the number of UK teams competing in Europe compared to the number of UK teams that did so during my time in Manchester, you might find, teams from the past competed in Europe more than the teams today. I played in European competition with Manchester, Birmingham, and the London Leopards. I would doubt these same teams are playing in Europe today.
What did you make of the news of the return of Manchester Giants?
I was so excited to hear the news about the Manchester Giants being back. I email Jeff Jones and congratulated him on his accomplishment and wish he and the team much success this season. I am planning on a trip to Manchester in 2013 to see a few BBL games and the Giants are first on my list.
What do you make of the profile of international Basketball at the moment including the NBA?
The International profile of basketball is at an all time high and the UK should have been in the middle of it. The NBA will have a pro team in Europe and the UK would be smart in positioning itself to be the first European city with an NBA team, believe me its coming. This has been the plan for many, many years. The only thing that has held things up has been flight logistics and league boundaries.
What do we have to do to take basketball to the next level in the UK?
I have had a chance to review the youth program for UK basketball and that’s where you have to start. The standard which many think is a high standard actually isn’t. It’s been a little more than ten years since I left the UK and in that time you would think we would be discussing how great the 11 and under UK team is. We should be discussing how the GB under 11’s team did in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournament in Las Vegas last summer.
If we want the youth in the UK to get better they must play against the best and due to the popularity of the game in the USA, this is where the best players are. How many players playing UK basketball were actually developed in the UK and are premier players. I mean guys who never left the UK for development? American colleges and universities develop UK players. Sending players to the USA for development at this point should not be happening.
The University system in the UK is tailor made for basketball development. Our NCAA system is really no different then the BUCS system. so, why are players still leaving the UK heading to the USA, two words, Fundamental Development.
The fundamental development aspect of basketball has changed dramatically in the USA and many parts of Europe and so have the standards. We are seeing an increasing effort in teaching the fundamentals. In recent years it has been about the athlete or the amount of athletic ability a kid has which made him a good player.
The art of the mid-range jump shot was lost due to guys wanting to bully their way to the bucket and guys also wanting to excite the crowd with a dunk.
Now in the USA that mind set is slowly leaving our game. Don’t misunderstand me, we still love the dunks and the fancy drives to the bucket but that type of play probably represents 15% of an entire game on the college or high school level.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to basketball fundamental development it takes three things, commitment, support and repetitive hard work assuming you understand what basketball fundamental development consists of.
Many in the UK basketball scene have never been taught how to coach. It’s something they started doing and most often enjoyed it. A lot of coaches are self taught and there is nothing wrong with that but at some point if a coach is not aggressively trying to learn from the best in the business the kids suffer because it quickly becomes about winning and not developing players.
The next generation. Mark Robinson’s son Nathan (No.5) shows he’s got game.
As an example when a kid turns 7 years old the basketball curriculum for the next ten years is in place. Therefore by the time that kid is eight years old he/she should be able to preform certain basketball related drills, moves in games and more importantly have a general understanding of how to play defence and run motion offence.
Yes, that’s right by the time a kid is 8 he/she should be able to run a motion offence and play correct man to man defence The curriculum is not based on athletic ability rather it is based on teaching. A coach who is not teaching correctly will result in a player not developing correctly.
Since you left the British game what have you been doing with yourself and what are you doing now?.
After leaving the UK I started working as a counsellor with student athletes at City College of San Francisco, primarily with the basketball team. I assisted them with academic requirements needed to obtain a scholarship.
However, my main purpose was to assist in the personal player development area of the individuals on the team. Personal Player Development is a area I focused on while obtaining my Ph.D. so I was excited to put the theory to practice. I had a great run in the position and all of the athletes I worked with went on to the next level on scholarships.
From there, I quickly moved to administration at the same college holding the Deans position and ultimately the Vice Chancellor position. I enjoyed learning higher education administration but wanted to some how move back towards athletics and sport. I continued to help players on the personal development aspects of sport and made the decision to focus on the area of Personal Player Development.
I returned to my faculty position where I currently teach the Foundations of Leadership and work as a Personal Player Development Consultant.
Tell us about your family.
I have a wonderful wife. She is from Manchester and we have been together for eighteen years. I met Lindsay while playing basketball for the Manchester Giants. We have three amazing boys Nathan 12, Marcus 6 and Rhys 2 who all love basketball. Nathan was born in Manchester, Marcus and Rhys were born in San Francisco.
We currently reside in Walnut Creek California. and try and get back to Manchester every couple of years to visit friends and family which is always nice.
I have the most wonderful family a man could ask for. Lindsay and I are enjoying watching them grow and look forward to seeing them develop into men and one day, hopefully, see them get the opportunity to play for England. All of my boys have UK passports and watching the Olympic Games gave them a sincere interest in UK basketball.
What do you make of the Great Britain set up and their performances at London 2012?
I was happy the GB team got the opportunity to play on the big stage at the 2012 games. Not having Ben Gordon hurt and the team would have played different had he joined the team. I think the future of the team and program depends on the support the program has from the Great Britain community. I also think the next coach has to have a different approach than Coach Finch as his NBDL and NBA status attracted a lot of players to the program. He is in the NBA system so players were probably more keen to play for him, plus he is a good coach.
I don’t know if the likes of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon would want to play for a coach who was not a winner on USA soil or a big name in basketball.
Their are only a few people that could probably be successful coaching a GB team. Billy Mims, Nick Nurse and Kevin Cadle. All have won in the UK and all of them are player coaches. Kevin might have the edge on paper because he has a name in sport overall.
Folks in the USA know Kevin and how he has won in the UK so a guy like him would not have to convince players to play for GB. However, it all goes back to the fundamental development of youth players and the specific fundamental development curriculum a country, club or centre has in place.
The Senior level teams development program should be mirrored by all levels of basketball programs in the UK, if not, the youth programs are ultimately teaching totally different concepts and this could result in players missing important components of fundamental development.
Is coaching something that you would want to go into in the future?
Over the years I have been interested in coaching in the UK but have never been approached. Since that opportunity has not presented itself, my main focus has been on developing players.
I have actually been coaching since I returned to the USA more than ten years ago. I quickly learned that my weakness as a coach was in the fundamental development of young players. I always could work with pro or college players but I needed to focus my skills on youth development.
I had the fantastic opportunity to work alongside a fella by the name of Phil Galvin. Phil is a well known basketball Fundamental guru and works as the basketball director for the Olympic Club in San Francisco. I have been an assistant to him in the Clubs AAU, program and it is truly a coaches dream, if you are willing to learn the core concepts of basketball fundamentals.
In my time at the club we have taken ordinary kids and made them players who understand the game of basketball. I have also coached middle school basketball. I am not interested in coaching on the collegiate level as one of my goals has always been to coach in the UK for a serious program.
What advice would you give to young players who are showing an aptitude for the game?
Work on the fundamentals of your game. Shooting, passing, dribbling, etc. If you are in a program, find out if the program is about winning or development. If you are interested in playing basketball for the purpose of winning games find a club that is doing that and you will win but understand the long term individual results wont fall in your favour. Playing on a winning team does not necessary mean you are a winner unless you are one of the reasons the team is winning.
However, if you are interested in a club that focuses on fundamental development then you will ultimately have long term success as you will be able to play at any level with a variety of players. The question I have my players ask themselves is, am I a better player today, than I was yesterday?
If the answer is yes they are on the right track.
Photo – David Stern
Photo – Mark Robinson Dunk
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