Monday , Oct , 27 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

All is fair in love & Basketball…

“You dont see that in the NBA!,” claims a player following his spectacular 360 degree dunk. I agreed with him, but for very different reasons. 360 degree dunks in the NBA-yes. British talent in the NBA; The two go together like Rio Ferdinand and a drugs test. This years rooster reveals that since 92′ the percentage of players born outside the States has largely increased-jumping from 6% to 19.5% in 2003. However, the severe lack of UK representatives at the highest level is depressing; statistics point to John Amaechi of the Utah Jazz as the only British professional basketball player in the NBA.

But as with most things, the story is deeper than facts-basketball is a game enjoyed by many a UK resident, with streetball becoming just as, if not more popular than any other sport. So why arent we proud of our National team and the National league? Where are the British representaives in the States? I spoke to three basketball fanatics who had some very intresting opinions.

The essence of basketball, is streetball. The soul of the game lies with the blacktop as oppossed to the wooden floor; respect can be gained and lost quicker than Allen Iversons crossover. And local rumours can be written into urban folklore to be recited to the next batch of ballers. One such inquisition was the idea that “Brits cant ball.”
“Yall Brits cant handle the rock (ball)”, claimed my sterotypically over-confident American adversary. Several crossovers, spin moves & jump shots later, he was eating humble pie, and his crew were giving me high fives. What surprised me was their amazement at my level of game-its no better than the average brother who plays ball reguarly-and yet they continued to stare open mouthed as i hit jump shot after jump shot. Why did these Americans assume that basketball, the worldwide sport that it is, had not gained acceptance in Britain?
They were right to a certain degree. Although basketball has gained acceptance, it has not yet achieved the recognition it deserves. Ronnie Baker, England’s most capped player, was in agreement

Q: “British basketball doesnt get as much shine as it deserves-prior to our meeting I had no idea who you were. How do you feel about that?”
RONNIE: “If i was a footballer, id be like David Beckham right now, rich & famous. But that’s the way it goes sometimes; British basketball took off for a while when we had the Sky Sports coverage, but without it, its difficult for the sport to grow.”

Q: “Have you tried the NBA route, college basketball?”
RONNIE: “I didnt get the opportunity…ive done some camps out there and they were fantastic. You could really see the level of basketball-if the kids have the talent, they are pushed.”

Q: “Do you feel that Christians decision to go the NBA is an insult to the BBL, or is he following his own dreams?”
RONNIE: “I think that hes doing the right thing by going out to the States, he will get a good basketball education out there. After his four years in College, he could always come back to the BBL, or if hes good enough, play in the NBA.”

Q: “Do you think that he (Christian) could be putting all of his balls into one basket? (No pun intended)
RONNIE: “Not really, I think he has a scholarship, which means that he gets a free education which is worth around £40,000. There arent many families that can afford that. He will be studying for a degree whilst he is out there, so if it doesnt work out, he has that to fall back on.”

But what does British Basketball have to fall back on? As Ronnie stated without the media coverage, the sport cannot grow, and if the sport cant grow, neither can the talent and potential of players like Christian Waugh. Christian Waugh is a hugely talented shooting guard who is gunning for the NBA this year. But in by-passing the BBL (British Basketball League), is he another sign of the BBL’S decline, or will his skills put the UK on the map? I played against him, and then spoke to his coach to gain a little insight into this gifted shooter.

The sound of the ball yet again falling into the all weather net is really beginning to annoy me. I had been warned that this guy had skills-and now I was painfully witnessing them first hand.
I stupidly challenged Christian to play me, first to 11, ones everywhere. 12 baskets later (I scored once) Christian grins and wishes me “better luck next time.” There wont be a next time for me, but i can see many men falling victim to his deadly jump shot, and killer crossovers. He grins again, before showing me the moves he used to break me down. Christian is like many ballers of his age. He is atheletic, quick, and has reached a peak in his game. Unlike many ballers, he is attempting to raise the bar again, as his dedication and natural talent have landed him a shot at the big time.
But he wasnt always this good. Ex British international shooting guard David Lavinner has been working with Christian long before he even thought he could reach the level that he is at now.

Q: “David, how long have you been playing for?”
DAVID: “Since the age of 11, ive been playing in the National League. I then played internationally for the under 17s and the under 19s. I then moved on to the Brixton Topcats, and finally the Thames Valley Tigers.”

Q: “You’ve worked with Christian for a long time. What do you make of his chances in the States?”
DAVID: “I think that the league is more appreciative of European players-the fact that hes out there means that he will get quality training, so just like anybody else he could it. Christian is very versatile, more of a guard though. He has great skills and good understanding of the game. As long as they get a chance to play, the sky is the limit.”

Q: “Do you feel that his choice to go the NBA is a detriment to the British game?”
DAVID: “When I was playing, there were’nt many opportunities to play in the States…however to answer your question yes it IS a detriment to the British game. The game needs more homegrown players. As you said, you didnt know who Ronnie Baker was, whearas if i mention David Beckham you’d know. The bottom line is that basketball hasnt got that exposure yet, reason being that the investment in the game hasnt been there for a while. Also, in the BBL you could be watching teams with 5 Amercans on them, which leaves no space for the homegrown talent. Until we wake up and look after our own, who knows what could happen to the BBL?”

What could happen, is the second sport imported from the States could disappear as quickly as the first; What happened to American football? My Uncle used to play for the London Monarchs, and when that sport vanished, he was effectively out of a job.
So what will happen to British basketball talent? In every other sport, to make progress you have to make a name for yourself indigenously, on your home turf. In British basketball, things appear to be in reverse-The BBL has an acute lack of pull factors, but in their place, a profusion of push factors. No chance of a sponsorship deal, no real recognition for your talent-its real shame. However, there is always a home for true talent, and Christian Waugh is hoping that the NBA will be greeting his gift with open arms.

Q: “Christian, how long have you been playing basketball?”
CHRIS: “Ive been playing for the last nine years.”

Q: “Who do you base your game on?”
CHRIS: “When i was growing up i always used to watch Michael Jordan, but i never quite grew to 6’6! I look at the good point guards and the smaller shooting guards, people like Iverson, John Stockton, Issaiah Thomas, people like that.”

Q: “Do you feel that coming from this side of the Atlantic could hold you back? There is only one British player in the NBA.”
CHRIS: “Well ive been playing for about the same time as a lot of American kids, so it shouldnt hold me back. If i keep working hard, maybe i can do something positive for this country.”

Q: “Have you ever considered playing in the BBL? If not, why not? If so, then why arent you pursuing that route this summer?”
CHRIS: “To be honest, id like to play basketball professionally anywhere i can, I havent pursued it this year as I have the opportunity to play in America. College comes first, get my education, and we will see what happens from there.”

Q: “What makes you feel as though you could make it?”
CHRIS: “Every obstacle that ive come across, ive overcome. Ive reached a point now where i can go out to America, hopefully do something at Junior College-hard work gets you a long way.”

Q: “Have you thought about the flipside to being a sports superstar? Its not easy living in the public eye.”
CHRIS: “You just have to be yourself, dont give to much away, and dont do anything stupid that could get you in trouble.”

Q: “If it doesnt work out with basketball, what other plans do you have?”
CHRIS: “Im studying secondary education, id like to become a teacher, or a coach. I want to give back and work with kids.”

Q: “What advice do you have to those who want to follow in your footsteps?”
CHRIS: “Work hard, take a basketball with you everywhere you go-if you’re at home watching TV please get out to a park and run some drills.”

Height: 6’0
Weight: 210 pounds
Favourite team: Philidelpha 76ers
Time in basketball: 9 years
Plays for South Maryland College
Favourite Player: Michael Jordan
Favourite move: Slow-mo crossover & acceleration

Height: 6’1
Weight: 210 pounds
Favourite team: San Antonio Spurs
Time in basketball: 20 years
Played for Brixton Topcats/Thames Valley Tigers/International shooting guard
Favourite player: Michael Jordan
Best Move: Incredible jump shot

Height: 5’9
Weight: 154 pounds
Favourite team: Dallas Mavericks
Time in basketball: 20 years
Plays for London Towers
Favourite players: Issaiah Thomas
Best move: Killer crossover

British basketball is officially at a crossroads-it can either disappear into the mist as if it never existed, or it could step out into the sunshine and get a tan. I know which one the talented and gifted Brits deserve, but i have a nasty feeling which route the BBL will take, dropping off the genius with not even as much as piece of carboard to write “anywhere” on. In a year, the three basketball fanatics and I will reconvene to discuss Christians meteoric rise in the NBA, the stunning amount of ground the BBL has made on the NBA, and how Basketball is being taught ahead of football in schools. Who said dreams dont come true?