Top Lancashire basketball coach urges change to see Great Britain flourish

Head Coach Neal Hopkins during Lancashire Spinners v Westminster Warriors (Credit: Lancashire Spinners Facebook)

A fully-paid, four-year basketball scholarship in the US is too enticing to resist for many of Myerscough College’s athletes. In the last 18 months, head coach Neal Hopkins has seen four of his players make the switch to the US — where average attendances at games attract just shy of 5,000 people.

Hopkins, who is also head coach of National Division One men’s side, Lancashire Spinners, is forced with the task of reshaping both squads, as several of Myerscough’s players also represent the Spinners. The rewards a US scholarship brings — such as increase in profile, higher standard of coaching and playing conditions — means Hopkins’ players have no competitive alternative to consider in the UK, which is incredibly damaging for the development of basketball in the North West, and a serious problem for Basketball England.

Ayo Nuwe is one of three Myerscough & Lancashire Spinners players set to secure a US scholarship

The latest injection of funds from Sport England are a much-needed boost to increase basketball’s appeal. £4.73m for participation and £410,000 for talent identification come into effect in April 2017, which is spread across four years. Regardless, Hopkins believes the sport’s lack of commercialisation and necessary finances to administer change will continue to see an exodus of talent flock to the US.

Basketball England — the sport’s National Governing Body, are set to release their BDM (Basketball Development Model) in May this year. The BDM will contain initiatives that focus on developing and strengthening ties between schools, colleges and universities to the country’s top clubs. A welcoming sign for Hopkins’ partnership with Myerscough College and Lancashire Spinners, as well as other North West outfits as more resources will be on offer.

Loreto College in Manchester are the only other regional side who compete in the country’s top college league — the Elite Academy Basketball League — after Preston College failed to enrol last season. Loreto will also reap the benefits from the BDM as they have a partnership with Division One side Manchester Magic.

Plans to allocate resources to improve the relationship between colleges and clubs is huge for Myerscough and basketball in the North West

Stewart Kellett, who played a key role in increasing sport’s participation in Lancashire through acting as CEO of Lancashire Sport, is now CEO of Basketball England, and he acknowledges the funds are a way of tackling the many problems basketball faces — one being the lack of talent development. “Sport England continue to recognise the value of our sport to society and we now must deliver our promises to change our practice and deliver the upgrade in the way we develop talent in this country,” Kellett told Basketball In England. 
18-year-old James Banton is one of three Myerscough athletes who are mulling over which US scholarship offer to accept for 2018. Zion Tordoff and Ayo Nuwe, along with Banton, are integral team members for Myerscough and Lancashire Spinners. Banton thinks basketball’s awareness in the UK is holding back the development of the country’s top young athletes.

Hopkins, who was formerly in charge of the North West Regional Performance Centre, welcomes the idea of Basketball England also putting emphasis on improving and simplifying the coaching to the younger players. “Basketball is a bit of an enigma,” Hopkins added. “The sport does have a lot of potential and it’s great to see changes finally being made.”

Sport England’s injection of funds is a huge lift for Basketball England as it enables junior training camps to go ahead. Manchester is home to the National Basketball Performance Centre, where England U15 & U17 men and women have been through court and education sessions in the classroom to further nurture their development — an initiative Basketball England considered stopping before finances improved.

However, as the funds are finely spread across a staggering amount of initiatives and plans over the next four years, the realistic aims of increasing the sport’s exposure, and talented athletes opting to stay in the UK may be a long way off.

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