Words by Sean Porter | @Sean7Porter
With their initial application to the BBL accepted, the Reading Rockets are one step closer to joining the professional ranks after 15 years of remarkable success in the EBL.
Since their inception playing National League basketball back in 1997, the club has been one of the better examples of how to run a basketball club, so it comes as little surprise that their decision to make the jump to the BBL has been one of careful planning and deliberation.
I caught up with Matt Johnson (pictured, right) – the man responsible for setting up and running one of the most recognised programmes in the UK – to ask him about the application process, the state of the British game, and the future he envisions for the Rockets.
“We have known for a while that we should push ourselves further by having a group of people working towards a ‘BBL horizon’ as we put it,” Johnson explained. “Knowing that it will make us improve every facet of the club has been a key driver, along with a promise that we would never put the club in jeopardy or go any further without the right people in the driving seats. The only thing stopping us previously has been a lack of people with credible enough business backgrounds and passion for basketball that are able to move the whole club forward, this has been until now”.
For a number of teams in the BBL it becomes a common theme to rebuild every year, bringing in fresh talent each summer as their imports move on to greener pastures. Describing the current business models used in the BBL, Johnson believes there are a number of different avenues teams can take.
“The BBL is currently in a strange place- on the one hand we have the upsurge of the new University based boys like Worcester and Durham who have more than handled the task, and on the other hand you still have the veteran type teams like Newcastle, MK, Sheffield and Plymouth who have shown that there are many different ways to build a successful franchise and many different reasons to join the league”.
Despite this, one thing will not be compromised on; the development of young British talent, such as young rising star Luke Nelson (pictured, below).
“The club will never compromise its belief in the development of young players. I am confident that this move (whenever that may happen) will enhance our programme even more and allow more and more talented young players to come to or academies (there are now 4 academies in Reading) and be trained by highly skilled teaching coaches.
“The identity of the club has never changed and we are only custodians in this current time, we will always be a family based club that believes in the development of young people in a safe and challenging programme., in three years I would hope we are more than competitive in the bbl. with 2 nursery teams, 4 flourishing academies and a thriving under age players and girls programme”.
The transition of Reading to the BBL can only be a good thing for UK basketball. And with the right people in place to make the move happen, Johnson can be happy in the knowledge that the key principles and foundations in which the club was built on won’t be compromised for short term gain and success.
With a Birmingham franchise already accepted for next season, and pending applications from Manchester, and London, the league is potentially going to grow at a quicker rate than seen in recent memory.
Is the BBL slowly beginning to turn things around?