"I Care"-A Response to 'The State of the Game'-Duco Van Oostrum - Hoopsfix.com

“I Care”-A Response to ‘The State of the Game’-Duco Van Oostrum

basketball hoop and sunrise

There are more people that care about basketball in the UK than you may think...

Last week, Hoopsfix published Roy Packham’s thoughts on the state of basketball in England in an article titled “The State of the Game”. The article got a lot of great feedback and has stoked a lot of discussion. Duco Van Oostrum, a coach with the Sheffield Junior Sharks program (and father to young ballin’ prospects Devon and Nigel) got in touch with his thoughts, which he then re-wrote in publishable format for Hoopsfix. It provides more interesting reading and topics for discussion. Please take a read and share your thoughts with a comment below the article!-Sam

As a response to Mr Packham’s final rhetorical (?) question, I care. And with me, there are considerable numbers of people who care. One of the great stories of the summer has been Sam Neter’s Back British Basketball campaign, which has done more to bring people in—literally off the streets—than any organisational ‘directive.’ T-shirts, slogans, Kieran Achara’s tea-making, and endless video clips have brought together a new impulse of non-rhetoric driven enthusiasm and a hope for basketball. GB should compare this impact and hard work with what they get back from their own media company.

That I care does not mean that I disagree with many of Mr Packham’s points, based on years of experience and fighting and caring about the game. I have no insights into the financial structures and governmental involvement etc. I do remember being stunned that the Mallin report could just be thrown into the bin and life be continued as normal.

There are also positive developments to report. The GB men’s team relies on UK ‘homegrown’ players and the passport hunting is exaggerated. That most of those players have had a basketball education outside the UK is a different but very important issue. Luol Deng moved from London to the US as did so many others, as soon as they had the opportunity.

The problems are well-known: facilities, coaches, publicity, league structures at all levels, and lack of a basketball culture. The top professional league will always be a separate entity in the 21st century—the Premier League model in football is in place in most professional sports across Europe.

To me, a major obstacle to any progression in basketball has to do with the twin goals of ‘participation’ and ‘competition.’ The focus has very much been on increasing participation and making sure there are sufficient numbers for financial stability. The actual competitions and development of a high quality seems to take second place, always. The youth final fours are used to give young referees and table officials a chance, for example. There are many examples of this disregard for competition (conference teams allowed to playing in play-offs etc).

At the highest competitive level, things fall apart in the UK, and it starts with youth development. Very quickly players (and parents) learn: if you are serious about the sport, get out of the UK as soon as possible. By far the most go to the US. And they will go to any length (and cost) to get there. The Hoopsfix site follows many of these players living ‘the dream’: Finally, an opportunity to be treated as a professional (even though it’s supposedly education, but that’s a different story) and to get recognition for playing basketball at a high level. While we could argue about the reality of ‘dream,’ the reality of the wish to get out of the UK is embedded in UK basketball culture. The stories of players getting to their new practice facility, to the locker room with a name tag about your seat, the TV lounge, and weight room are all too familiar.

I’m not sure  the UK can ever compete with that dream and it might be more useful to enable that dream and develop realistic pathways, rather than resist that transition to the US. And there are positive signs. GB have appointed people specifically for this top level development (almost exclusively non-UK citizens) and new national youth team ideas are being developed. There is clear progress in those areas.

However, there must be a seriousness about coaches. The only ones making money out of basketball are officials (and that varies considerably). Please, find a career pathway for ex-players who could have so much to contribute. In the other countries I’ve experience with, this is a natural given and encouraged within the big club structures. Here, it’s mostly parents and enthusiasts who have to learn about basketball, and have no idea how to teach fundamentals in a fun way and to improve the players. This is no fault of those volunteers but it’s just that there’s no one else. Coaching resources are hidden across the country. The big Spanish clubs employ a coach who works individually with the talents at least three times a week. We have many coaches here who could and would do that—Roy Packham probably one of them. All that knowledge and experience is now wasted away. But where will the money come from?

And if a player has reached the ‘dream,’ what happens next? The US route is short-term and a basketball career finishes soon there. This is where the BBL can make a real contribution. Most of the US ex-college athletes struggle with a professional career in Europe (for various reasons).  The natural home of these players should be the BBL. But what can the BBL offer? At the moment, salaries are hardly there (not enough to save or develop a ‘post-basketball’ career). It’s a double-bind. In order for the UK professional basketball league to exist, it should start with British basketball players, preferably with a local connection. However, it’s easier to get Americans desperate to keep playing and ‘seeing’ Europe for free.

Once we get UK players becoming the MVP’s of the BBL, we might get the publicity and we might see kids wearing James Jones, or Joseph Baugh t-shirts.

Duco Van Oostrum had a combined basketball and academic career in the US and the Netherlands. He’s been coaching for the  Sheffield Junior Sharks since 2002.


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