- National Teams
Despite limited experience of playing the game, Darrell Bethune was thrust into the limelight. A call-up to represent Great Britain at youth level was followed by making his BBL debut at the age of 21.
Almost six years on, and a couple of hampering injuries later, Bethune has gone full circle with the now 26-year-old in the final stretch of his second season in Britain’s top flight with league newcomers Leeds Force. And Bethune believes there is more to come from him.
“I’ve always believed I’m good enough to play in the BBL, I just didn’t get the chance to play that second year to see what I can do,” he said. “A lot has changed, and this time I’m one of the oldest on the team. I don’t feel like I’m playing my game consistently enough, but I’m getting better as we go along.”
The Hackney Community College Basketball Academy product first started taking the sport seriously at the age of 17 under Tony Garbeletto – who would later coach him at Everton Tigers (more recently called Mersey). After attending a DENG camp, Bethune was encouraged to attend the academy in his own backyard.
“It just went from there,” he recalls. “The coaches were better; teaching me things I didn’t know and everything about the game. Obviously the players were better, and that’s what made be better to be honest.”
Following his second year at Hackney, Bethune was already beginning to attract attention and earned a call-up to play for GB at the under-20’s European Championships.
“The first year was a learning curve being taught the fundamentals of the game,” he said of his time at Hackney. “The second (year) was when I really started to make a push as a player.”
At the Euro’s in Romania, Bethune was joined in the squad by current GB senior quartet, Ashley Hamilton, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Ben Mockford and Devan Bailey as well as Orlan Jackman. The under-20 side finished in 15th place after recording just three wins (twice beating Ireland) in their eight outings.
“We had a really good team,” claimed Bethune. “It was quite bad that we didn’t go on and win the tournament. For me, as a youngster and having only played basketball for a certain amount of time, getting to represent my country was one of my greatest achievements.
“When I first started, all the players in my age group were ahead of me. Guys like Danny Carter, Orlan, Matthew and Ashley had already made a name for themselves. I played against Ben (Mockford) the other week and it’s good to see those guys doing well.”
After a first experience at international level, Bethune was then given an early opportunity at top-level pro basketball as he signed for BBL side Everton Tigers, under Garbeletto.
With playing time expected to be scarce for a developing player, Bethune seized his chance throughout the season and even recorded a season-high of 20 points in back-to-back games against the now defunct Essex Pirates and Leicester Riders. Everton would conclude the 2009-10 season with victory in the playoff final against Glasgow Rocks.
“I was just 20/21 playing with much older guys and they made me better every day,” he said. “Tony (Garbeletto) is a good coach. He would always play me in games and help me develop when most young players didn’t play as much then in the BBL.”
Bethune had the possibility of another season with Everton ended after suffering a torn ACL in the summer following his debut BBL campaign. And it’s been a tough journey back to the top-flight. Several stop-gaps were taken at Division 1 teams before finally settling in Yorkshire after joining the club in November, 2013.
“I like to challenge myself,” he said of his decision to return in the summer. “I was like ‘I’ve played in it before so why not again?’.
Leeds have certainly raised a few eyebrows with certain performances this season, but it’s still not been enough to earn the respect of other teams – not according to Bethune, anyway.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think teams still look at us and think ‘we can’t let those guys beat us’. I wish I could say yes, but it’s not the case. Teams thought they could just run us over, but we’ve helped ourselves by grabbing a few wins and I think it’s been a good season for a new team.”
The transition into the BBL for the D1 playoff champions has been tough, as expected, with Leeds not quite the force to be reckoned with in the early stages. They ended a nervy wait for a first win after delivering a knockout blow to Manchester Giants in the BBL Trophy, in November, and impressive scalps on the road at Sheffield, London and Cheshire have since followed.
“When we beat London Lions that gave us some real belief that we could beat other teams in the league,” said Bethune. “It was a good feeling especially because I’m from London and have known a few of their players for a long time, and I also had my family there.”
Bethune also starred in the memorable win at Cheshire last month after leading his side to victory with a joint season-high 21 points, which he describes as his best game of the season. With their current 7-22 record, Leeds are still not mathematically out of the playoff race, but a strong finish would cement a very respectable debut campaign in the BBL.
“We still have a job to do, and we have to stick with what we’re doing,” said Bethune. “We all believe the season has been a success. Some people didn’t think we would even win two games, so we just want to win as many as we can now.”
Image credit: Chris Midgley