How Tayo Buck-ed the import trend. Plus Cheshire’s train strain and GB’s loss.

Tayo Ogedengbe listened to his coach and occasionally wondered if there might be an alternative way. On even rarer occasions, a youthful arrogance led him to vocalise his concerns.

“If you had a come back,” recounts the Glasgow Rocks forward, “it meant nothing. Because he was the one with the resume. He always used to say: ‘check what I’ve done.’”

Few Britons can hold a candle to the CV compiled by Steve Bucknall during a two-decade career that saw him succeed Michael Jordan at North Carolina before a cup of tea with Magic Johnson at the Los Angeles Lakers before a grand tour around Europe’s biggest teams.

Even fewer with anything approaching the now 48-year-old’s credentials have thrown them into nurturing future generations as the one-time England international current does in his native London.

Ogedengbe, hence, feels among the fortunate few, home schooled almost exclusively in the UK – with a mentor of such renown – yet able to earn a living from turning out in the British Basketball League.

“Everything he said made sense because it came from his experience,” the swingman affirms. “He wasn’t saying it just for the sake of it. I benefited from that as an English player. I took it in. But some other guys in the BBL haven’t had that person they could relate to.

“Buck was from London, like me. He played in the BBL but he also played in the NBA. He’s done things I’ve always wanted to do. He gave me a tough kind of love but those kind of figures are so important. There’s just not many of them around, guys who you can look up to and take knowledge from.”

tayo_ogedengbe_actionWhen the pair were united, at London Capital during their fleeting stint in the BBL, Ogedengbe was stuck in a Catch-22 that many homegrown hopefuls face. To have any shot at a professional basketball career takes practice, but also luck. Additionally, it means sacrifice, in time and money, a gamble that many simply cannot chance.

“Do I want to do this or do I not?” he asked himself. “I had to tell myself to keep working because it was difficult. It didn’t happen straight away. I did put in a lot of work to get a starting spot and to hold it.

“It is difficult. Guys are coming out every single day and fighting to come into the BBL to take that spot away from you – probably for less money. It’s really hard and I find I have to keep improving my game just to stay where I am.”

The verdict from some is that there seems an in-built bias. There has, as MVP’s recent analysis showed, been minimal change in the number of imports who accrue most of the living wages available.

“I wouldn’t use as harsh a word as discrimination, but you are fighting against things,” Ogedengbe declares. “I’d like the BBL to get to a point where they are saying: ‘there has to be a certain amount of British payers on court at any time.’

“That would give you confidence that you’ll be playing and that you can show you can make it at this level. It would balance things out. I’m one of those guys who feels we should have opportunities but I also understand that by bringing in the imports, you raise the level of the league. It’s up to the BBL to find the right balance.”

His advice? Get out, and see the world. The Londoner ended his kiddiehood in the programme overseen by now-Surrey coach Jack Majewski but ran up against the void left by the abolition of England Basketball’s Under-20 league. It was too soon to go pro. Hence he played Division 3 at London Towers before opting for an academy programme in Spain run by well-respected youth coach Rob Orellano.

“I needed that,” he says. “It taught me all the fundamentals that I should ideally have got at a young age, all the drills, everything. It got me straight and got me the chance at Capitals.

“If you want to be a good professional player you need to try and leave the country and see the world. Spain was probably one of the highlights of my career. I saw a different kind of passion from the people involved and the fans, simply because I’d been in the UK for so long.

“You go to arenas there, fans are throwing flares, there’s blimps going around it’s crazy. Then skill-wise, they are so fundamentally sound, it’s unreal, in addition to having all the flair with no-look passes etc. It opened my eyes to a different side. I’d advise anyone to leave if you want to add a different element.”

Last season, Ogedengbe headed overseas once more, only this time with a pay day on offer. Calais, in the French third tier, was a step up, rich with opportunity. Their enthusiasm ran deep. Likewise their criticism.

“If you had a bad game, you’d know about it,” he laughs. Or, at least, so said his coach who had to translate some of the crowd appraisals.

“Fans would be telling you to go back home. It can be borderline aggressive but the level is so high in‹ every league. If you’re in the second league, you want to move up and that filters all the way down. No matter what level you go to, it’s passionate.”

Let there be something similar this coming weekend, he declares, with Glasgow and Bristol Flyers facing off in the BBL Cup semi-finals. The newcomers have fallen away from their fine start.

The Rocks, having surged, hit a roadblock last weekend.

“I’m not concerned about how Bristol are doing,” Ogedengbe states. “I’m more concerned about us. Because when we play well, we generally win. Despite what happened at the weekend, we’ll go in on a roll.”


Backroom to front

From an autumn of upheaval to a winter of discontent in Chester? With the personnel ins and outs seemingly at an end at the Phoenix, MVP has learnt that the playing staff are demanding upgrades to the off-court support they receive on a daily basis.

One player – speaking on condition of anonymity – claims it is becoming a source of irritation in the wake of the injury suffered recently by one-time NBA Draftee Julius Hodge that has, so far, kept him out for three games.

“We don’t have a physio or day to day trainer,” he said. “Guys are getting hurt in practice. The practice court we’re playing on is really bad. But when we’ve voiced our opinions to the proper people, it’s not getting heard.

“The floor where we practice is really bad. It’s causing some guys to have ankle and back issues. It’s bad for basketball.”

Now, here’s the rub. Few BBL teams have trainers on constant call for practices (it’s obligatory for games). The speed and standard of medical care varies heavily. It would be unfair to single out the Phoenix – who will move into a modern facility next year – for not affording the same level of back-up as your average mid-level football club.

But it does hint at some of the cultural clash arising within the Northgate, with issues said to have spilled over into the club’s off-court work.

“If we were on a ten-game losing streak and it was getting hot off the court, I could understand it,” the player told me. “But we’re doing well and there’s still consistent problems.”

I approached one senior Cheshire official recently and asked if it felt the ethos had changed. The response of former coach and stalwart Mike Burton?

“We’re still a community club. It’s just we have a sponsor putting in his own money to make things bigger.”

With that comes, almost inevitably, problems which are bigger in scale than before.

Evans above

David Evans’ pending departure from Plymouth Raiders is more problematic than releasing your typical American.

The club’s assistant player-coach, who is scheduled to have foot surgery before Christmas, came to Devon with a wife and five children in tow. Plus he has already started a graduate programme in the city.

With the 38-year-old likely to be sidelined until March, Raiders coach Jay Marriott will have to look for two replacements. Evans may have a very large shipment going home to Hawaii for Christmas.


Yorick Williams return to the BBL with Leicester Riders means the veteran forward has now been in the league over a stretch of 20 years since his debut for his hometown Manchester Giants.

Despite the odd controversy, the now-39-year-old ex-GB cap has been one of the best figures in the domestic game during stops with seven different teams.

Who knows if this might be his last tour? Savour him while you can.

Gordon and dusted

British Basketball is about to lose its own MVP with the confirmation that operations chief Sinead Gordon is soon to depart.

The Irishwoman has been the glue that has held the national teams body together through its recent traumas while finding ways to do more with less.

However Gordon, a member of the basketball operations team at London 2012, has been poached by the European Games in Baku where she will oversee the 3×3 competition.

It leaves British Basketball with a huge hole to fill as it looks to evolve into a new formal federation over the next 18 months.

Outside shots

Brent Benson says Plymouth’s worst behind them

At Cheshire, Taylor King leaves troubled past behind

The Brit holding the mic at Shanghai Sharks

BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • MySpace
  • Print

You must be logged in to post a comment Login