Another NBA player from the UK can be produced by the country’s grassroots system.

So insists Basketball England’s developmental supremo Charlie Ford ahead of a summer where the best British prospects will be tested at European level and scrutinised for signs that the long wait for another absolute A-Lister will soon be at an end.

Ford, who heads up pathways at the UK’s largest national governing body, has overseen a radical overhaul to a structure that has failed to provide an NBA-bound performer for over a decade despite the sizeable participation rates and the still-generous sums being invested in grassroots growth.

Some seeds of hope bloomed earlier this month when Leicester Warriors product Kareem Queeley was a winner in the EuroLeague’s junior competition – the Adidas Next Generation Tournament – with Spanish giants Real Madrid, become the first Brit ever to achieve success at the event.

Two 13-year-old Londoners, Ines Goryanova and Noah Myers, both playing for the Newham Youngbloods in East London, were selected among the 10 boys and 10 girls who will represent the Europe and Middle East region in the second Jr. NBA Global Championship in Orlando.

But widening the net, Ford says, is why the old blueprint was shredded last year and reimagined from the bottom up, ditching much of the old regional selection approach, so that the next Luol Deng and Joel Freeland can be given all the help they require to make the grade.

“We’re trying to become aware of the best players earlier so we can ensure we support coaches to develop them,” he declared.

“A key thing has been a new digital system that’s been introduced because the days of someone tearing around the country are long gone. It’s started with the Under-16 league and will next go down to Under-14.

“And we’re getting clubs to upload videos of their games so we can produce an interactive system and definite depth charts which allows us to assess the top prospects by competition and age.

“That’s all come out of looking at the strengths and weaknesses in the old system which didn’t allow us to assess properly and sometimes resulted in losing talent to other sports.

“And that’s a positive. The biggest issue is information. We’re moving towards an environment where we can find the best and support them. And that’s where the universities can come in.”

Using the resources of the education sector, he believes, can unlock the extra resources that might make a difference as budgets are squeezed for all three home nations.

It is why a scheme has been drafted which intends sign up ten universities into partnerships that would effectively double as regional hubs that not only provide a composite support ecosystem but also facilitate court time for initiatives and coaching.

“Each hub would provide 200 free hours for the sport, and a lot of that would be used at the lower end of the pathway, down to Under-12s, Jr, NBA, etc.,” Ford underlines.

A small amount of seed funding should generate a return on investment for both parties to the deal, a key move in the attempt towards some sustainability and a means for the universities, he adds, to give their staff and students an outlet to gain practical experience with the live subjects who will receive their help.

“The interest has been massive. The big thing is student experience. They want to make their students more employable. They want to be seen as the best places to go.”

The proof in that pudding, inevitably, will only come if more and better players, male and female, emerge in the decade ahead.

Yet if Great Britain is to be the same kind of powerhouse that Spain and France have become with similar seeds of talent, then a better strategic approach will clearly need to be constructed and maintained.

Holes remain. Overall leadership remains under a critical spotlight. Take, for example, the recent case of Lauren Betts, the highly-rated daughter of Great Britain legend Andy, who has reached the final stages of the trials for the USA’s Under-16 team.

Her talents were flagged up to British Basketball in previous summers. No effort, her illustrious parent confirms, was made to bring her into the fold. A possible stellar recruit maybe lost for good.

Those welcomed into the system must feel empowered, Ford acknowledges, so they can feel at home on the highest levels. The approach must fit need.

“That’s why we changed it,” he affirms. “A lot of the recent success has been built on a golden generation. The 1995 group with Luke Nelson went into Division A. The 1996 group was nowhere near as strong. It’s hard when you’re playing in a competition and don’t have a chance.

“One of the biggest changes we’ve made is a new curriculum for player development so that year on year, we’re able to produce players who are ready to perform at the top level. And there’ll be more work on that after the summer in the next six months.

“We want to make sure the Under-16s are ready to perform at European level. And if we get them earlier and give them exposure, we will make sure they don’t arrive and feel out of their depth.”

Photo: BE

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