Lions’ guard winding down. Plus fall-out from Basketball England’s moves. And BBL deadline busting.

Those were wild days, Rod Brown recounts, and nights too. It is hard to countenance that 15 seasons have passed since he first landed in the UK, jumping out of college in Western Michigan to gleefully grasp an offer to go pro half-way around the world.

“I was a fresh young guy, coming to London, with dreams and aspirations, but with no idea what I was getting into,” the veteran point guard laughs. “I had a wild coach in Bob Donewald. I had a talented team. I had a crazy team-mate, probably one of the craziest guys who ever played in this league in Rico Alderson.

“And we had wild owners in Ed and Annie-T (Simons). But I cherish that moment. They all got me through that first season and helped me to be here today, 16 years later, still playing at a high level.”

Life, the Lions playmaker observes, has come full circle. Back to where it all started with a rookie campaign, and then two further years, with Leopards. Back to where he went onwards to a stint with London Towers in the era when the Euroleague’s door was prized open. Back to where it might ultimately end, following a career that has seen the 36-year-old Dallas native ply his trade in the top tiers of Spain and Greece, adjoined by stints in Italy, Cyprus and Switzerland.

“I always said I would come back to the BBL,” he notes. It is also where he plans to hang up his boots. A back injury is a sporadic pest. The novelty of the grind has long worn off. “I can always go home,” Brown adds. “It’s not about the money. It’s about enjoying it, enjoying the coaching, enjoying going to practice every day. And still doing something I love. Because once it’s done, it’s done.”

His is not quite a life without ties. Each September when the American packs up his trunk and prepares to bid goodbye for the circus, voices speak up in dissent. ‘Where’s Mr. Rod?’ ask the kids at the day care centre Brown has owned for a number of years back in Texas.

“I did smart things with the money I’ve earned in Europe,” he acknowledges. He understands the reality, that the life of a basketball journeyman does not deliver enough to retire on, just the breathing space to kick start Phase 2 if the dollars and sense are stashed safely away.

It is an opportunity to embrace for those with talent. Not all, even those infused with the greatest of abilities, stay on the open road. Growing up, Brown was used to seeing the illustrious friends of his elder sibling, Luther Burks, drop by for some familial hospitality. “Karl Malone used to come to our house. He’d be in the living room, with my mother, telling her what a great player Luther was.”

An All-American, he starred at Oklahoma City University and then skirted with the NBA during a number of spells at different clubs in the Continental Basketball Association. His demons, alas, kept putting blocks in the way.

“Roy Tarpley, who passed away recently, was in drug rehab with my brother,” Brown reveals. “They were really good friends. He was a top-notch player who could have played in the NBA. He made it to the CBA, which was still a high level. But he battled a drug problem. I had to learn from what he did to make it through my own career.”

It is four years since Burks was found dead one morning in his bed, aged 44. “He taught us how to play ball,” his chief admirer declares in tribute. “I dreamt of being able to do what he did.” On his arm is inked ‘Brotherly Love’ as a constant reminder, not just of Luther but also his other sibling Eric, who passed away three years previously following a sudden seizure at a night spot later attributed to an undiagnosed brain condition.

That it was so unexpected, and he was only 32, hit even harder when his younger sibling woke up one morning in northern Spain to a phone call that would bring devastating news.

“That was a tough moment,” says Brown, who was then playing for Gipuzkoa. “I thought, ‘do I want to keep playing ball or not?’ To go through that season in a place where they didn’t speak my language, and to battle through guys not really understanding what I was going through inside, and to then win a championship which got my team promoted into the ACB, was probably one of the best moments I’ll ever had.

“It got me to think I should continue to play this game, despite all of the troubles I’ve had. But then there have been so many good things, to still be here playing, without having any major injuries, that’s just amazing.”

High-flying Brown was Ian Whyte's nightmare (Mansoor Ahmed)

High-flying Brown was Ian Whyte’s nightmare (Pics: Mansoor Ahmed)

The Lions, some might argue, might not be the place to ease gently towards the exit door. Brown, having seen it all before, cannot disguise the complexity of the puzzle created at the Copper Box by a roster laden with talent including reigning British Basketball League MVP Zaire Taylor but frequently short on chemistry and finesse.

It is, their designated floor leader confirms, about putting the pieces together not flying off solo. “Me, as a veteran. I’ve played with bigger egos than this,” he states. “Even Zaire,” he smiles. Theirs has been an awkward fit at times, Brown needing the ball, Taylor demanding it, just one to share.

We can be selfish, the former acknowledges. There is, he has learnt, a time for individuality. “But you want to get the win. So we have to understand when guys are rolling, and when they’re not, to bring other things to the team.

“If it’s not your night scoring, we need an extra four rebounds or an extra two steals. Deny your man and keep him below his scoring average. Guys have to take a different approach to what they do without scoring or having the ball in their hands.”

They have three months left to convert with Nigerian-born former NBA centre Olumide Oyedeji added to their roster last week. A forthcoming Trophy semi-final with Leicester Riders, a possible shot at the play-offs. Then, it will be time for Mr. Rod to be reunited with his other team.

It will probably, he signals, be the end of the line. The mind is not quite made up but it is ruminating awfully hard.

“My body will say when it’s over,” Brown underlines. “How we go as a team will be a factor in that decision. I have three months to figure it out. Because it’s getting better slowly here.

“What we need to do now is bring some medals to London.”

Deadline approaching

We’re now just ten days away from this season’s BBL signing deadline, which passes on February 27. Doubtless, there will be a few additions in the works.

Surrey United have agreed terms to become Sam Attah’s third club of the season with the British swingman leaving Leeds Force last week following a previous spell at Durham Wildcats.

Leeds, who have been considering an extra addition for some time, may move for a reinforcement. As may Bristol Flyers with Mathias Seilund out for another five weeks with a fractured collar bone, despite coach Andreas Kapoulas’ original reluctance to further tinker with his line-up.

It has also been confirmed that May’s BBL Play-Off Final in London will be a double-header with the Hoops Aid charity game with actor Colin Salmon, former NBA player Priest Lauderdale, former athletes Andy Turner and John Regis and The Voice winner Jermain Jackman (brother of GB cap Orlan) among those slated to suit up.

WBBL angst

The knock-on effects of the uncertainty surrounding the proposed American investment into British professional basketball are wide-ranging. And it has cast doubt on the nascent reincarnation of the women’s league with officials from WBBL clubs holding a conference call last week to discuss their position.

Just eight months after the top flight effectively broke away from Basketball England to link up with the BBL, that union is under threat. And with few expecting any cash injection to spill into lavishes for the female sport, the potential for a further upheaval has been openly debated.

“We want to stay with the BBL,” said one club representative. “We’ve really liked the extra marketing and promotion they’ve brought to us and the way we now have our events staged. It’s been a big plus being able to pick up the phone to (BBL operating officer) Andy Webb if there’s an issue after years of trying to get anything done by England Basketball. But if there’s a change there, we might have to go back in-house.”

What kind of organisation that might resemble remains up in the air. MVP understands a number of clubs – said to be “at least 20” by one insider – are discussing how to meet the 10 per cent quorum required to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of Basketball England to put the board and executive under detailed scrutiny.

Such a process would take, at a minimum, anywhere between six weeks and three months. But although one prominent club is known to have already received a cease and desist letter sent on behalf of BE by its London-based lawyers, Couchmans LLP, the thorny issue of accountability by the board to its membership is not going to disappear quietly into the night.

Hats off

With huge reserves of natural cynicism, it’s rare to see something that entirely gladdens the soul and provides hope that basketball in the UK can truly get its act together. In Sheffield last Sunday, I ventured to the youth league run by the Hatters and the Saints clubs, bringing together kids from all over South Yorkshire in a large school sports facility.

“We get well over 100 children of different ages through here regularly,” Hatters grande dame Betty Codona told me. “There’s teams from Sheffield, from Barnsley, Rotherham and elsewhere. Some will go into the club. But it’s about getting them playing for fun. Not everyone wants to be on a National League team. But that’s the one thing that’s always been hard to find: a place just to go and enjoy basketball.”

This vibrant scheme, overseen entirely by volunteers, gets no public backing. Quite appropriately, those involved do not compel each player to pay a membership to be registered with Basketball England, contrary to bureaucratic desires. This is, after all, supposed to be playtime.

Hence, when Sport England, using their Active People Survey, measure basketball’s participation numbers, many among these young hopefuls – and so many others across the country – will not be registered in the count. Which goes to illustrate that, as a barometer to decide who gets funding and who misses out, the APS is a load of balls.

Outside shots

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BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

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