In an exclusive extract from his new autobiography, storied coach turned Sky Sports presenter Kevin Cadle claims the BBL has slid way back.

Kevin pulled no punches during his coaching career, as so many of those interviewed for this book have attested to. But he is every bit as forthright when asked his views on the current state of British basketball.

On and off the court he maintains that standards have dropped, and he claims that the failure of the powers-that-be to address a number of issues threatens the future of the game in the UK.

He believes that the BBL lacks star players and that, hand in hand with that, the glamour and razzmatazz that some clubs introduced to the game in the 80s and 90s and which helped to pull in sizeable crowds is no longer there.

The move away from arenas and back into sports centres he regards as a backward step, and he also took a swipe at the growing number of clubs who have adopted the player-coach model.

“One of the most drastic changes I have seen over the years, and it is a negative, especially from the coaching point of view, is the number of player-coaches in the league.

“The clubs don’t want to spend the money, and these guys haven’t prepared to be a coach – one minute you’re playing and the next you’re the head coach of a professional basketball team.

“For me that is a big no no.”

And while the names of the personality players from his era trip off the tongue fairly easily, Kevin believes that the BBL lacks star quality now.

“What goes along with the move towards player-coaches is the quality of players that you get and the quality of players that you develop. There’s a drop-off there.

“I haven’t seen enough of who is out there playing now (in the BBL), but it will be interesting to see who is the all-time great of this era.

“From what I have seen, there isn’t anybody that I would say should be put in that category.

“There’s a lot of mediocrity.”

There were some iconic players in the British game during the Cadle era, and Kevin was fortunate enough to have some of the biggest personalities play for him. Bobby Kinzer, for example, was truly a pied piper who helped to sell the game in a part of the country (central Scotland) which had no basketball history. Kingston fans idolised first Bontrager and then Cunningham, Byrd and Clark, while the Towers had Danny Lewis.

“When I sat down to interview Jerry West (former Memphis Grizzlies general manager), he said ‘you’ve got to have stars’.

“And Barrie Marshall, when I was at London Towers, said the same thing.

“Then when you’ve got a star you also have to have someone who can sell him to the general public.

“There are no stars in this league.

“If someone is on the brink ‘will I go to a game or won’t I’, how are you going to sell the game to that person? What are you selling to that person?

“And right now they have nothing to sell, so you just have a continuation of the same group going to games. It has been the same cycle for 30 years.

“So for the person who is undecided about going to a game, that player who would intrigue them and convince them to go is not out there.”

When it comes to encouraging young fans or indeed players to commit to a lifetime of supporting basketball, Kevin says that the UK has so much to learn from the US. “Over there when they get kids going to games they know how to hold on to them until they are paying adults.

“And here you’ve got those kids that go through basketball and when they become paying adults they go off to do something different.”

2 of the best: Kevin Cadle and Fab Flournoy

2 of the best: Kevin Cadle and Fab Flournoy

The lack of razzmatazz is another huge factor contributing to the BBL’s failure to attract bigger crowds, according to Kevin. Over 30 years on from his arrival in the UK, few clubs (with the exception of the Towers) have come close to matching the package put together by Falkirk at Coasters Arena – dry ice, laser light shows and the like. It was like walking into New York’s legendary nightclub Studio 54 on game day, and that heady mix of sport and showbiz put bums on seats.

But unless your basketball diet consists solely of watching the NBA on TV, you’re not going to be wowed by the package on offer. The lack of celebrity, glamour and glitz in the BBL is something which concerns Kevin.

“How many former players do you see in the arenas? If you go to football, tennis or rugby matches you’ll see former players, but not basketball (at least not in the UK), so something isn’t right.

“Once they’re out – players, owners, whatever – they’re gone for good.

“It’s a complete disappearing act.

“Every game you go to and you look around and you ask – where’s the history?

“The people who DO go to games aren’t going there with blinkers on and just looking at the court. They’re like ‘what else have you got?’

“‘If he (a former player) can’t come to a game, why should I come?”

“Years ago before the play-off finals I said to the organisers ‘why don’t you get a list – try to find as many former players and send them some tickets and invite them to the finals?’

“I said ‘it’s not going to be a negative for you.’”

Kevin also believes that the move away from playing in bigger arenas and back into smaller venues in a backward step, even though clubs might point to the fact that they struggled to fill large venues and generate a better atmosphere in more compact facilities.

“The quality of ownership. You’re talking about the kind of people that we had and the finances and the arenas we had back then.

“We got away from playing in the small venues and into the arenas – Sheffield, the Towers, the Leopards and Newcastle all had their arenas – at that time.

“And to go away from arenas and back into sports halls is such a big negative.”

Kevin’s players from that era share his disillusionment about the current state of British basketball.

“I went to a game about a year ago and I cringed,” said Martin Clark. “It hasn’t got any better at all from where it was 20 or 30 years ago.

“There hadn’t been any improvement.”

The Cadle Will Rock, by Paul New and Kevin Cadle, is available to buy here.

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