Preseason games are ugly. We’ve all witnessed them. Sometimes guys are going too hard to prove how much they’ve worked on their game during the summer. Other guys are trying to blend in and fake coaches into thinking they even picked up a ball over the summer. And other guys are trying to figure out what hell these new sets are that their team is trying to run. Overall, Irish preseason games, from my experience, are ugly, but still, obviously necessary. It is fun to see teams in their infancy stages and then compare them to the finished product at the end of the season. I personally love the teams that get so hyped about preseason wins and then forget about progressing all season. All of that aside, though, the Stuart Robbins’ tournament, which takes place in Limerick, has come to mean a lot to me, and it all really came to fruition this year. Stu Robbins, for anyone who didn’t know him, was a BIG personality, and he left quite a mark on everyone he met here in Ireland. I wasn’t super close to him, but I knew him enough to recognize that he was having a positive effect on Irish basketball. Kids still bring his name up at camps that I’ve worked, and ALL of his friends adored him, which is pretty obvious from the fact that guys from Wales, Germany, and even the States made the trip over to play on the “Stuart Robbins All-Star Team” this year (which I was a part of as well). And because of his effect on so many people here, I will always go down and support it and be a part of it (well, as long as I can handle that full court press those USA Select teams always try to run!).
This year I had a lot of “Whoa” moments down at the tournament. An example of a whoa moment is when someone you coached in primary school comes up to you with a beard and is about 6’5 and says in a deep ass voice, “YOU USED TO COACH ME IN 5th CLASS.” WHOA! Yeah, so I had a few of those this weekend, but it had nothing to do with my old agedness (thankfully).
First of all, the American teams that were over here—the USA Select (you can check it out on usaselectbasketball.com) — Basically they’re a bunch of college graduates who go through a pretty extensive try out process in order to get on an exposure team that comes to Europe in order to get guys contracts as professional basketball players. I was actually a part of the USA Select family back in 2006. I came over to England, and as soon as I landed a team needed a point guard, so I picked up my bags and started my European career. No one back home expected me to play in Europe … or anywhere else. My dream was stupid. I was small. I didn’t play much in college. Blah blah blah. But the guys who ran the USA Select organization, Sean Kilmartin, David Lawrence, and Ricky Pitts, all saw a little something in me, and gave me a chance. I was blessed, and have been ever since. So seeing all three of those guys this weekend really put things in perspective for me and helped me understand that my life could have been completely different. Because I got THAT contract in England, I then ended up in Ireland the next year, where I would meet my incredible wife and mother of my equally incredible daughter. WHOA. So hearing those guys talk about how they remembered me at the try outs and how nervous I was when I had to leave the team and go off with my new team in England made me appreciate how lucky I have been, because a lot of those guys on the team don’t get signed, and while touring Europe is still an amazing adventure for them, sightseeing is not why they chose to come. I got to talk to a lot of the American players as well, and just give them advice and let them know what I’ve experienced. I also realized that being around guys from home makes things easier. If Basketball Ireland ever asked me (and they wouldn’t I know!) why the Superleague (Premier League?) should have more than one American per team, my simple answer would be because being around even one other person that’s where you’re from makes everything so much easier. And when guys feel a bit more comfortable they tend to perform a hell of a lot better—totally my opinion though.
Another WHOA moment I had was playing with another American on the All-Star team, Alex Greven. He played at Emory, a DIII school, and was coached by Jason Zimmerman, one of the assistant coaches at Davidson when I was there. He has been touring the UK and Ireland, looking for his first professional gig. Coach Z put him in touch with me, and so I had been doing what I could to make sure he at least got a few looks here in Ireland. Now, I’ve played with about a billion Americans over my career. But playing with Alex was different. He was positive (I know that sounds like no other American I ever played with was positive!), his body language never changed. He played hard every possession. He pointed when someone set one of his buckets up. He was a Davidson player! He went to a Division III school, but had a Division I basketball education, and I appreciated the hell out of his hunger to excel. He repped TCC (Trust, Commitment, Care—our CODE at Davidson) to the fullest, and it just brought to my attention that my time here in Ireland had seen my head coach (Bob McKillop), two of my assistants (Jim Fox and the aforementioned Jason Zimmerman), and old teammate (Jason Richards—now an assistant at Pitt), and two Irish teammates (Michael Bree and Conor Grace), and with Alex a recipient of that same philosophy—all of them had been in this country or had some connection to the country. I think that’s amazing, and it just further reaffirmed my love for this country and my want to help put it on a bigger stage basketball wise—there are so many unbelievable connections that Irish basketball has right at its fingertips! check out his highlight video below:
And finally, just seeing the different approaches that each Superleague (it’s always going to be the Superleague to me) team had during the weekend was fun. The Limerick Eagles, UCC Demons, and Killester were all there, and they all seemed to have very different agendas. Demons lost in the final to one of the USA Select teams, but they were a different look team, looking to play a lot faster, which will be exciting this year. Limerick gave me a WHOA moment because Scott Kinevane, Steve King, and Neil Campbell are their three oldest players this year! Have I been here that long that those dudes are considered “old heads” in the league now? DAMN! And Killester, who obviously grasped my attention because I played there last year, are slowly piecing together a team who could do some pretty big things this year—but it was still weird seeing Jonny Grennell as their coach—he still has some Superleague years left in him somewhere, but that’s a whole new story entirely! All in all, it was a good weekend. And I know I didn’t talk much about the actual basketball that took place during the weekend, but I figured my first piece on Courtside Collective should give all of you readers a sneak peak of just how corny I could be. The end result, though, is that Stuart Robbins’ memory still lives on, and that everyone there came down and played hard and showed their respect to the big fella. THAT was what the weekend was really about.
Puff Summers is the Owner and Head Trainer for Why Not Me? Hoops, a basketball training service committed to helping players improve. He played for Bob McKillop at Davidson College and has played throughout Europe for 7 years. He has settled in Ireland in hopes of helping continue its basketball excellence. You can reach him on Twitter @WhyNotMeHoops or his website: whynotmehoops.com