Colleges Basketball here in Ireland continues to provide an outlet for lots of our nations top young basketball players. Brian O’Malley asks, “Where does the competition go from here?”
The colleges basketball season for 2014/15 was brought to a close in Belfast with the completion with the Annual inter-varsity competition. NUIG men and women brought silverware west, while Trinity Ladies and Griffith College took the titles in their respective divisions. Credit must go to UUJ for their organisation of the competition! This varsities represented by 12th experience of the great competition, my first was in Galway in 2003!
Back then it was a twelve team tournament, four pools of three, a game Thursday, a game Friday. Top two from each group went into the cup quarters, bottom team went into the plate. Games were full ten-minute quarters (stop clock). It was exhausting. It would have been exhausting even if we didn’t go out every night.
Getting on the train on Monday I remember just thinking, “That was an unbelievable weekend. I met so many basketball people, had a great time, got to play against great players, witnessed a streaker at the Final. Can’t wait for next year!”
Since my first experience the tournament has changed a lot: ITs are now involved; some of the original 12 are no longer participating; the tournament is now run over three days; Friday to Sunday; the competition is split into an A and B; Colleges are taking the competition more seriously; more money is being spent; scholarship players are being imported; there is a qualification tournament. It’s different!
Some teams are still hitting the social side of the tournament as hard as ever while some teams are adopting the “Along came Polly” approach made famous by the UL men’s team at the Dublin Varsities in ’04.
Each group judges each other, but who is right?
Herein lies the difficulty with the Irish colleges inter varsities. Some of the extremist views would argue that Universities are paying a lot of money to participate and that going out drinking the night before is disrespectful to the competition. The rebuttal would be along the lines, “We play as hard as anyone during the game but other than that, I spend my entire season, practicing, missing nights out because of premier league games. I just want to relax and enjoy representing my college, besides you can’t tell me what to do!”
The National Basketball Colleges Committee has done a lot of good work in the past few years under the guidance of Noreen O’Connell. The Colleges League has improved: the battle against the dreaded walkover seems to be finally under control and the fresher’s tournament has been re-established as a crucial date in the calendars of first-year basketball players around the country.
Noreen has departed as Chair of the Committee, replaced at the helm by Martin “Kojak” Conroy assisted by Darren McGovern of DKIT fame and Pat O’Neil of UUJ. The good work of the committee hasn’t stopped though. Last year the BICC select team took on their counter parts from Scotland. This year, the squad will take the court again against Scotland but also have the opportunity to compete against a premier league select and the Irish under 18 squads. A fantastic opportunity for our college players, especially with the lack of international basketball available to those players over the last number of years.
With these developments in mind, a more serious approach to the varsities would seem like the obvious choice. However, it isn’t as cut and dry. A lot of great memories have involved the hectic social side of the varsities. A lot of lasting friendships have been made on those nights out.
The varsities will have to decide what type of tournament it wants to be: is it about inclusion, offering the opportunities for players from smaller clubs to play with premier league stars? Or, will it be another elite competition focused on the top performers?
Have your say!