Return of the Mike. . .

In the Lay of the Land feature I wrote about the Down Tropics;

“However the Tropics have suffered a massive blow for the second half of the season as Will Maloney has returned to the States. Maloney was a key player on both ends of the floor for Tropics and it remains to be seen how they will cope with his departure. “

As usual, coach Dave Cullen was thinking ahead of the game, signing Mike Calo for the remainder of the season. The American is well-known among basketball circles in NI and is a big addition for the Tropics.

I “discovered” Mike Calo in the Queens PEC at a rec session one Sunday morning a number of years back. He had just moved to Ireland and although a little rusty you could tell that there was some potential there so I persuaded him to speak to Mary Matthews and sign up with Queens for his first year of competitive basketball in Northern Ireland. He would go on to play for Queen’s and Lisburn in the National league and also had a stint as assistant coach to the Belfast Star superleague squad.

Mike (right) is set to make a comeback

Mike was player/coach on the Lisburn side that won the BNI title in 2008 after an epic championship game with LYIT where he went basket-for-basket with Donegal side’s Lithuanian star player in the fourth quarter. There is no doubt that Tropics have signed a player that has the ability and experience that will help them in their Championship quest. On most teams in the Premier League Mike would be the primary scorer, but this isn’t the case on the Tropics as they already have Dejuan Flowers carrying the offensive load and giving teams all sorts of match up problems with his size and guard skills. It remains to be seen how the Tropics will run their offense in the second half of the season but with Girt Celms having both Flowers and Calo to defer to the Tropics should have no problem scoring the ball.

Mike has been dogged by injury problems the past two seasons and hasn’t played consistent competitive basketball. He has played at various tournaments and exhibitions games and displayed that he still has the game, but does he have the fitness? Will his ankles hold up for the remaining nine league games and playoffs? If they do then the Tropics now have to be considered potential favourites for the championship.

Interview

TCC caught up with Mike in a recent phone interview and asked about his signing for Tropics and questioned whether or not his ankles will hold up for the remainder of the season. Calo highlights some (but not all) of the skills and qualities he knows he will bring to the team. Listen below:

[audio:http://thecourtsidecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/mike-calo-interview.mp3|titles=Mike Calo speaks with TCC about signing with Down Tropics]

Lisburn take top spot in women’s league

Lisburn defeat Tyrone Towers on the road and in doing so are now top of the BNI women’s league.

The Courtside Collective caught up with Susie Dick, Lisburn Basketball Club, and Leona Gallagher, Tyrone Towers to find out more about the game.

Susie Dick

[audio:http://thecourtsidecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/susie-dick-full.mp3|titles=Susie Dick speaks about winning a tough game on the road]

Leona Gallagher

[audio:http://thecourtsidecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/leona-interview-full.mp3|titles=Leon Gallagher on a tough loss against Lisburn at home]

It’s difficult to call which team will finish the season with the women’s league title. The top 3 teams in the league (Lisburn, QUB and Towers) have exchanged points with each other throughout the first half of the season.

Towers have a strong inside presence with Eva McCrory and Leona Gallagher. Lisburn are arguably the deepest team with four Superleague players but they have an obvious weakness in the post. Queen’s University Belfast boast quality guards in Aisling Murray and Ciara O’Neill but their lack of depth has proved costly in close games.

Who is the best player in the women’s league? Which team do you think will come out on top come the end of the season?

 

 

Point guard: Paul Dick


Paul Dick is arguably one of the greatest players to come out of Northern Ireland. Having played for basketball powerhouse St Malachy’s College Belfast, he later spent a year at a prep school in the U.S. and is now on scholarship in the States at Franklin Pierce (NCAA D2). Although injuries have him sidelined, he remains focused on rehabilitation and getting back on top.

The Story

For many of us, injuries can be a nuisance. The physical limitations which prevent us from our daily tasks can be overwhelmingly frustrating; taking us an extra few minutes to get into work, preventing us from hitting the town or, heaven forbid, forcing us to miss a game of squash (stay with me… I’m going somewhere with this).
Paul Dick, a 20-year-old in the prime of his life (not to mention his basketball career), is stuck to a reclining red leather arm-chair in the living room of his family home in Belfast, with two metal poles by his sides, watching Mad Men, series 3… in its entirety. His trapped state is exemplified in a recent online update,

‘Here’s the situation; watching 24 and Jack’s about to save the day, but the battery’s in the DVD remote are broke and my crutches are at the other end of the room and my knee’s too sore to crawl on from I don’t know what…so anyone want to come over to put on the next episode? #seriousrequest’

What should Paul be tweeting right now? I’d imagine it would be something like this; ‘Just dropped 18 points and dished out 5 assists. #breakingankles’

 Pre-Game

Paul Scoring against Emory (Atlanta, NCAA D3)

Paul is currently receiving a full scholarship from Franklin Pierce; an NCAA Division 2 school in New England. “It’s actually a crazy story how I got there…” No kidding. And, we’ll get to that. But let’s start with the pre-game.

Basketball is in Paul’s DNA. His father, Francis, was an Irish Superleague player back in the 80’s while Breda, Paul’s mother, grew up in Dublin and was among one of the founding members of the notably successful Killester Basketball Club. Paul describes his first experience of basketball as a youngster in St Anne’s Primary School: “My mum ran a programme there. Then I moved onto Queen’s [Basketball Club] on Saturday mornings.” Although Paul tried his hand at Gaelic games, swimming and football, he prioritised his commitment to basketball recognising his love and talent for the game. (However, Paul’s sister informed me that he used to dream that he could be Like Mike… Michael Flatley that is!)

Winning the trophy for St Malachy's College

At the age of 11, When it came to deciding which high school Paul should attend, it was obvious he would join his father’s alma mater, St Malachy’s College; perhaps the best high school basketball programme in Ireland, with the silverware to prove it. It would be here that Paul would develop his skill set and knowledge of the game under the guidance of two veteran coaches; former Irish International, Adrian Fulton, and the Gandalf of Irish School’s basketball, Paul McCrory.

Comeback Kid

When I asked Paul to describe his favourite on-court moment, he shared a story of playing overseas with his old school team in the World High School Championships (2007); telling his own classic version of David and Goliath… well, almost.

“It was our first game against Slovakia. This team averaged probably 6’6 and I was our tallest player. We were up by about 7 points the whole game but then with 5 seconds left we were down by 3. They had the ball at the top of the key and Doc [Michael Dougherty] angled his player right into me. I knew Doc was going to do this; so I stepped up and stole the ball at our free-throw line. I was dribbling up the court with 3 seconds left, took two dribbles over the half-court line and just let it fly [Gets excited]. It went in! I went crazy and ran over to the fans, started my pounding my chest and stuff and then… we lost in Overtime. [Laughs]”

Father & Son: Paul and Francis

The American Dream

However, it was during another high school basketball trip, this time across the Atlantic, as a 17-year-old he would come to realise his desire to play in the US.

“…we were playing this inner city team in New York and at that time I was thinking of joining the [Irish] Superleague to play there. But, we played this one team and I played pretty well. Their coach had won an NCAA Championship with UConn. He pulled me over after the game and just talked with me, encouraging me to come over and play in the states. We travelled around and played different schools and some of them were interested in me in coming there to play. That made me lean towards wanting to go. I came home and started talking to my Dad about it.”

Finding an American prep school for Paul would prove challenging, testing both his commitment to the dream and his Father’s perseverance in helping a son achieve his goals. Georgetown Prep, a school in Philadelphia and another in North Carolina were all considered as possibilities but each of these options (plus a few others) fell through. As Paul’s friends were deciding on which universities in Ireland and the UK to attend, he found himself losing hope on his ambition of playing ball in the U.S.

“It was around the 20th August (2009) and I’d kind of given up on going to America to play. I was working for my Dad in his factory and he called me into the office. He said, ‘I think you need to go and get a visa tomorrow; I think I’ve got you a school.’ I was like, ‘alright.’ [Smiles]”

Within four days Paul was in the U.S; joining Bridgton Academy, a prep school in Maine, New England. However, there were some minor details he didn’t discover until he actually got there. The fact that he was moving to another all-boys school was not one of those minor details.

“I was disgusted [laughs].”

Much in the clutch

That wasn’t the only problem he faced that year. In December (2009), during his year in prep school, Paul suffered an injury (a broken right foot) that would prove costly as he focused on taking the next step – U.S. College Basketball. Paul looked to advance from Bridgton, a top basketball prep school, to an equally high level programme at the Division 1 level in the NCAA.

“I had been playing well at the start of the year but after Christmas, it just started to go downhill. I was hoping to go play at a higher level. Franklin Pierce wasn’t my first option. Those other schools started to lose interest as I was playing worse.”

It was the ‘4th quarter’ and Paul was feeling the pressure; he had already booked flights home, where he would then have to go through a late application to attend university at home. It wasn’t until after the season, around April (2010) Paul was offered an invitation to visit Franklin Pierce and later accepted a full scholarship.

Paul is now mid-way through his 2nd year ‘playing’ college basketball in the U.S., how is he performing?

“I haven’t played yet. Last season, I was recovering and tried to play a few games but they didn’t go well at all. I didn’t play the rest of that year [2010-2011]. Then, when I went back in September [2011], I had broken my other foot… “

Ouch. Not again.

Having broken his foot during his prep school days, Paul would have to face the consequences of another broken foot – this time the other one! Can you imagine? Forget about the squash game. This is NCAA college basketball. We are talking about an athlete (no offence squash players) who has trained for years to reach this level only to be told he is going to have to wait it out, again. How do you deal with that?

“I’m coping [Smiles]. I just have to stay positive. I have the confidence since my last foot healed perfectly. It’s just a matter of time. I just have to be patient.”

What’s next?

 “Get healthy and have a good season. I like to score the basketball so I’d like to average a nice number. Have a good time and enjoy college life.”

Paul is content where he is (for now) but is looking forward to getting back on the court (no, not the squash court). In the meantime, he is happy to be home with family and friends. Finally, for all those young players that want to aspire to playing college basketball, Paul has some tips for you:

“The biggest thing is to round your game. Being from Ireland, we’re not the most naturally quick, can’t jump the highest and so, you can’t float by with a mediocre shot or a mediocre handle…Never mind dunking it…”

 No dunking? No problem.

 

24 second clock

Basketball is a game played to a clock, arguably more than any other sport. 5 seconds to in-bound a ball. seconds to get the ball out of the back court. 3 seconds to hang out in the key. The introduction of the shot clock changed the pace and score line of basketball world-wide.

24 seconds is the time you have to get a shot up; it’s all we need to show you what The Courtside Collective is about.

 

 

Find out more about the team and our mission.


The Lay of the Land. . .

With the leagues just starting up again after the Christmas break we thought now would be a good time to look at the lay of the land in the BNI Premier League. The league is extremely tight this year with only three games separating second and last place in the table. Queens are at the summit with only UU Elks having the ability to match their 7-2 record with their games in hand. Blackstone, Andytown and LYIT look in trouble near the bottom but with a league this close it will only take a run of 2 or 3 good results to climb into the playoff spots.

Action from North Star vs Tigers

Action from North Star vs Andytown Tigers

Slight disclaimer before we get into this – there is no BNI League Pass! (How great would that be?!) We might only have seen each team a very limited number of times and have to base our opinions on those select viewings. It’s very possible that these games don’t give the best impression or overall view of the squad and that’s what the comments below are for. Have we missed something or someone?? Let us know in the comments!

Queens Hornets

Queens are flying high at the top of the table with a record of 7-2. They have a deep and well balanced squad and make good use of their size with their 2-3 zone defense and healthy dose of pick and rolls in their offense. It’s interesting that their 7-2 record mirrors their home/away stats as they have had 7 games in the PEC and only two away. The question for them in the second half of the season is  can they maintain their good form with 7 away games to be played? I don’t expect them to go 7-2 in their last 9 games but with a deep squad they should travel well enough to have a winning record in the second half of the season and will be right up there challenging for a league title.

Kilkeel Knights

The Knights are the surprise package in this season’s premier league but fully deserving of their 6-3 record and second place in the league table picking up some notable wins including a very impressive away win over the Belfast Tropics and a high scoring 96-92 victory away at Blackstone. The Knights have been around for a while but this is their first season in the top division. Their squad was strengthened by picking up the Kisielius twins and Remigijus Danys from last season’s Armagh Magic team and Tomas Banys has to be in the discussion for any league MVP at this stage. They are the top scorers in the league but the issue for the Kinights going forward is now that every team is familiar with them will they be as effective in the second half of the season?

Down Tropics

The Down Tropics have had an unsettled first half of the season with key personnel leaving and joining the squad right up until the Christmas Break. They have a record of 5-4 which includes an early season forfeited game vs the Andytown Tigers. Since Dejuan Flowers joined up with the squad they have a 5-2 record and the American forward is another player in the league MVP conversation and is undoubtedly the most versatile player in the league. However the Tropics have a massive blow for the second half of the season as Will Maloney has returned to the states. Maloney was a key player on both ends of the floor for Tropics and it remains to be seen how they will cope with his departure. **Update – Tropics have signed BNI Mercenery Mike Calo for the second half of the season to replace the departed Will Maloney. If Calo can stay injury free the Tropics now have to be considered as one of the favourites for the title.**

Dungannon  Cavillers

Last season’s champions the Cavillers have again had a strong start to this season with a 5-3 winning record. A talented squad with a good mix of size and outside shooting the Cavs have the ability to put up big numbers on offense however the lack of a proper coach means that they are also susceptible to going through streaky patches in games and some scrappy play.  In Simon Bastakys they have the league’s most dominant big man. He is a force at both ends of the court protecting the rim on defense and an excellent offensive rebounder with a soft touch around the rim. The Cavs will be looking to repeat last year’s championship run but it will be a tall order to go all the way two years in a row unless they can get a coach in place.

North Star

The youngest team in the league so it’s perhaps not a surprise that North Star have struggled to put a consistent run of results together. The starting 5 has an average age of just 19 and finished the first half of the season with a 4-5 record failing to pick up back to back victories all year. Age and a lack of size have meant North Star struggled against some of the leagues larger front courts but they have guard play that is up there with the best in the league. Another positive for the Derry side is that they are currently undefeated at home and have 6 of their remaining 9 games at home in the second half of the season.

Ulster Elks

The Elks have only played 7 games thus far and have a record of 5-2 so have the potential to match Queens’s record at the top. The heavy pre-season favourites the Elks have Scholarship player and Bucknell alumni Darryl Shazier along with a host of players with superleague experience. Shazier is another MVP candidate and has the ability to take over a game with his penetration and shooting ability. The Elks have shown their potential with 30 point victories over league leaders Queens and away to LYIT along with an astonishing 107-56 victory over the Andytown Tigers. Losses to North Star and Tropics show that the Elks can be beat but with the talent in the squad they still have to be considered one of the favourites for the championship.

Belfast Star

Star sits at .500 with a 4-4 record going into the second half of the season. The problem for coach McGrattan is the lack of a settled squad and sometimes having too many players in the rotation. Star have a lack of genuine size and strength in the post but have a squad full of talented players and players with superleague experience which means on their day can beat anyone in the division. Michael Dougherty has been in form at the point guard position and one of Star’s best players so far. Come playoff time Star will be a dangerous opponent for whoever they play and easily capable of putting a three game championship run together.

LYIT

IT has had a disappointing first half of the season. The 2009 champions would have expected to be in the mix at the top half of the table but have struggled so far and have a 3-6 record. It’s difficult to pinpoint why IT have struggled as on paper their starting five looks strong with good balance. The loss of Guillaume Detraz appears to have been a blow as the Frenchman was a key player for the past three seasons for the Donegal side. IT have some good young talent coming through the ranks and they will be hoping that the first few months has given these young players enough experience and confidence to be effective role players coming off the bench in the second half of the year as they try and secure a playoff spot.

Ballymena's Marty McDonald and Adam Murray defending North Star's Mate Bencze

Ballymena Blackstone

No doubt the biggest shock of the season has been the form of Blackstone. Perennial title challengers Ballymena have struggled to a 2-7 record at the midpoint of the season. Blackstone can take comfort from the fact that they defeated the league leaders Queens and have had a number of close losses. Hindered by the loss of Peter McNicholl (GAA Duties) and Adam Hillis (Injury) during the first part of the season can Blackstone bounce back in 2012? In a word, yes. Don’t expect a squad with this amount of talent and experience to go 2-7 again. If they get McNicholl and Hillis back and stay healthy home advantage may be a step too far but a playoff spot is a realistic possibility.

Andytown  Tigers

Their first season in the top division has been a struggle for the Tigers. They share a 2-7 record with Blackstone and have struggled against some of the better teams in the league. The focus now has to be able to get enough wins to avoid the automatic relegation spot. The first season in Premier was always going to be tough as it takes players time to adjust to the step up in quality. Tigers will be hoping that some of their more inexperienced players have learned and benefited from the first 9 games of the season and that they have the ability to get some more wins on the board. Influence (and perhaps increased minutes) from some of the premier leagues most experienced players Kevin Craig and Gerard Ryan will be critical in the second half of the season.

Hoops on TV this week

NBA (all on ESPN unless otherwise noted)

In honour of the launch of The Courtside Collective Martin Luther King Jnr Day, the NBA is staging 11 games on Monday. More importantly, two of them tip-off before midnight Irish time. Even more importantly, one of them is a rare Clipper game that doesn’t start at 3.30am.

Monday 

6pm: Chicago Bulls v Memphis Grizzlies
8:30pm: New Jersey Nets v Los Angeles Clippers
1am:  Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics
3.30am: Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers

Tuesday 

6am: NBA Action

Wednesday 

9.30pm: NBA Tonight (ESPN America)

Thursday

4:45pm: NBA Action
5:15pm (As Live): Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Clippers

NCAA (all games on ESPN America)
Note: All these games seem to be repeated ad nauseum, so chances are there’s probably one on as you read this.

Monday (technically Tuesday, but for our intents and purposes games played in the wee hours will be classified under the previous night)

12am: Syracuse v Cincinnati
2am Texas A&M v Kansas

Tuesday

3.30pm (As Live): North Carolina A&T v Coppin State
8pm: College Basketball Live
12am: Michigan v Purdue
2am: Kentucky v Georgia

Wednesday

12am: Villanova at Louisville
2am: Duke at Maryland

Thursday

12am: North Carolina State v North Carolina

Friday

12am: Iona at Fairfield
2am: Boston University at Stony Brook

 

 

Bringing down the house

Last Wednesday, I made the trip across town to St Malachy’s College Belfast hoping to see a battle between Belfast Star and Kilkeel Knights. The last time these two teams met, Belfast Star’s depleted squad couldn’t handle the strong Lithuanian side and Kilkeel came out on top, with a convincing win (87-70).

I arrived 15 minutes late for tip-off… or so I thought. I had no idea what was going on as I entered the gym; both teams were just shooting around (casually) at their respective ends of the court. Upon first glance, it appeared the game was just delayed (for whatever reason) but when I figured it out, it was clear there was no game being played in the historic St Malachy’s gym.

Here’s why:

As it turned out, during the warm-up one of the Kilkeel players (prefers to remain anonymous – probably) was dunking it a little too hard. Apparently, this isn’t the first time the Malachy’s rim’s have been attacked. Rumour has it, Matthew Jackson (currently playing in Liverpool for John Moore’s University) has brought down the basket. To be honest, I didn’t even realise he could dunk it.

St Malachy's Broken Rim

All joking aside, I do hope that St Malachy’s are able to get the hoop fixed ASAP. It’s not particularly helpful for the St Malachy’s players who are preparing for Cup Finals at the end of the month.

On a more positive note, it is great to see that Belfast Star are able to find the funnier side of what was a disappointing incident. Not exactly sure who controls the Facebook for Belfast Star but this is classic (albeit, a little unrealistic – nothing personal, C.J.)

Status update the night of the 'attack'

Bieber Fever (or not)

So, I’m really a not a huge fan of Justin Bieber (I swear) but when I saw this video, I gained a little more respect for the teenage superstar. As for Shaq, he opens up the competition by putting a small wager down, “I’ll let you take my jet anywhere…”. How great would it have been, if Beebs had of replied,

“Mate, forget your private jet, I’ve a horse outside…”

Nice crossover. Lefty jump-shot. And, more importantly, he scored the game-winner on Shaq. Hard to argue with that.

What do you think? Could Bieber beat Paul Dick in a one-on-one? I’d imagine it’d be a close game; I wonder what the odds would be.

Point guard: the best of…

As a basketball player growing up, I always loved shooting the ball (who doesn’t?). I used to spend my entire lunch break on the bottom playground of Lagan College Belfast (my alma mater) shooting around and playing pick-up basketball with friends. Those were the good ol’ days – I’m turning 25 this year, and I think I’m having a pre-mature mid-life crisis. It wasn’t until I left school that my love for shooting was surpassed by another skill; passing.

PG's have to see the floor

Have you ever seen Steve Nash throw a no-look pass; driving into the key with the sole intention of drawing the defence and dishing it off to a slashing teammate? Or, have you witnessed Jason Kidd orchestrate a fast-break like he was the conductor of a world-class symphony? Or, maybe you’ve seen Ciaran McVeigh thread-the-needle on a pass like he was an award-winning mathematician; working out every angle while calculating the velocity and distance of the type of pass needed in a split second?

If you have no idea what I am talking about, check out the top 10 from my favourite PG in the world: Steve Nash.

Over the course of the next few months, I will be interviewing some of the best point guard’s in Northern Ireland, as chosen by the team at The Courtside Collective. We will be focusing on PG’s from throughout the province and across the different leagues, including (but not limited to) U13 Girls, U16 Boys (inc. the development league), the Women’s League, Men’s Premier League and even some of the legends of Northern Ireland playmakers.

Who do you think should feature in The Courtside Collective’s best PG’s? What would you like us to ask them? We welcome any and all your suggestions (even if they are ridiculous). Use comment section below or click here to contact our team directly.