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.
‘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’
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!)
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.
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]”
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 , 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.”
“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.