Basketball Ireland

The greatest dunk ever?

If you can't go around him . . . .

Last night, Blake Griffin, arguably the freakiest athlete in a league which has more freaky athletes than the goth olympics, threw down a dunk on Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins that made even the manliest of men cringe.  This occurred mere hours after Lebron James had done something perhaps equally as disrespectful to Chicago’s John Lucas.  Basketball fans love dunks, it’s perhaps the most

exciting aspect of the game, but how do you assess them?  They are all only worth 2 points (arguably 3 if you pick up a foul, as Griffin did), so do you rank them based on their importance as game-changers?  The difficulty of the dunk itself?  The quality of the defender it was on?

Readers of The Courtside Collective, I invite you to put forward the case for your favourite dunk ever.  Is it Michael Jordan?  Lebron James?  Dwight Howard?  Dr J?  Matt McColgan?  Fearghal Toner in the final of Varsities 2005?

I will start off with my own personal favourite.  It is from arguably my least favourite NBA player, a man who seems content to see out his days as a chucker and a team-spirit destroyer – could there be a deeper, more perverse insult to the fine career of Steve Nash than to make him play on the same team as this guy? (actually don’t answer that, we’d be here all day debating the wrongs that have been cast upon Nash by the Suns organisation).  However, once upon a time, Vince Carter did this:

THE MAGIC NUMBER

NINETY IS THE MAGIC NUMBER

Blackstone 90 point total inspires confidence for some; concern for others.

The Magic Number

It is Sunday night. The final game of week 14 in the BNI Premier League is nearing its end. Coach McKee sends his starting five out onto the floor to see out the remainder of a crucial game. In truth, his bench has performed solidly to secure the win already. The buzzer sounds. The score line is emphatic; the celebrations are muted. The repercussions, untold.

The score line is emphatic; the celebrations are muted. The repercussions, untold.

Blackstone’s 90-64 win over the A-Town Tigers at the weekend saw them halt an inexorable slide towards relegation and reignite the fire of self-belief in their players and coaching staff. Four games without a win and bottom of the league, they were heading for the trapdoor.

The Tigers, like their hosts, have been in free-fall. Seven games since their last victory (a 10 point win over…Blackstone), they badly needed the three points.

Cesoni and Fox contributed double scoring figures with 24 and 15 points

But this was the week last year’s semi-finalists turned up to play.

It wasn’t that the Tigers played particularly poorly; Cesoni and Fox contributed double scoring figures with 24 and 15 points respectively. In fact, 64 points has been the winning score (give-or-take) in no less than 8 premier league games this season, not least last week’s excruciatingly narrow 58-59 defeat for A-Town at the hands of LYIT.

For Blackstone, Coach McKee has long picked out 90 points as the ‘magic number’ that his team needs to feel confident of the win, and on Sunday night his team reached it comfortably. It is only the second time Blackstone have reached McKee’s golden target all year, losing the other game 92-96 at Kilkeel, the league’s second-top scorers.

Who are the season’s top scorers so far? Blackstone.

That Blackstone sit third-bottom after Sunday and are the league’s highest scorers at present only reflects the standard of defensive play in the Premier Division at present.

Queens are the maestros of the grind-out apparently: six of their twelve games this season have been won with a score of 75 points or fewer. The Elks, if they win their game in hand, will go just one point behind the leaders but have conceded the fewest points in the division (excluding Belfast Star, who have only played 9).

And so it is that as Blackstone hurtled towards the vaunted 90, A-Town must have been feeling like the basketball gods were against them. Whether there was any hangover from the previous week’s sucker-punch by LYIT is hard to tell, but it must surely have weighed on the minds of some Tigers players as they entered the fourth quarter trailing by thirty-three (78-45).

What was the secret of Blackstone’s offensive success?

There needs to be plenty of movement and no standing around

No secret it seems; just movement, according to Coach McKee: “I’m going to speak to the boys about motion in the offence”, he insisted before the game. “There needs to be plenty of movement and no standing around”, he added.

The home side must have been listening because their response was imperious. They opened the game with surging energy and a controlled intensity that has been lacking for much of the season.

 They’ve long been a high-scoring, run-and-gun, shot-happy offence

Fluid movement in the offence and responsible passing created the kind of shooting opportunities that the Ballymena guards needed to thrive. They’ve long been a high-scoring, run-and-gun, shot-happy offence; but with poor movement and passing, they stagnate.

Shooting percentages have been abysmal (as low as 21% in some quarters of games this season), but not this week. Not with league survival on the line.

The Blackstone shooting threat had come back from sabbatical with much work to catch up on. Four players reached double figures for Ballymena: A Murray, M Murray, A Hillis and M McDonald, while McDonald led the game with 28.

he must be one of the best players in Irish basketball; I could watch him play all day

The key change for Blackstone this week was (in this coach’s opinion) the switch from McDonald to Murray at PG for large parts of the game.

Murray’s performance in the game drew admiration from a number of spectators, with elite referee John Hegarty (watching, not reffing!) asserting that “he must be one of the best players in Irish basketball; I could watch him play all day.”

Blackstone played with a high tempo and much intensity, but there was a much more relaxed feeling amongst the players and a greater sense of control.

Murray’s spell of professional basketball in France has served him well and it was his composure with the ball that allowed the offence to play with the freedom and fluidity that comes from being relaxed. This was particularly true for McDonald who looked much more like the player we all know he can be.

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. Blackstone will need more of the same if they are to win in Letterkenny this Thursday night.

If they do, things will become very intense in the lower half of the table.

If A-Town lose to Star, which seems likely, and Blackstone get what will be an incredibly tough win in Letterkenny, the Tigers look doomed. Such set of results would pull LYIT back into danger of finishing in the 9th place relegation play-off spot that everyone will be looking to avoid.

With a Blackstone win, Star will remain second-bottom. However, with a number of games in hand they could and should climb up and away from danger.

Mr McDermott does it every Sunday night

Poor travellers North Star may struggle in Jordanstown, and the unpredictable Cavs have their work cut out on the road to Queens. Losses for both away teams would leave them status quo, but a Cavs win in their game in hand  would vault them above the Derry men into 4th or 5th place.

If results go as predicted, both here and elsewhere on the site, the potential situation at the bottom is that four points will separate Star, Blackstone, LYIT, Cavs and North Star next week. Potential wins would then be in hand for Belfast Star and Dungannon.

As the shuffle for position at the bottom nears its end, I predict that the relegation contest will settle around four clubs: Andersonstown Tigers, LYIT, Blackstone and North Star.

Dare I make a firm prediction?

Mr McDermott does it every Sunday night here on The Courtside Collective, so why not?

Hayestradamus predicts the bottom half of the BNI Premier League table to finish like this…

6. Belfast Star

7. North Star

8. Blackstone

9. LYIT

10. Anderstonstown Tigers

 

Prove me wrong. Or post your protest below.

 

R. Hayes

 

 

BNI Premier League – Week 13 Preview

Connor O'Dornan could be making his long awaited return from injury versus North Star this week

Wednesday 1st Feb

North Star @ UU Elks

The Elks are out for revenge in this one. North Star had a commanding 20+ lead when they played the Elks in November before a late fourth quarter run by the Elks cut the lead to 9 in a 86-77 victory for the Derry side. Added to this the Elks are coming off a tough loss to Queens last week  and it’s likely that they will be up for this game. North Star are in good form after wins over Queens and Kilkeel but have struggled away from home this season, only picking up one win away from Bishops Field.

Connor O’Dornan is expected to make a long awaited return from injury and Anthony Tench isn’t expected to play for North Star. Both sides match up well in the guard spots but the loss of Tench could be vital as it will give the Elks an edge inside. We can’t see the Elks losing two in a row and given North Star’s poor away form the Elks should take this one. North Star have no chance . . . [Editor: mind-games, Niall?]

Line: Elks -11.5

 

Thursday 2nd Feb

Ballymena Blackstone @ LYIT

This could be the most important game of the week. If Blackstone manage to get the win they will be only one game behind LYIT, which could drag the Donegal side back into the relegation battle. Blackstone have been training well in recent weeks and with a resounding victory over the Tigers, they will be high in confidence coming into this game. Their poor results so far this season have not matched the talent within their squad.

LYIT are coming off a one-point loss to the Tropics and a one-point win away to the Tigers, so according to the form guide they could be in trouble versus Blackstone (not to mention they lost their earlier meeting this season in Ballymena 72-58). However, time and time again we have seen that home court advantage can be massive in this league and it is a long drive to Donegal for Ballymena, which makes this game difficult to call. It’s really a pick ’em game but I’m giving the slight edge to LYIT as Stephen Cannon and Seamus Hickey always shoot well on their home floor and that could prove the difference.

Line: LYIT -0.5

 

Saturday 4th Feb

Belfast Star @ Andytown Tigers

Andytown needed a win in Ballymena but couldn’t get it. They have had some close, and heart-breaking, losses recently but the 30 point defeat to Ballymena may knock confidence levels. They have got a great day to play Star as there is a superleague game that night which means Star’s superleague players might not be in action vs the Tigers. There are even rumours circulating that coach “Euge” might have to get off the saddle and pull on those royal blue shorts once again! The tigers will be desperate for a win and, against a weakened Star side, I can see them pulling off the upset here. If Star’s superleague guys aren’t playing I expect the Tigers to win in a close game.

Line: Tigers -3.5

Kilkeel Knights hope that Tomas Bynas will dominate inside on Saturday

Kilkeel Knights hope that Tomas Bynas will dominate inside on Saturday

Saturday 4th Feb

Down Tropics @ Kilkeel Knights

A hard game to call as it will be the first time the new look tropics will be tested away from home. The Knights won in the Valley Leisure Centre 90-81 but we can take little from this game as it will be a different Tropics that line up on Saturday. The Tropics starting 5 are as talented as any in the league but they have problems with depth and I can see foul trouble being a potential issue for the Tropics as they try and deal with the Knights’ size. The Knights lost a close game to North Star on Saturday and will be keen to get back to winning ways to keep their title challenge alive. This is likely to be a high scoring game with both teams hitting 75+ but I think at home the Knights will have more depth and strength to take a win from the Tropics (Unless Calo goes for 40 . . .!)

Line: Kilkeel Knights -5.5

 

Sunday 5th Feb

Queen’s Hornets @ Dungannon Cavaliers

Queen’s won the first matchup, 75-70 in the PEC, and broke out of their post-Christmas slump [Editor: too much of Igor Kruiper’s famous stew] with an impressive away win over the Elks last week. More good news for the Hornets is the return of Kevin Love Rory O’Neill to their ranks for the game. The Cavs didn’t have a game last week due to the broken backboard in St Malachy’s College but in their latest game they had a 16-point win over Ballymena.

Cavs’ games are always difficult to call as they can be erratic at the best of times. Last year’s champions are the best team in the league when playing at their peak but a small bench and the lack of a coach means that they are rarely reaching their full-potential, particularly on defense, for 40 minutes. Queen’s on the other hand are consistent, well coached, play great defense and have a deep bench making this an intriguing match up. As a coach I’m going for defense and coaching and picking Queen’s for the win!

Line: Dungannon Cavs +4.5

 

The thunder from down under

Since the onset of the Playing for Peace/ PeacePlayers International programmes, the sight of American basketball players in the teams of Northern Ireland has become commonplace. Older Belfast basketball fans may recall the days before PFP/PPI when the only US ‘ballers you saw were the imports plying their trade in the superleague. The names of Pat Campolieta, John Leahy, and Javann Dupree as well as those of more recent players like JoJo Chambers, Jermaine Washington, Kevin Ratzsch, Phil Valenti and RaMell Ross will be remembered with varying degrees of affection during their respective tenures at Belfast Star. During the middle years of the last decade, the American players brought to Belfast were partnered on court with a “Bosman” signing; ie a player who held a European passport. Star were unusual in this respect as throughout these years, they already had their own “Bosman” in the shape of lightning-fast English-born guard Scott Summersgill, still playing at the highest level of Irish basketball at the age of (whisper it) 40, in 2012. Thanks to the often bizarre rules laid down by Basketball Ireland, Summersgill, despite living in Belfast for over a decade with his wife and children, has yet to be naturalized in basketball terms, always counting towards Star’s quotient of foreigners. When Basketball Ireland brought in the “at least two Irish players on court” rule, the “Bosman” signing became superfluous for Star. This meant that the last Star “Bosman” was the affable New Zealander, Dave Langrell.

Dave Langrell

Langrell began his playing career in his native Canterbury, spending time in the US at Le Moyne college, the DII school which achieved national prominence when it defeated the much-vaunted Syracuse team of 2010 (which included Andy Rautins, Wesley Johnson and Arinze Onuaku) 82-79. He returned to New Zealand, qualifying as a physical education teacher before moving overseas. Eligible for a British passport thanks to his English-born mother, Langrell began at Chester Jets in the British Basketball League, where he played alongside legendary Tall Black Pero Cameron. He recalled his move across the Irish Sea, where he would join Cork powerhouse Neptune:

“I was trying out for a team in Portugal when I got a good offer from Neptune. I made the decision to play in Ireland for a few reasons. My family has history in Ireland, I wanted to play in a league where I would play a lot and enjoy it; and I though I’d be able to work during the days substitute teaching.”

So it was that he moved to the rebel county. Alongside Americans Kenny Gamble and Charron Watson, Langrell helped Neptune to the 2002-2003 superleague title, their eleventh triumph. What was it that made Neptune so successful at this time?

“The reason we were successful for my two seasons in Neptune is that we had great balance. Charron Watson was a very good 5 man. He could score block to block and was great on the glass. Kenny gamble was the best and most versatile American in the league and super athletic at the 4 spot; and I did a little bit of everything at the 3 spot. We had several Irish guards who played real hard and could knock down shots and Stephen McCarthy – Neptune’s favourite son – was still a great floor general though he was starting to slow down.”

After a second season in Cork, Langrell was lured north of the border by the prospect of playing for Darren O’Neill’s first Star team, O’Neill having succeeded Danny Fulton at the end of the previous season. Irish basketball had, of course, not seen the last of one of its most prominent figures as Fulton would continue his involvement with the club, returning as head coach when O’Neill stepped down four years later. Also departing were iconic point guard Adrian Fulton – for Langrell and indeed many others since, “The guy I wished I’d played with…a genuine pure point guard who made everyone else better” – and veteran shooting guard Gareth Maguire, with Maguire now heavily involved in the nascent University of Ulster basketball project. Langrell linked up with club stalwart Summersgill along with imports Pat O’Malley and Reggie Winkfield. Sadly the season was disrupted by an early injury to O’Malley which brough in Josh Nigut as a short term replacement. All three ultimately ended up leaving the club, replaced by the sharp-shooting Nate Connolly and seven-footer Jamie Hughes, a PeacePlayers import based in Dungannon. So what happened this season?

“I actually thought that our young Irish guys were the equal of any Irish talent in the league at the time but the Americans we had – though they were good players – were not the right fit for the league. It wasn’t until the end of the season when we had just one American, Nate Connolly, who could really score and find create his own shot, that we won 5 out of 7.”

He also fondly remembers his other team-mates from his time in Belfast:

“My favourite guys to play with in practice were Euge [Ewan McGrattan] and Mike McKillop. They both knew their role. Euge was unselfish and a great knockdown shooter. McKillop had a knack as an undersized 4 to find rebounds and get his shot off around the hoop…Dawsy [the ageless Stephen Dawson], Fearghal [Toner] and Scotty all had great strengths that we didn’t always take advantage of.”

Langrell returned to Belfast for season 2006/2007 to take up employment at Lough Shore Comprehensive school. The new “two Irish players” rule, the first in a series of often misguided attempts to improve the standard of domestic basketball on the part of the ruling body, brought about the rather bizarre situation where Langrell, arguably the most talented player in the city at the time, was (aside from a two-game tenure filling in at Dublin’s Killester) reduced to playing games of one-on-one with Mike Calo, which he claims to have dominated, although Calo’s recollections are massively at odds with this account.

“Mikey Calo is my guy…I can’t wait until someone gives him the opportunity to coach a superleague team and he subs himself in and goes right to left crossover for his pull up on his first touch!”

Dave left Ireland for good in the summer of 2007, returning to Christchurch with his wife Justine. He played two more seasons in the NZBL, for the Canterbury Rams and the Hawkes Bay Hawks before completing his playing days. Now with a young family, he runs a social basketball league in Christchurch in addition to his parenting and substitute teaching duties. In late 2011, he completed his first half-marathon, coming first in the “head band wearing, shaved legs, over 6’4″ and 100kg with a bung knee” category.

Aquinas U16 make history

On Sunday 22nd January, the Aquinas U16 girls team travelled to Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, to compete in their first ever All-Ireland qualifiers. Up until four years ago, there had not been a girl’s basketball programme in the school. Recognising the potential for developing a club-link Mary Matthews, Queen’s Basketball Club, volunteered to work alongside Marie McCool, Head of Girls P.E., in order to set up a weekly after school programme to give girls in Aquinas an opportunity to play basketball.

History of Ballers

Aquinas Grammar School, situated on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast, has a proud history of producing some excellent basketball talent. Some of you may remember Connall Mallory, Mark ‘Robbo’ Robinson or Chris Moore [Editor: Apparently not. Thanks Conor Lilly]who were tremendous schools’ basketball players. Let’s not forget Ben Horner, currently studying and hooping in Brighton, or Ciaran Ashe and Joe Burns, who are both playing for Belfast Star in the Superleague. Despite never getting the opportunity to play school’s basketball, Ainé Lenaghan was a terrific junior player while Ulster Rockets’ very own ‘road-runner’, Aisling Murray, is a well-respected basketball player throughout Ireland.

Not only has Aquinas produced basketball talent but Joe McAufield, Head of Boys P.E., has generated a culture around the game that lead to the creation of Belfast Storm, which included junior boys teams and a senior men’s squad. The setting up and management of the former club team included another Aquinas alum, Conor Lilly, Competitions Officer for Basketball Ireland.

Rookie Success

Aquinas U16 Girls Team 2012

As a new team to the All-Ireland schools’ ‘C’ competition, no-one could predict how Aquinas’ girls would perform against the reputably strong competition from across the border. The tournament was hosted by Colaiste Oriel with three qualifying games for each team played in the Phoenix Centre, Carrickmacross.

Aquinas  vs Colaiste Oriel (Co. Monaghan)

The first game tipped off at 9.30am with Aquinas competing against the host team, Colaiste Oriel. The Aquinas bench played a significant role in securing the team’s first victory with contributions coming from Magee, Carlin and Murray. Colaiste Oriel boasted two very strong players, who compete in the BNI junior leagues with Donagh, Ni Chleire and Ni hAmaill. The final score: Aquinas 37 Oriel 22.

Aquinas vs St Tiernan’s (Co. Mayo)

The Aquinas team gained some confidence entering into the second game against St Tiernans who were without Kearns who picked up an injury in the previous game against the Kilcullen-side. Aquinas’ shooting guard, Short, made some excellent decisions in the half-court which helped put the team up 33-13 going into the second half. Defensive pressure by Boyle, Madden-McKee and Carey sparked transition offence for the Belfast team. This helped Aquinas secure a comfortable second victory with the final score: Aquinas 61 St Tiernan’s 20

Aquinas vs Cross & Passion (Co. Kildare)

To close-out the day, Aquinas would need one more victory against an athletic and talented Cross & Passion team who travelled with a bus load of loyal supporters. Having witnessed both teams pick up two comfortable wins, this final game would be the most competitive of the tournament as both teams were fighting for their spot in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland ‘C ‘competition. Cross & Passion put up a solid 2-3 zone defence which forced the Belfast-side to shoot from the outside. Although Aquinas struggled to knock down shots, hustle from McKeever and Murray, kept the team in the game with tremendous offensive rebounding. Aquinas were able to remain composed the final two minutes of the game with tremendous leadership from point guard, McFarland. The final score was: Aquinas 36 Cross & Passion 32.

Aquinas U16 girls advance to the next round and will compete in a semi-final against Kinsale CS in early March.

The Courtside Collective wish Aquinas U16 girls the best of luck for their upcoming game.

 Highlights:

 

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