Basketball: ‘Mac’ makes giant strides after step into the unknown

Leeds Force's James McCann.

Leeds Force's James McCann.

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When a British basketball team entices a player over from the American collegiate system, it is very much a step into the unknown.

The United States is the powerhouse of the sport, but that does not always mean players from that country will cross the pond and instantly be a hit.

Imagine, then, the relief Matt Newby and the Leeds Force organisation will have felt when James McCann, their marquee summer recruit from the States, proved a difference maker in their historic first win at BBL level last week.

McCann top-scored with 21 points as Force edged out Manchester Giants in the BBL Cup.

Force looked to have hit the bullseye with their shot in their dark. Yet it is as much a leap of faith on the American player’s part as it is the British club’s.

Take McCann’s journey for instance. The 22-year-old has lived all his life in San Diego. When the time came for him to pick a college, he stayed close to home by spending four years at the University College San Diego.

His college played in Division II, a step below the 64 teams who make up College Basketball’s March Madness, which captivates the nation each spring.

And even then, McCann admits, they were never above being mid-level at that tier.

Traditionally there are 13 players on a college basketball roster, meaning when he graduated in the spring, McCann was behind hundreds of Division I players hoping to make it into either the NBA or the professional sport somewhere.

He was also on the same footing as dozens more of equal Division II standing.

McCann knew that if he wanted to pursue a career in professional basketball, he had to take matters into his own hands.

“I actually had a buddy in the BBL last year,” begins McCann. “I was thinking about signing with an agent – there was one from San Diego living in Spain – but on the advice of that buddy I sent over some film of me playing in college to some BBL teams.

“They looked at it and I had a couple of responses, but I knew I wanted to continue my studies by doing a masters in business, so Leeds made sense. And I think it’s going to be a good fit.

“It’s hard coming out of college, there’s so many good players at every level that it’s just crazy to think about going pro after college.

“I know I’ve been really lucky to continue my career. But I believe that no matter what level you play at in college you can prove yourself and find a place in the sport as a professional.”

And how relieved Leeds are that McCann had the desire to test that theory.

He selflessly says his contribution last week “helped” and that he was just happy to be back on court after a pre-season injury delayed his competitive debut.

And now that he and Force are off and running, McCann insists there is no let-up as they chase a first league win against Plymouth University Raiders tonight at Leeds Beckett University (7.30pm).

“It’s been great at practice since last Friday but no-one is resting on that victory, we all feel committed to keep on improving,” said the 5’ 11’’ guard.

“One win means nothing; there’s still a long, long way to go.

“It’s not about Plymouth tonight, it’s about us improving and building on what we did last week.

“That first win was massive because it made us feel like we belong. You could definitely see a sense of relief on coach Newby’s face. He’s put in so much time and effort to make this happen for us this year.”

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