Continuing our series profiling junior sports clubs, Sam France meets the man behind the City of Leeds Basketball Club which is providing a pathway to the top of the sport as well as an education.
A Yorkshire teenager moving to America to make it big in the home of basketball sounds like the premise to a film.
But thanks to the City of Leeds Basketball Club, this has become reality for four Leeds youngsters – Micah Savery Richards, Daniel Evans, Jake Pandza and Vasja Pandza – who have gone on to secure scholarships in the US. And club director Matt Newby is hoping they won’t be the last.
Based at Leeds Beckett University but training at venues all over the city, the club runs basketball sessions for youngsters as young as five all the way up to 18, with National League teams for the older groups.
Basketball is a growing sport in the UK – over 300,000 adults are thought to play at least twice a month – and Newby wants to see the club’s youngsters develop just as much as the sport.
“In terms of developing the young people,” he says, “first and foremost it’s about helping them identify with a new sport, new ways of moving, new ways of playing and then giving them a competitive outlet that has some parity to their age.”
In terms of developing the young people, first and foremost it’s about helping them identify with a new sport, new ways of moving, new ways of playing and then giving them a competitive outlet that has some parity to their age.Matt Newby
The club’s mission statement prioritises ‘community, collaboration, development, performance and excellence’, and Newby says he is keen to make sure that when young people put their free time into basketball, they get a return out of it.
“That return might be going to Sixth Form and having a good post-16 education or going to University with sport as an extra string to their bow.
“Or, for the best players, to acquire a scholarship to the US and give them a totally different life experience and a very high level of basketball. We’ve got four athletes now in the US on scholarship at either prep school or college.
“This journey for them, this pathway has given them that eventuality.
“After that, if they get the further opportunity to go professional, or if they’ve gained a degree in an area that they want to work in, that’s our job; to give them those opportunities.”
Basketball is, at the moment, still a largely male-dominated sport and Newby admits that this has been the case at City of Leeds.
But the club now puts a real emphasis on recruiting for their four girls’ teams, as part of their desire to offer something different to the city’s girls and young women.
While players aged 14 and above are integrated into the club’s National League sides, competing around the country, sessions are available for boys and girls to start playing as young as five years old.
Any child capable of dunking a basketball at that age would presumably be fast-tracked straight to the NBA, but the emphasis with the younger groups is on giving the children a new experience.
“We call it Bounce Into Basketball, so the kids get the opportunity to come and try the sport. We begin to develop their physical literacy specific to the sport. They’ll come down and experience skills and drills and then go into small-side games to give them an opportunity to simply play.
“We’ve got small baskets that give them the opportunity to shoot comfortably, and we use a smaller space as well for the little ones.”
All of this is fairly impressive for a club that was founded only 12 years ago. Formed as part of an initiative with what was then Leeds Metropolitan University, Newby is proud to see City of Leeds now comprising four girls’ and seven boys’ teams at Junior National League level, a successful community outreach programme, and a basketball academy.
As well as their American alumni, the club have had players go on to represent England at youth level, and have a number of current players turning out at various age groups for Yorkshire’s boys’ and girls’ county sides.
Teams train throughout the week and are always open to newcomers. Anyone can try a session for free, and become part of a club which is only looking to continue to grow.
And if their success continues, who knows? That summer blockbuster about the Harehills Globetrotters might turn out to be a documentary.