WHEN you think of basketball you think of the Americans, of the NBA, of Michael Jordan,of Denis Rodman and of Shaquille O'Neill but what about Kildare native Paul Cummins?
He might not be an NBA star but nonetheless he is making waves across the Atlantic in the US.
A former PBS Newbridge student, Paul Cummins left for the States at just 16 years of age and has never looked back but he still does manage to give something back to the children of Kildare each summer.
Basketball might not be the game of choice for many but those who attend Paul's Hoopsclinic Camps in Kilcullen each year have certainly been converted. The camps were first established in 2005 in the Kilcullen Community Centre and each year since have become more and more of an attraction.
Hoopsclinic Camps are different from the norm of soccer and GAA camps and at least they won't be interrupted by the changeable Irish weather.
Cummins offers both group sessions and individual session, which will be delivered by the some of the highest quality coaches around.
One such coach is Naas native Mary Hulgraine, who will work mainly with female players, while American coaches Jermaine Middleton and Kevin Stephenson will spend their summer in Kilcullen.
"This year I will be joined by Mary Hulgraine from Naas who is an excellent player and one of the top young female players in Ireland. She has secured a scholarship to Bridgeport University in Connecticut. She will be helping out with mostly the girls," Paul told the Leinster Leader this week.
He added: "Then I have two other coaches coming over from the States. The first of those is Jermaine Middleton, who is an NBA prospect. He is 7 foot 3' but has a great attitude and is great with kids.
"Kevin Stephenson is the other coach from Duke University in North Carolina. I lived with him and his family and he is an excellent coach. He is young and energetic and again excellent with kids.
"The camps started in 2005, so this will be the fourth year of them. Every year more and more kids are coming and that definitely applies to the younger kids. We run three camps, one for older boys around the ages of twelve or 13, which would be more advanced. We also have a camp for younger children with a lot more emphasis on fun."
Paul's new individual lessons kick start this year and are aimed at the more advanced player, as he explains: "The sessions include me drawing up individual programmes that I have been through with coaches in America and there is some serious stuff in them. Last year Declan
Kearney from Newbridge, who went on to play with the national youth team, came for an individual session."
So where did it all begin for Paul Cummins? The son of Ger and Pempy began his basketball career in Newbridge PBS after leaving Scoil Mhuire National School in Newbridge. It was during a game with the Irish Youth team that he was spotted by a scout from the USA.
"I was spotted when I was playing with the national Youth (under 16) team. A guy called Bill Dooley, who is head of basketball operations and a former college coach, saw potential in me and he took me to school in North Carolina. So I basically up and left home for America at 16 or 17. I left my family and friends and it was tough but my family were very supportive of my choice," admitted Paul.
Cummins, who has one sister, Gail, finished his schooling at the Ravenscroft High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 2002 Cummins led the High School to back-to-back Conference Championships and the North Carolina State Final.
"I went to live with an American family and they were brilliant. I did the last two years of American High School and over the two seasons I was averaging 20 points a game and there was a lot of interest and offers from colleges," he explained.
Indeed colleges were clamouring for his services but the one he finally decided on was Lafayette College, the private coeducational liberal arts and engineering college in Easton, Pennsylvania. However, going to the college of his choice wasn't all smooth sailing.
"The college I fell in love with was Lafayette College. It had a beautiful campus but they told me they wanted me to go to prep school first. I didn't want to but I did for the sake of basketball and that took me to Connecticut to the South Kent Prep School for a year," said Paul.
Being forced to Connecticut actually panned out to be a great move for Cummins, on the court at least. During his time at South Kent he was of six players to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 Scholarship.
"The team was one of the best in the country and playing basketball there was an unbelievable experience. There were guys on the team that went on to play in the NBA and I was the only white guy on the team," explained Cummins.
It was then on to college and to Lafayette to major in psychology and music, while on the court he led the college team in most three pointers made, while academically he was named on the Patriot league, the college athletic conference which operates in the north eastern United States, academic honour roll and an academic All-American. He recently graduated and has found himself an agent in an attempt to secure his basketball future.
"Next season I hope to play pro overseas. I have just got an agent and there has been some offers from English clubs but I will decide in the summer and see what happens after that," he admitted.
He is currently a member of the senior mens Irish team, along with fellow Kildare native Liam O'Boyle, and is hoping the enthusiasm for the game can be rekindled in the PBS in Newbridge so other players can get the opportunities he did.
"The PBS in Newbridge was always great for basketball and the interest is still there. Unfortunately Ireland doesn't do a good job of promoting basketball. Football and hurling and soccer and rugby get all the attention. I think the only times I got to watch NBA was on TG4 in the middle of the night and I am not sure if that is even on anymore.
"Basketball actually took over from soccer as the most played sport in the world. It is huge in Europe bar the UK and Ireland but there are still loads of kids out there who have a massive interest in the game," said Paul.
If you are one of those interested parties, Paul's camps will be held in the Kilcullen Community Centre from 13 July to 18 July, which is a mixed camp, from 21 July to 25 July for senior boys aged 12 to 18 and 7 July to 11 July for senior girls of the same age. More information is available from www.hoopsclinic.com.