BASKETBALL is not a sport synonymous with Ireland but Paul Cummins has plans to change that. The Kildangan native, who was the Irish junior player of the year back in 2001, is on a mission to put young, talented Irish players in the shop window. In fact he’s already successfully started, writes Ruth Chambers.
Since the summer of 2005 Cummins has been running his annual ‘Hoops Clinic’ and the more recent Sports Dream Academy and one of his players, Nathan Dunne, from Newbridge, has been reaping the rewards.
Having just completed his Leaving Certificate exams, Dunne, this coming August, will set off for America, where he has been offered a scholarship at Mount Holyoke, a Division 2 school in North Carolina.
Just like Cummins did as a 16 year old, Dunne will get the chance to make it big in the States, an opportunity of a lifetime, and Cummins hopes more Irish players will get similar chances in the future.
“Nathan (Dunne) would have been twelve or 13 when he came to the smaller camp and has been with me every summer. Last summer I set up an academy for some of the top kids in Kildare and I run it every second Sunday. It’s basically two hours of intensive drills and bringing what I’ve learned from playing and coaching in the States to here.
“Nathan, along with some other kids, have really made some serious improvements and as a result Nathan was offered a 50 per cent scholarship to a Division 2 school in North Carolina. He has just finished his Leaving Cert and is heading off in August. He really has made some serious improvements and he attributes a lot of it to my academy, which is great,” Cummins told the Leinster Leader this week.
Indeed Dunne says he wouldn’t have got the opportunity to go Stateside had it not been for the coaching and guidance from Cummins. Naturally he had the raw talent but Dunne, technically, has come on leaps and bounds and it’s certainly reaping dividends.
“Being coached by a basketball player give you one view on the game and how it should be played, while being trained by a coach gives you a completely different view, yet while I was being coached by Paul he gave me the a unique experience of the player he was and the coach he is becoming and he wraps this all up in the Hoops Clinic.
“For me and many of the players who have had the experience of this, we know fully well that Hoops Clinic is the hidden gem of Irish basketball,” admitted Dunne.
“At these clinic’s he asked for your very best and once he has that he will push you a little further each time over your limit this can transform your game in only six weeks I know first hand that it transformed mine. I know that without Paul and Hoops Clinic I wouldn’t be going to college in America. So my advice to the young generations of up and coming basketball players of Ireland is that know matter what level you are at if you put time, hard work and dedication into basketball combined with Paul’s coaching, it could be you going to America on a scholarship in the next few years,” he added.
Of course Cummins is one of very few Irish men or women that has experienced basketball professionally in the States, where he spent seven years. At 16 years of age he too received a scholarship to North Carolina, and later received a scholarship to a Division 1 school, South Kent, just outside Philadelphia. Thereafter came a stint at playing professionally but of course it all started in the PBS in Newbridge.
“I played on the junior Irish team and at the time the head of Irish basketball was an American guy. He saw me play and approached me and told me about one of his good friends who was a really good coach in North Carolina so that’s how it started. It was the best decision I ever made too. I went before my Leaving Cert, which was a big gamble but it paid off,” explained Paul, who is currently pursuing a P.hD in leadership.
Now he wants to give back to the sport he loves and help young players get the chance he got eleven years ago.
“I’ve just stopped playing this year, the intervarsaties was my final tournament because my knees are pretty bad. What I want to do now is set up Ireland’s first ever exposure camp.
Cummins plans to grow the academy into a national initiative in order to bring the top 50 under 18 male and female Irish players together at Ireland’s first ever invitational basketball camp in order to get experience from top American coaches, to develop their skills, to compete against their peers, and to provide them with exposure to US prep schools and colleges.
“I was so lucky to get to the States and my prep school team was ranked number one in the country at the time. That meant I played with NBA players throughout the course of my career and then in my college career my coach Fran O’Hanlon is considered one of the best coaches in America. It’s chalk and cheese compared to here. The people here are just trying to do their best but the coaching standard in Ireland is pretty terrible. Basketball in Ireland, due to the IBA getting in to serious debt, cancelled the international teams because they can’t fund us to play in European tournaments. That state of the game in Ireland right now is not good. What I’m trying to do, at least in Kildare first and next year make it an All Ireland thing, is to basically help those kids who are there or there about but are lacking that real guidance needed for playing in the States. It will be the basketball side of things, the physical but also the mental side of things. It’s about putting the whole package together and then if they are good enough it’s about helping them get over,” explained Cummins.
He added: “The national exposure camp will get the best male players under 18 and the best female players under 18, bring them together, supply them with great coaching, get them in tune with the physical and mental side of the game, give them strength and conditioning and educate them in nutrition. As we play I’ll obviously record their highlights and make those highlights available to my contacts in case they are looking for a good guard. Ultimately, the issue here is that kids don’t know how to get in the shop window and that’s where my job comes in. I’m not going to be the one to set them up with everything but I’ll put them in the shop window. If coaches like them hopefully something will happen but at least the excuse of not getting spotted won’t be there.”
Two years ago Basketball Ireland, the sport’s governing body, was left in turmoil and with a debt of 1.4 million. As a result the national senior teams were scrapped, while up and coming players aren’t able to get adequate coaching, guidance and opportunities.
“There is zero concept about what the professional game is like here in Ireland. Basketball is such a huge sport everywhere else except in Ireland. Even in the European scheme of things Ireland is not at the races unfortunately. Funding in this country tends to go to boxing, horse racing and other sports but not basketball,” admitted Paul.
Football, hurling, soccer and rugby, will always be the big team sports in Ireland. Of that there is little doubt. However, basketball is massive. The statistics speak for themselves. Some 180,000 people actively play the sport in this country.
Some more seriously than others and Cummins wants to help them get the recognition they deserve.