6ft 11ins Dylan shoots for stars

ONE year ago Dylan Johns had never played basketball in his life - now the gigantic teenager is in the England Under-16 squad.

Stuart Watson

ONE year ago Dylan Johns had never played basketball in his life - now the gigantic teenager is in the England Under-16 squad. Stuart Watson spoke to the 15-year-old about his whirlwind year and how basketball has changed his life.

DYLAN Johns will be faced with one question for the rest of his life - 'how tall are you?'

Well the answer at present is that Johns, who only turned 15 in September, is a staggering six foot and 11 inches.

One year ago the quiet teenager used to knock at least a couple of inches off his height in response to all those that asked 'the question' - now he is more likely to add a few on as he desperately aims to reach the magic seven foot mark.

And the remarkable transformation is all because of basketball.

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Almost 12 months ago to the day Johns, shoulders slumped, walked into the sports hall of Westbourne Sports College and informed Ipswich Basketball Club coaches that he wanted to give the sport a try.

“I'd always liked basketball,” said Johns. “Whenever I watched it on TV they always showed the heights of the players on their stats and I thought 'I'm bigger than half of them'.”

It didn't take long for Johns to realise that instead of simply being gawped at, the looks he was suddenly drawing within the basketball fraternity were ones of envy rather than surprise.

It was a good feeling but just one problem remained…Johns couldn't play the sport for toffee.

Ipswich Basketball Club coach Nick Newman explains: “We couldn't believe our luck when this (then) 6ft 9in 14-year-old walked into the gym and said he wanted to play.

“To start with though it was fairly obvious he was a complete beginner. He was constantly turning the ball over and dropping the ball and we had to really work hard on the basics with him.”

Johns made just one start for Newman's Under-14s side in the remainder of their 2007/8 league campaign and accumulated just a handful of competitive minutes on court.

Suddenly he was faced with a big decision. The Johns family had moved from Essex to Ipswich so that he could continue to progress his flourishing talent for rugby at both St Joseph's College and Ipswich Rugby Club, but now basketball was beginning to clash.

“I managed to play both rugby and basketball for about half a year,” said Johns. “But although I couldn't see myself improving enough in basketball, I eventually decided that I needed to give it my full attention if I was going to get any better.”

And better he got. Growing at the rate of an inch a month at one stage, Johns increasingly became accustomed to using his height on the court and rapidly looked more athletic and co-ordinated by the day.

He soon became the key man in Ipswich's Under-15 Tomcats side, while three months ago the east region's top basketball academy, Essex's Barking Abbey, asked if he would be prepared to join them.

Johns accepted and, although it has meant that he has had to move away from home to lodge with a host family and study at a new school from Monday to Friday, he is already reaping the benefits to his game.

After becoming the first ever player at his age group to make a slam dunk in the National League, Johns has been selected for the England Under-16 squad.

He will now travel to Belgium for a three-day European competition on Boxing Day, before heading to Serbia in January to represent Barking Abbey. Should those tournaments go well, then Johns could well represent England's U16s at the European Championships in Portugal next September.

“I always stand up straight now,” admitted Johns. “Basketball has given me something to fight for and now I just want to play as high a standard as possible.”

IPSWICH Basketball Club coach Nick Newman knows he has got a rare talent on his hands in the form of Dylan Johns.

The 15-year-old has recently capped an outstanding first year in the sport with a call-up to the England Under-16 squad and Newman believes it could be just the first step in a long and illustrious career.

“To start with he struggled,” admitted Newman. “But the thing about Dylan is that you tell him what he needs to be doing and he just gets it straight away.

“He's a clever, intelligent lad who never slacks at training. His development in the last year has been phenomenal.

“You can see the opposition stop in their tracks when they see Dylan walk out for the warm up. He is the first person of his age I have ever seen slam dunk the ball in a game so I think it is fair to say that he has got a fair old career in front of him.”Newman admitted that he has seen a massive change in Johns since he arrived at the club 12 months ago. He said: “I think he did use to struggle with the height thing because people were constantly looking at him.

“In the basketball fraternity though everyone looks up to him, both figuratively and literally! I've even switched our training sessions to a Friday night so he can join us when he gets back from Barking Abbey.”

Comparisons have already been made between Johns and 18-year-old Leigh Greenan, the last gigantic player to have emerged from Ipswich Basketball Club.

Greenan, who is now 7ft tall, has represented England at U16 and U18 and is currently drawing interest from some of the top clubs in Europe and best universities in America.

Former England international Lloyd Gardiner coaches the pair, who often share a lift to training, at Essex's Barking Abbey Basketball Acadmey.

He said: “Dylan has come in here and worked particularly hard. It's been a big upheaval for him changing school, but he's been completely dedicated to his basketball.

“I definitely think he's got a big future. “He's already involved with the England Under-16 set-up and is likely to be a big part of that come next summer.

“We've only been going here for three years but have already had some very good players come through the system. Nine of our former players are playing over in the States, but Leigh has got the potential to be the best we've had yet.

“Dylan potentially could be even better though so that tells you what we think of him.”

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