Sporting success story Ipswich Basketball previewed ahead of club’s new season
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Basketball Club continues to be one of the real success stories in local sport. Mark Heath met coach Nick Drane to preview their new season.
Ipswich Basketball Club isn’t so much a single team, more of a sporting movement.
Led by head coach Nick Drane, the senior men’s team is again on the verge of winning promotion to Division One of the National League, punching way above their weight against teams who can pay players and boast excellent facilities.
But beneath them is a constant production line of incredible youth talent in the Ipswich Basketball Academy – so much so that Ipswich now have more players in junior national teams than traditional basketball powers Birmingham and Sheffield combined.
The bombastic Drane has achieved much in his time at Copleston, and is as enthusiastic as ever about the season ahead.
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This will be the fourth year for the senior men in Division Two and, as always, they are among the favourites for promotion.
This year’s squad has seen high-flying youth product Luke Mascall-Wright return from college in the States to replace Sam Newman, who’s starting university in Canada having risen to prominence with Ipswich.
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Ex-professionals, captain Tom Sadler and point guard Eddie Ferreira, will lead the team again, while another batch of exciting youngsters – Caleb Fuller, Josh Apple and Rory Winter – are ready to take the step up.
And in the middle, man mountain centre Leigh Greenan, all seven-foot of him, is back after surgery to intimidate and dominate players across the country.
Drane said: “Luke is so dynamic and so exciting. He replaces Sam, although they’re not the same player, and having big Leigh back is like having a new player.
“We’ve also got the youngsters – Caleb Fuller is only going to get better, and the other youngsters who have really shone in pre-season games are Rory Winter, who is Eddie’s back up at the point, and big Joshua Apple, who’s played rugby for a lot of years but has switched to basketball.
“He’s a 6ft 6ins guy who can run and jump like a race horse and he’s not afraid of the big boys, coming from a rugby background.
“That group of Luke, Caleb and Josh is crazy athletic and you put that with a pro level guard in Eddie, a pro level forward in Tom, a monster in Leigh and a specialist in Daniel Caluico (left) and that’s your core group.”
Of their hopes for the season ahead, Drane added: “
“I think the league is much stronger than it was four years ago when we came into it.
“We’ve blazed a trail in some respects, showing the way to be professional without actually being professional.
“If Eddie stays healthy, if Tom does too – and that’s a bit of a concern at the moment - and with Leigh back then it’s going to take some good teams to beat us.
“But there are good teams in this league and the worst thing we can do is believe that we’re better than we are.
“I think we believed in our own hype a little bit too much in the past. If we were all that good, we wouldn’t be in Division Two.
“But if we don’t go up there will be a lot of soul searching. That being said, you just never know what you might come up against!”
Ferreira, 30, adds a touch of real class to the Ipswich, having played professionally for 14 years, both for Benfica and in the Champions League in Angola.
He said: “It’s different, in this country the game is more physical than in the other places I’ve played.
“The IQ about basketball is the same, but there is scope to improve.
“I can give something to Ipswich – details, a different way to look at the game.
“It’s great fun to play here. Caleb and Luke are very talented and can play at a high level in Europe and elsewhere.
“I can share with them my experiences and maybe help them to do better.”
“There’s a lot of basketball talent in Ipswich. A lot of kids can play in Ipswich!”
There’s no doubt that the club as a whole has achieved a lot, but Drane fears they could be approaching a ceiling unless they can find or develop a venue with more space to house the ever-growing juggernaut.
They are already attracting up to 400 fans to home games at Copleston, which is as many as they can accommodate.
He said: “I can’t shout enough about how hard our volunteers work to allow us to put these kids in a position where we can develop them as basketball players.
“We have a real knack for unearthing and developing talent, but what baffles me is that while more players from Ipswich are in the national set-ups than any other location – more than Birmingham and Sheffield combined – we are doing it with incredibly limited means and facilities, we’re just scratching the surface of what we could do.
“We’d able to do so much more for young people with a bit more support.
Eddie’s now working with about 300 primary school kids as part of our Playground to Pro programme, inspiring them and that’s only going to grow – but only if we have somewhere to put them all.
“We just need more space. An arena would be great, but what we want is two courts next to each other so we can run two practice sessions at the same time.
“The dream is a two court facility with retractable seating.
“I’m realistic though, and I know that will cost about two million pounds.
“What is more realistic is doing something with some of the spaces we already have in town.
“Inspire Suffolk is a vast indoor space but it needs a new floor. Copleston has space to extend, and that’s do-able.
“But we need help – from people with business savvy or with a few hundred thousand quid knocking around.
“The Borough Council sports facilities aren’t being used all the time, so we can’t justify the argument for it in the usual way. They are just not suitable for what we need.
“The perfect scenario is that we do something on site at Copleston and we get people to see what it can do, not only for elite athletes, but that it can inspire a kid that wants to stand around on a street corner to pick up a basketball. It doesn’t need to be all-singing and all-dancing, we just need more space! I just want someone to listen.”
Ipswich host Chelmsford Lions in the National Cup Second Round at Copleston on Sunday. Tickets cost £3.50 for adults, £2 for under 18s and under 11s go free.
Follow @IpswichHoops on Twitter for all the latest news from the club, and buy the paper every Tuesday for match reports and youth round-ups.