Around this time last year, this machine produced a column bemoaning the paltry nature of the coverage afforded to Basketball in this country. At the risk of being labelled boring for harrowing up old ground, here’s a very brief rundown. From a point where, when your columnist was younger, both men’s semi finals and the final of the National Cup were broadcast by RTE, to a shrinking of profile last year when only the two finals were shown. And on to a situation this year which saw the National broadcaster ignore the biggest weekend in the sport altogether.
The argument, of course, will be wheeled out that there wouldn’t be enough interest in it. Turn that another way, though, as this corner keyboarded at the time, basically, only exposure will breed popularity. To be fair, Setanta did step in to fill the breach. The thing is, though, that for some of us, the picture on Setanta tends to be as shaky as the one working arm before the first pint!
Thankfully, however, Sky have provided some Sunday salvation for chasers of the hoop dream. Doing so by putting on a double header of basketball on a Sunday evening. Ironically, they began their coverage by showing an NBA match – staged in London – on a Thursday night between the New York Nicks and the Denver Nuggets. Therein, the very talented Carmelo Anthony added to his burgeoning reputation with an outstanding display in a comfortable enough Nicks win.
It may come as a surprise to some to know that a love of basketball was one of the few positive things picked up in a certain part of the education system. Truth told, hard court has always been favoured viewing here. Back to the times when the big National Cup weekend used to take place in the Neptune Stadium in Cork. Indeed, it’d be great to see a basketball club start up in Dunboyne. I’d also love to see a rugby club formed and am amazed one hasn’t been already, but that’s a story for another day!
Anyhow, young Mr Anthony first showed up on this radar thanks to an avid interest that has been developed in the colleges basketball scene in the US. Following same necessitates many long nights. Here’s where the old dictum about every cloud having a silver lining comes into play. You see, unfortunately – or strangely fortunately in this case – insomnia is part of the ‘package deal’ for yours truly. So, the late night American sporting fare tends to be distracting, entertaining and informative.
As with any sport, over time, certain teams will become especial favourites. Besides the ones closers to home, in terms of American sports, the New England Patriots have assumed that role on the gridiron. Unoriginally, the Miami Heat are the outfit of choice in the NBA and Duke University are the follow lot on the student scene.
Colleges sport over there has a set of legends all to itself. People like John Calipari, Bo Ryan, Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski are iconic figures. Only an aficionado of the hoops in these parts is likely to know who they are though. All down to coverage again. They are coaches – of very long standing in the case of the latter pair – on the colleges basketball scene. Strange as it may seem, they are infinitely more famous than some of the players they’ve worked with.
That’s hardly surprising in one sense. Some of those mentioned have had extraordinary longevity in the sport. When you consider the hectic playing schedule over there – teams often play four or five games in a week – not to mention constant player turnover, what some of those men have achieved in the game is truly astonishing.
Of course, as with any code of colleges sport, it’s all about unearthing the next big star. In basketball circles, that means finding the next LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. Not easily done. Though Carmelo and others like Jeremy Lin have already seamlessly made the transition, far greater numbers are likely to fall away than make the step up.
So, from the 2012/’13 season, who are some names liable to hit stardom going forward? Cody Zeller of Indiana State is this hack’s especial favourite. He fits into a pattern that’s been noticed in recent years. Namely, sets of brothers coming through various programmes, as they’re called over there. This brings me to Mason Plumlee, who is following his brothers through Duke. He and Seth Curry are the mainstays of this year’s challenge for the perennial contenders.
Elsewhere, keep an eye out for names like Shabazz Napier, Erik Murphy (there has to be Irish blood there somewhere), Russ Smith, Peyton Seva, Reggie Bullock, Ben McElmore, James Michael McAdoo and Victor Oladipo. It’s highly unlikely that all of them will make it to the NBA, but watching them strive to get there has certainly shortened the winter!