Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Basketball Beguilement

My basketball playing days are long gone now. Back in the day when I was a southerner, I was probably one of the best players in Year 3 at King’s Somborne Primary School, Hampshire. In fact, I probably enjoyed it even more than football. But since then my basket has been rusting in the garage and my interest in the sport has dwindled. Until now.

One of my highlights since becoming sports editor last term was reporting on basketball matches at York. I remember casting my eye over the fixtures list back in February and noticing a crucial men’s 1sts cup match. Initially not expecting too much entertainment, it turned out to be one of the best matches I have covered. Since then, it has been difficult for my co-editor Sally Dolton to keep me away from the university basketball scene.

Colin Hill in action against Hull in White
Rose Varsity 2012 (Photo: Kathy Burke)
My first basketball match was an eye-opener as to what I had missed out on playing-wise over the years. York men’s 1sts were up against Sunderland 1sts at the university’s tent venue. Although the temperature was in the minus numbers, the hospitality provided for reporters was first class; President George Rowland kindly provided court-side seating bang on the half-way line and there was even a digital score board. I was left asking myself why such luxuries weren’t available elsewhere. York ended up winning the match in comfortable fashion, including a remarkable deflected basket from Dan Baark.

It dawned on me how high standards were for BUCS men’s basketball. These guys must be spending hours in the gym every week, because their fitness levels were incredible. The pace of basketball is obviously a lot faster than most sports, and I wouldn’t bet against some of these players being fitter than most players in other university BUCS teams. And on-court, you knew if you were having a stinker in front of the basket, because you would be promptly substituted by the captain.

In terms of performance, the men’s 1sts have had a mixed season. Their league displays have been disappointing, losing all their games and suffering relegation. One of these was an incredibly close game against Sheffield Hallam which ended in agony, with the victors securing their league survival. But they have enjoyed brilliant cup performances, reaching the quarter-finals of the BUCS Northern Conference Cup and also beating Hull in the one-off Varsity match.

I also had the chance to cover the women’s 1sts BUCS team, whose cup tie against Northumbria 2nds was another entertaining match decided by fine margins. I soon found out that women’s basketball is much noisier and more physical than the men’s game. Whenever one side found themselves out of possession, their bench would scream ‘Defence! Defence!’ repeatedly, which I assume is intended to put off the attackers rather than exact concentration from the defenders. In terms of physicality, there were many more fouls given by the referee for pushing, shirt tugging and also eye-watering collisions. In fact, some of these players would tower above much of the men’s 1sts team so the games tended to be quite abrasive, another thing I was not quite prepared for. The women have enjoyed a far more successful campaign than the men, finishing second in their BUCS league table behind a bullish Bradford outfit, and making it to the quarter finals of the cup.

Finally, I have also thoroughly enjoyed watching college basketball, despite it being a relatively fledgling college sport. At the moment, only two teams regularly turn up to the tent on a Sunday evening – Vanbrugh and James. Langwith, Derwent and Wentworth occasionally come down but often struggle to field five players. And many of the players that do come along primarily play football; there aren’t too many participating who specialise in basketball as their primary sport. But this is to be expected at this early stage; basketball has only recently joined the college sport programme.

Last term we saw an Adam Lewis-inspired Vanbrugh beating Langwith 21-4 and a Derwent victory over James by 24-11. But the best match in my opinion was Wentworth’s 17-16 nail-biter over James with Helge Remmers providing a fitting winner. The university’s BUCS sides should be keeping tabs on some of the players coming up through the ranks if this quality is replicated on a weekly basis, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more players bridged the gap between college and university basketball over the next few years.

So if you’re a basketball fan, I would thoroughly recommend joining your college basketball side or even the university teams. And if you’re a reporter, just sit back and enjoy!

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