With six different sides claiming the six trophies across Irish men’s and women’s basketball last season, there was a surprising calm at the season launch this month. Emmet Ryan on how the friendly faces hid the potential for another season of insanity on the court for Irish hoops
DCU Mercy’s dramatic one point win over Glanmire, ending a reign of four straight titles, was a wild breakneck ride that would do well to make the top five moments of madness in last season in Irish hoops. It wasn’t even the maddest in a 24 hour period, that honour going to the previous night’s men’s cup final where a technical nobody expected changed the course of the decider in shocking circumstances.
That’s the type of crazy, including having 5 teams out of 12 in contention to win the men’s title going into the last week of games, that the upcoming season in Irish hoops is following up on. The off court moves alone have given hope for some madness.
With Tralee Warriors losing Trae Pemberton to Reading Rockets in England’s NBL, they’ve added Latvis Janis Dumbars and American Jordan Evans. A point at which they could have been staring down a big blow, Pemberton’s an extraordinary scorer at this level, now has them right in the mix amongst the contenders for the championship.
Evans, who reached the NCAA Division II Final Four last season with West Texas A&M, has arrived in Tralee hungry.
“I’d been in contact with [head coach] Pat Price since April, he seemed like a genuine person who was really interested in me. At this point in my life, that’s what I really need right now, someone who has a lot of interest and wants me in their team,” Evans tells BallinEurope.
“It wasn’t that big of a transition for me, just the time difference, at the end of the day it’s all about playing basketball.
He also got to experience one of the quirkier aspects of Irish life shortly after arriving. The Rose of Tralee is extremely difficult to describe but…eh…well…it’s not a beauty contest but it sort of is and it really isn’t and is more a lovely girls competition and yet not as awful as that description sounds because it’s actually rather good….the important part is it turns the whole town into one giant sesh for a week.
“I enjoyed myself, the team showed me around, there were a lot of festivities and I had a good time,” he says.
Evans is coming into a side that has won the Champions Trophy, the post-season competition, each of the last two years. The town has a taste for silverware and he knows the expectations on him filling Pemberton’s role as the import.
“I have big shoes to fill. This team is very successful and hopefully we can bring home all three this year,” says Evans.
“I want to get off on a good start. Once we play together and stay defensively minded, we’ll be pretty good. I just want to learn from a mastermind [Price], even in the past two weeks that I’ve been here he’s taught me a lot.”
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Learning was how Cameron Smith ended up joining reigning men’s champions UCD Marian. The Dublin side, which ended a 40 year drought with a 1 point win in a playoff with Killester after finishing on the same record as their city rivals, has brought Smith in from Dartmouth College in the Ivy League.
Despite playing for UCD in the Superleague, he’s studying at the college’s arch-rivals Trinity. Having got his undergraduate degree in film and media studies from Dartmouth, he’s doing a masters in film in Ireland.
“My coach, Jabari Trotter, came to Ireland and played. He was at Dublin Business School, he suggested the path of coming here to go to school and play. Once I got accepted into Trinity it was like bang-bang. I came here, worked out for UCD, loved the team, and it worked out,” says Smith.
“Things are a bit different here. Trying to get the food you like…it’s all new. People talk a little different, so I’m just trying to understand people’s accents but I think I’ve got a handle on it,”
“Once the ball stops bouncing, I want to be a director but I’m looking at whatever is the best option for me. I’d like to keep playing ball as long as I can but I know that’s not going to last forever. I like sports documentaries but, on the narrative side, I like gangster movies. My favourite movie is The Godfather. I like Goodfellas and stuff like that, kind of the crime dramas.”
While looking to make the most out of the blend of academia and hoops in Ireland, Smith knows there’s a target on your back when joining up with the reigning champions.
“I think the pressure’s on everybody else. We’re just going to go out and do our thing. We’re not there yet but through hard work and doing what other teams aren’t willing to sacrifice, I think we’ll be back.”
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The atmosphere at the kick off event is always a touch different. Aside from everyone having zero losses on the season yet, it’s rare to see so many players from such a diverse bunch of teams in one spot all in their kit.
Photo calls for every side across the top two division in each of the men’s and women’s leagues are progressing, giving players ample time to stand around and chat. It’s the day of the cup draws as well, with prelims and byes in each competition ensuring some confusion for Basketball Ireland chief Bernard O’Byrne but he gets through it all ok.
Change is the one constant, as two major switches down on Leeside ensured things will be interesting if nothing else in the season’s early going amongst the Cork clubs. Lehmon Colbert won everything a few times with UCC Demons but now he’s joined their arch-rivals, Neptune. Normally this would be quite a huge deal for any baller but just a few days before the launch, his son Tristan was born so there are bigger changes in his life than the laundry.
“It’s a new jersey, just a better situation for me and my family. It’s no foul play to Demons, I just thought it was the right time to make the move. It’s still basketball at the end of the day, I just got to go out and get the job done at home and on the court,” says Colbert.
Neptune’s squad has racked up a pile of underage trophies in recent years but has only just returned to the top flight after a few seasons in the second tier. At 30, Colbert isn’t an old man but he’s a grandad on this team.
“I just want to help the young guys come along and develop, teach them the ins and outs. I think we’re going to be fine. We’re going to surprise a lot of people,” he says. “I’ve always felt that veteran responsibility, I’ve always talked a lot on the floor. It’s what I was taught in college.”
While Colbert won a heap with Demons, his trophy cabinet is dwarfed by Gráinne Dwyer’s. The dominant star of a Glanmire side that won everything including four straight national cup titles, made a big switch this off-season. She opted to join her sister Niamh at Fr Mathews, a new side to the women’s top flight across the city in Cork.
“I just needed the switch for myself. I’ve achieved everything I can in Glanmire. Winning hides a lot, as any team will tell you, and personally I needed a change so I went and made it,” says Dwyer.
“It’s not unfamiliar territory. The fact that Niamh [Dwyer], Amanda Regan, Olivia Dupuy, and Holly Herlihy who are all ex Glanmire have been there makes it a little bit easier. In general it’s been a smooth transition, pre-season’s going well, we’ve got a new gym…”
She pauses as she realise she says we. It’s a big change and seeing her in the red of Fr Mathews (yes, they spell it without an apostrophe) is still jarring to most having become so used to her dominating in the blue of Glanmire.
“It’s just a phenomenal facility, I’m really happy, I’ve made the right move for me. We’re all caught up in our preseason, I’m sure we’ll catch up [with Glanmire] during the season and see how things our. When I told them I was leaving, they understood my reasons,” she says.
“It’s brilliant for Cork basketball to have three teams [Glanmire, Fr Mathews, and Brunell] that can be successful in this league. It’s going to be interesting and the Cork games are going to be good clashes. I’m really looking forward to the season and I don’t think I’ve said that in a long time. It’s always been a bit of a drag going back to it,”
“There’s always shit in every club but, like I said, it’s tough going back to the same thing year in year out.”
Reuniting with her sister is also going to make life interesting for Dwyer. With Niamh player/assistant coach, and neither considered the shy and retiring type, things could get a little loud.
“Niamh’s basketball brain is phenomenal, so is her ethic and mentality…if you asked anyone who played with us before they’d tell you that the two of us are crazy but that’s possibly our strongest point. We’ve had it out in games before but, on the whole, we get on really well,” says Dwyer.
The Superleague season for men starts the weekend of 29/30 September with the women starting on 6/7 October.
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