Irish basketball’s ever-changing face

New formats, new names, new teams.

The state of flux in which Irish basketball has existed in modern times shows no sign of ending any time soon as the dawn of the latest domestic season approaches for the country’s elite men and women.

Formerly known as the Superleague, the men’s Basketball Ireland Premier League begins in two weekend’s time — without a sponsor — with Templeogue and Belfast Star added to what had been an eight-team roster.

A myriad of other changes in various competitions are too numerable to mention and, in the women’s game there is the realisation of a chasm-like gap between those hugging the upper echelons and those at the far end of the spectrum.

With an estimated 300,000 participants, basketball’s potential is obvious — and players and officials spoke positively yesterday about the work being done at central level and locally — but there is a realisation that the only way is up.

“It’s been very rough the last couple of years, financially especially,” said Neil Campbell, captain of a UL Eagles team that won the last two league titles but which may have to do without four key players this term.

“Everyone has heard of the problems that Basketball Ireland has had but I think there are a lot of people up here [at the National Basketball Arena HQ in Tallaght] doing a lot of hard work to turn that around.

“The players do sense that and hopefully, with this new format, things will build. It is all about getting quality basketball so I would love to see things return financially to a place where we had two Americans which would bring the standard right back up.”

Basketball Ireland has rolled up its sleeves in an attempt to put in place the required governance structures and overcome the financial blows it has suffered in recent years but all that, vital though it is, is background noise to most people.

When the average punter thinks of Irish basketball it brings to mind images of teams with ever-changing names, dwindling crowds and a standard that has dipped since the number of Americans allowed has halved from two to one.

On top of all that is the absence of any senior international representation on the global stage since the organisation’s decision three years ago that it simply had to pull green singlets from the floor as an economic necessity.

CEO Bernard O’Byrne told the Irish Examiner this week it could be another five years before that situation is righted and Campbell, who has played for a representative Irish side that falls short of full status, is in reluctant agreement.

“It is frustrating for the older guys that have been around that there is not that international option there but they do have select teams that travel abroad which offers that recognition of being one of the best players in the country.

“Look, we have to be patient with the times the way they are. It would be great if there was a quick solution to the problem but I would much prefer if they took their time and it was sustainable because that was the problem before.”

For all the issues, the prospect of a new season energises and invigorates and there was a perceptible energy to be found in Tallaght when the draws for the two National Cups were made in front of numerous players, coaches, officials and fans.

Defending champions Bord Gáis Neptune will face Moycullen of Galway in the first round of the Basketball Ireland Men’s National Cup. Newboys Templeogue face DCU Saints and UL Eagles, defeated finalists a year ago, face Dublin Inter.

Completing the draw, C&S UCC Demons will play UCD Marian as Belfast Star battle it out with Killester.

On the women’s side, the fact that UL Huskies managed to find the side of the draw without perennial contenders Team Montenotte Hotel and DCU Mercy drew most attention, drawing Ulster Rockets instead.

As ever, it is the cups that appear to warrant the main ambitions for some.

“We won it for the first time in 21 years last year,” said Ian McLoughlin of Bord Gáis Neptune. “We have the same coach this year, Mark Scannell. He got us ready for the cup last year and made no bones that that was what we were after.

“He left no stone unturned in terms of bringing in sports psychologists and we did our fitness sessions and he had our opponents scouted. When you get into the swing of things teams start to become a bit wary of you.”

Men’s National Cup Round 1: G1: C&S UCC Demons v UCD Marian. G2: Moycullen v Bord Gáis Neptune; G3: Dublin Inter v UL Eagles W of G5; G4: Killester v Belfast Star; G5: Templeogue v DCU Saints.

Round 2: Winner of Game 2 v Winner of Game 5.

Women’s National Cup Round 1: DCU Mercy v WIT Wildcats. Quarter-finals: UL Huskies v Ulster Rockets; Killester v Liffey Celtics; Winner of preliminary game v Singleton Supervalu Brunell; Team Montenotte Hotel v Meteors.

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