The culture of sports on each end of the pond could not be more different. Notably, British sport is characterised as one that requires early commitment. Sports teams are generally able to sign players at a young age to kickstart their professional journeys and this is often driven by familial connections and networks. In contrast, the American drafting system relies on fishing out standouts from a pool of (technically-speaking) amateur players. This is done within a highly regulated environment with the overarching aim of levelling the playing field. Unsurprisingly, these contrasting systems generate vastly different results in terms of incentives to play and overall accessibility to the sport.
With social media, the cultural differences of each system have also become more pronounced. Prospective players are more accustomed to seeing the USA as the holy grail for varied sporting excellence, since it is difficult to discount the fanfare and funding received generally speaking. As such, the push for prospective players from the UK to venture across the pond has become stronger each year, especially for sports such as basketball. In particular, the number of British basketball players taking their talents to the US has steadily increased, especially for NCAA Division 1 basketball.
In line with this, there is an increasing need to demystify the process of venturing abroad in pursuit of the hoop dream. As such, we are privileged to hear from Brett MacConnell, Associate Head Coach of Princeton University Ivy League men’s basketball team on his advice on the best ways to make such moves. We are also able to hear from Princeton sophomore Forward, Torisesan Evbuomwan and the 2019-2020 Academy Basketball League MVP and recent commit Ndewedo Newbury on their experiences so far, to also provide player-led perspectives.
A useful question we started with was, how to improve a player’s profile for the purposes of recruitment? With the sheer volume of reels today spanning from one’s backyard highlights to rec-league games to state championships, what exactly are coaches looking for? Unsurprisingly, Coach Brett highlights, ‘I think the best way to improve your profile as a player in the UK is to participate on the GB youth team in international play (FIBA competition)’. He notes that the number of scouts watching the European and World Championships at the U16 and U20 levels are immense. For the purposes of NCAA colleges, he further highlights the attention being given to the U18 FIBA competitions where he was able to see current sophomore Princeton Forward Torisesan Evbuomwan play at the U18 Euro Championships at both the A Division and B Divisions.
In the same vein, Coach Brett encourages the filming of full games over and above highlight reels. In the UK especially, films of full games of club competition in leagues like the NBL, EABL and ABL give coaches the material required to make a more thorough evaluation of prospective recruits on their radar. This makes sense as raw and unfiltered game film can bring out often overlooked factors like the mannerisms and body language of a player, including his or her interactions with the external environment.
For players fortunate enough to receive multiple offers, it is also commonplace to question how one should weigh the different options. This is potentially a vexing issue given the multitude of considerations that can go into the discussion. Nonetheless, Coach Brett provides a cleaner and more long-term solution, ‘My advice to players who are trying to weigh different college options would be to pick a school that you would love to attend even if you weren’t playing basketball’. While basketball is clearly a factor, he reasons that if a player is not happy off the court, he or she will not be able to perform. This also adds context considering the competitiveness of making it to the big leagues, where being in a place that, ‘will prepare you for life after basketball: a strong education, a strong network of alumni etc’ hedges the risks of one’s decision. This sound piece of advice formed the basis for Ndewedo Newbury’s decision to join Princeton, where he attributes his choice as a ‘win-win’ in terms of Princeton’s high level basketball program that is coupled with strong academic backing. Newbury will be studying computer science alongside his basketball aspirations.
Given Coach Brett’s position at Princeton, we also could not resist asking him what makes Princeton’s program stand out. In his words, ‘We’re about getting better every day. We have high standards for each individual in our program and our coaches work just as hard as the players to ensure that the guys reach those standards’. This is affirmed by Torisesan, ‘I was challenged every day at practice by every one of my teammates and coaches, the physicality, fast pace and attention to detail can be tough but it’s what you play for.’ Moreover, Coach Brett credits the family culture at Princeton where players and coaches alike truly support one another, and this is reflected in the unselfish style of play where players share the ball as much as they can. This could definitely be seen in the 2020 season Ivy opener where Princeton beat U Penn decisively and led in all four quarters.
To end, Coach Brett provides some words of encouragement for aspiring basketball players in the UK, ‘I really believe basketball in the UK is on the rise and has the potential to be a force for years to come. The UK is certainly a place I will continue to recruit’. This is indeed reassuring to hear.