Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Paul (right) and John Carroll, who earned a scholarship to the US with the help of SDA.
# Hoop Dreams
'There are good basketball players in Ireland but they need to be lucky to be spotted'
Ex-Ireland international Paul Cummins is getting young talent noticed through his Sport Dream Academy.

PAUL  CUMMINS WILL admit himself that he fortunate to have enjoyed such a successful career — but not because he lacked ability.

“I had talent but I was lucky to get seen,” says the former Ireland international. “There are lots of good basketball players in Ireland but they need to be lucky to be spotted.”

Like a lot of Irish children, the Kildare native got involved with football and GAA growing up. Being particularly “tall and gangly” from a young age, however, he took up basketball in sixth class and fell in love with the game almost immediately.

Called up to the Ireland squad at U16 level, Cummins caught the eye of a European-based scout and accepted a two-year scholarship to Ravenscroft High School in North Carolina.

After prep school in Connecticut where he played alongside future NBA players at the South Kent School, it was on to Pennsylvania’s Lafayette College — where he would become starting shooting guard for their NCAA Division 1 team, and finished one of the top 3-point shooters in Lafayette’s history.

“I loved every second of it,” he explains. “My job was to catch and shoot. I wanted to play professionally but wasn’t nearly good enough or tall enough for the NBA.”

The next place he called home was the Scottish capital after joining the Edinburgh Kings in 2009. There, he claimed a league and cup double as well as Scottish Import Player of the Year and the league’s top scoring honours.

The University of Ulster then gave him the chance to continue his career in Belfast while earning his second masters and, subsequently, his PhD investigating Leadership in Sports and Business Organisations.

At the age of 27, a persistent knee injury forced him to retire and in 2013 he decided to use his time to help the next generation of Irish basketball player coming through by setting up Sport Dream Academy with the tagline: “Get your game noticed”.

“The first thing I wanted to do was to get exposure for players,” he replies, when asked about the main aims of SDA.

The second is to really show Irish kids what it is like to be at an elite level camp. It’s fair to say that the general standard of basketball coaching in Ireland is not where it should be.

“The third thing was to bring the best players together to compete through a nocel ‘Invitational Camp’ structure. I’m a firm believer that if you really want to push your game you have to be playing against the best players possible.”

As well as a local academy in Kildare, SDA hold an annual invitational camp which caters for the best young players in the country every August. American coaches are flown in and the focus is on skill development, strength & conditioning and sports psychology.

Basketball Ireland have happily come on board and supported this performance initiative for the first time this year.

Each participant also gets a personal highlights video from camp, which is circulated to coaches around the world via the SDA YouTube channel.

Sport Dream Academy / YouTube

Of all the kids that have come through the ranks over the past two years, he points to Dublin teenager John Carroll as one of the stand-out success stories. An initial move to the US didn’t work out due to injury, so the youngster’s mother came to Cummins for advice.

“She said he is going to have to come home and repeat his Leaving Cert and I said bring him to the SDA Invitational camp.

“He is an exceptional player and worked really hard with us. He won MVP in the camp and we connected him to a network of coaches along with the rest of the camp athletes.”

With SDA’s help John earned a place in prep school and led the team to their first state championship. That resulted in a full scholarship at the University of Hartford.
“He’s doing really well and is currently starting as a freshman this year,” Cummins explains.

“My modus operandi is first and foremost about player development, but also to be able to have a structure to develop players and give them an elite experience. If they’re good enough, which John was, it is possible to facilitate the guy’s dream. It makes me so happy.”

Sport Dream Academy

SDA also provides Irish athletes and parents with a much-needed education on the intricate scholarship process and how it works.

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When I ask Cummins for his thoughts on the current state of basketball in Ireland, he maintains that it is not where it should be. Why is that…?

“The fundamentals are not taught properly at grassroots level. By that, I mean footwork, defensive principals, passing, shooting and ball-handling. They are the basics that they need to be learning between the ages of 7-13.

“There is no structure in place now to facilitate that and as a result there are good athletes in Ireland but they are way below the par as far as basketball skills go.

You look at a country like Lithuania. Now I know basketball is their first sport, but they have a population similar to ours and they are one of the top four or five teams in the world.

“I also think the standard of coaches is not great on a macro-level. There are a couple of exceptional coaches in the country and we are lucky to have them, but in general I don’t think the standard is wonderful.

“In Ireland, we tend not to look at the bigger picture. The focus is more parochial. Can my school team win and beat the local rival? There is a division between schools and clubs, instead of working together and trying to develop players as the primary goal.

A lot of coaches, especially at youth level, are more concerned with winning and losing. I don’t think it’s all about participation either, but we should be focused on skill mastery as opposed to doing whatever you can to beat the other ‘U11 team’ for example. There is no sustainable growth in that model.”

Through the work of SDA, he is aiming to buck that trend.

For more information, visit their website or their Facebook page

Originally published at 07.00

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