North School Academy boosting youth basketball development in the UK.
by Ben Taylor
I’d imagine that a lot of you guys harbored dreams of turning pro. It’s a dream we all had: spotted at high school, make it to college, drafted by an NBA team, SLAM cover, shoe deal, NBA Championship.
For the younger guys reading this, maybe it could still happen. The rest of us? We’re living it out through our kids and/or 2K12 My Player (in case you were wondering, the virtual Ben Taylor got drafted by Philly and won Rookie of the Year).
Growing up over here in the UK, the dream is exactly the same, but even further out of reach.
For a British kid, his only real chance of turning pro is to leave behind friends and family and head overseas—to a high school in the US, or to a European academy. It’s a huge decision to make, with little or no guarantee of success, and says a lot about the state of junior development in the UK that the only way to follow your dream is to leave behind everything you know.
Things might be starting to change, though. With more and more kids playing ball, some schools are trying to get better equipped to help students achieve their potential on the court. One such program is the North School Academy, based just outside London, which aims to give British ballers the level of coaching and basketball education they’d receive at a top US high school.
The academy was started by head coach Andrew Sunderland, who had spent a number of years coaching young players at clubs in the area, but could see that more needed to be done: “I was frustrated by how many potentially elite players that did not progress past club level and I wanted to change that. I had a vision, to establish a high school basketball program that could be considered among high school powerhouses in the USA and produce elite players of future, players that could progress on to a Division I college level in America.”
Key for Sunderland was getting more access to players; the more time he could spend coaching them, the more chance they’d have of achieving success, on and off the court.
“With a high school program, I am a part of their daily lives and can use basketball as a tool for ensuring academic success and preparing them for a successful life after basketball, which is the reality for the vast majority.”
An average day sees players train twice, an hour in the morning followed by two hours after school, in addition to strength and conditioning twice a week and video analysis once a week. All 22 players in the academy follow strict nutritional plans and are required to meet high academic standards.
It’s a huge commitment from the players and the coaches, but Coach Sunderland is well aware it’s what it is going to take to put British players at a level where they can compete for college places. “The players understand that if they want to be recognized by elite college programs in the USA, they have to have an extraordinary work ethic as they are coming from a new program with no previous reputation in a different country.”
Two years in and the hard work is showing signs of paying off. After a debut season that saw North go 28-1, the school added a junior team to the program and expanded the schedule, which will culminate in a tour of Italy.
“In five years, I believe that you will begin to see players from our program attending Division I colleges in the US. I would also like to see us competing against high schools from the USA. When I look at my players and the level they have stepped up to after only a year, the talent is really starting to shine through.”
And talking of talent, this wouldn’t be SLAMonline if we didn’t give you a few guys to keep an eye on. Luke Busumbru, North’s 13-year-old point guard was recently named MVP of Luol Deng’s Summer Camp, while Sunderland has got high hopes for junior Awab Elniel and senior Emmanuel Awuni (who just recorded back-to-back quadruple doubles).
If we’re going to see more British guys following in the footsteps of Deng and making it to the L, you wouldn’t bet against Sunderland and his team at North having something to do with it.
Just makes me wish I was still 16…