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Hancock's half-term report a positive mark

Milton Keynes Lions coach Tom Hancock may be Stateside temporarily but he is soon to return, seeking to complete the job he started by guiding the BBL's worst franchise of the nineties to a first play-off berth for nine years in the new decade.

Bringing in a nucleus of veterans can have its downsides and its positives. Three brash, egotistical talents in Modie Cox, Eric Burks and the showman Tony Windless. Plus two quiet types in Kelvin Robinson and Broderick Bobb. A combination which has an outstanding potential to self-combust in a flurry of personality traumas.

But so far, the Lions are ticking over quite nicely, ending 1999 in fourth spot in the Southern Conference and with a semi-final Cup berth to look favourably back upon.

So is Hancock, formerly in charge at Oldham Celtics and Newcastle Eagles, happy with the combination on court he views on court as he paces up and down the sideline? 

"I like what I see being done out there," he affirms positively. "Anybody would in my position. It took us a little bit of time to get everyone going down the same track but we're moving is pretty good right now, It's a matter of, like everybody else says, keeping it going. But these things have a tendency of turning themselves around very quickly. Next week or two weeks down the road you come back around again. "

So far the Lions have proved that they have the potential to push the top sides in the BBL hard on any night and have acquired a tendency of occasionally picking off their fellow middle-pack dwellers with a stifling defensive game-plan. A strategy which Hancock believes will continue to reap dividends with an obvious caveat.

"You have to have some luck and in this league, you are only ever two sprained ankles away from mediocrity. You lose players through injury and you start to lose game after game. To go through a whole season unscathed with injuries would be pretty remarkable. 

"That more than anything is what we have to be concerned about. Apart from that we're playing pretty good and if someone comes along and player better and beats us, so be it."

Recognised as a talented developer of players since his previous periods in US college basketball, Chicago-born Hancock admits that he enjoys the vocation of making hand and ball into a more cohesive weaponry. Having spent most of the past decade shuttling between Britain and the States, he is perhaps uniquely qualified to assess the different approaches to creating a new generation of hoopsters.

And unusually for an imported play caller, Hancock is not wholly supportive of the numbers of foreign players utilised in his roster.

"I was at Oldham in 1992-93 and I had two Americans and five British players under me and I had a wonderful time, particularly by going into the schools with an extensive development programme. Milton Keynes has that now only I'm not as involved.

"I thoroughly enjoyed that and I thought that situation was really awfully nice. You follow the rules here and you bring in however many players they say you can have. But I'm not so sure that it's any better than it was back in 1993." 

Hancock does not believe that the average level of ability on show from overseas stars has regressed in the British game. In fact he believes that their expansion has increased the parity between the traditional have's and have-not's. He is however reticent about whether the present situation harms the development of domestic talent.

"I don't know the answer to that question but what I do think is that the sooner that kids start to play basketball when growing up, whether it's Scotland, America, Russia, the earlier they get proper coaching in good facilities, the better they're going to be. 

"And I think this is where the USA separates itself from everybody else in the world. The kids get massive help,  they have wonderful facilities and  there's an awful lot of money being spent. Which allows you to bring through a lot of good basketball players, the best of whom are in the NBA.

"All countries which want to get to that place have to follow that example. Money has to be spent, facilities have to be in place and in basketball you have to have a lot of coaches and you have to start the kids young."

So far though on this tour of duty, the 55 year old likes what he has seem coming through from the domestic talent pool, a trend which he reckons offers optimism for the future.

"I was impressed for example with Edinburgh's young players. Coming from a country that doesn't have huge resources and in their situation, it's obvious they've been coached well," he opines.

"I think the key is to build up the numbers. The more kids who are playing, the more talent which will rise to the top."

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