Gordon back to ignite grassroots spark
If British basketball reached its peak over a decade ago when a team based in Livingston defeated the Seoul Olympic champions from the Soviet Union, then Ian Gordon was the man who planted the flag at the summit.
As coach of that all-conquering Murray International outfit, probably still the finest team ever assembled on these shores, Gordon led a combination of Americans and talented Scots, including present Edinburgh Rocks captain Iain MacLean, to glory. Then nothing. The coach pulled out, followed eventually by the financial banking of present Glasgow Rangers supremo David Murray. It was a blow from which the sport, in Scotland at least, has not yet truly rebounded.
Now, a greyer-haired Gordon has come full circle with a return to the club which grew from the embers of the Murray era, lured back by the opportunity to harness a new generation of talents. But this time, the venue is the leisure centres and schools of Midlothian under a unique council-backed scheme which aims to breed a culture of excellence.
Armed with the title of Director of Coaching at Midlothian Basketball Club, Gordon presently oversees over 100 players, ranging from the senior men and women down to the schoolchildren who come along to informal camps. It provides a developmental pyramid which other sports, most notably football, could do worse than imitate.
"In the next six months, I want to see an increase in the skills level of our young players who are developing really quickly," he admits. "You can't teach all of the older players new tricks but you can with the younger ones, because of that appetite for learning. They are really keen on developing their fundamentals and if we get that, they're set for the rest of their career, regardless of the coach or the system."
The former British international has thrown himself into the project at full speed. Gordon has hands on coaching role at the Midlothian Saints, presently the pacesetters in the Scottish Women's league. Plus an advisory position at traditional men's powerhouse Midlothian Bulls. In an unpaid role, he admits that his reward comes from converting his charges into better basketballers.
"Coaching is all about helping players to develop. I have one player who was practising a move under the basket and she thought she'd never get it. The look on her face when it came off in a game last week makes it worth it for me."
With the local authority putting up £30,000 over three years, Gordon has grand plans for the future, which include a possible return to the British Leagues for both men and women.
"I think that will happen very soon, for men and women. We want to have a flagship team to give the kids something to aim for. They may not be the best in the league but it has to be a good quality team on the floor at senior level. It has to give the next generation something to
With active involvement from both primary and secondary level schools in the area, Gordon believes he is working with a model for success. His vision is to harness talent in numbers, maximising the resources of a relatively small area and developing a sustainable future for his own sport. Within the three year plan drawn up, an ever increasing pool of coaches will reach out into their community and promote excellence.
"The complete structure from the school network into the feeder system will be place and seen to be working by everybody. No-one wants to encroach upon the teachers but we're there to offer our expertise into the schools. We would like to try to get most of the schools involved. At present that is difficult because we only have a finite number of coaches, but in three years time we hope to have the people in place with the coaching skills to get players over the first two rungs of their learning curve.
Possible local competition for the Edinburgh Rocks ? While Gordon welcomes the overdue return of professional basketball to Scotland, he believes that the Meadowbank-based outfit have so far failed to act as a catalyst to elevate domestic standards of performance.
"The Rocks should be developing their own players. When we played in the British League at MIM, it was a pre-requisite for entry that we developed teams here and we did. There are hundreds if not thousands of kids who follow them during the season and I believe they should be able to extract something from that. A training camp, exhibition games, just to use the experience of the players and coaches there.
"By the finish, we'll have two flagship teams which will be top of the heap," he states confidently. "We'll have a number of junior teams which will be hard to challenge and although I suspect the bottom will take a year longer, they'll be competitive also."
This article also appeared in Scotland on Sunday
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