Q&A : Martin Henlan
BBL Haribo London Towers centre Martin Henlan is one of the most durable competitors in the domestic game.
Winners of 27 caps for both Great Britain and England, the 6'10 Birmingham-born star has enjoyed success at home and abroad since he made his debut back in 1984 with Sandwell.
After studying at Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA, Henlan returned for three seasons with Kingston, winning league, Championship, Trophy and Cup on two occasions. He then followed Kevin Cadle for a first spell at Towers where he picked up a further league medal before embarking on a two-year sojourn in the tough Greek league with Iraklion. Lured back to the capital last term, Henlan continues to be a key part of the Towers rotation.
Martin stopped by Britball to answer your questions...
Do you think it's time for the cap to be raised in order to attract
bigger names to the BBL?
MH: I think it's time to go for a free for all, one way or the other. If you want to keep the salary cap, let teams get what ever players they want. If you want to restrict it to two Americans or five Americans, you're restricting teams who want to go out and get good British players.
I would recommend no cap on British or European players, and then if you want to cap Americans, fine. The five Americans rule came in to help the smaller clubs, but by doing that you're also keeping the bigger ones down. Teams like Towers would go out and get better British players and go and play in Europe. That's what is handicapping our progress right now.
I don't think there will be much of a move though. I think if they are waiting for clubs to make a profit, it will be a long wait. For the league, the cap is a necessary evil. I wouldn't say I despair of it, but we've had enough and I think the solution is to release all British players outside the cap and do what you want about the Americans. Or go wide open and let teams have anyone they want.
Why do you think 'bigger' teams, except Giants, e.g. Leopards have trouble
filling their arenas? What would you do to improve spectator numbers?
MH: There's always a contrast. Bums on seats or cash in the register. The fundamental ideas of basketball are still there. We just have to get people to want to come and see it as a competitive sport, day in day out and have a groundswell of a hard core of fans.
That's what the new structure of the league is trying to achieve and I hope it works. I think you have good rivalries and when you have teams like Edinburgh who come into the league, that's going to build the fan base. If Scotland do well, Towers do well in Europe, the England team does well, this gives basketball greater exposure. People want to go and see that.
The majority of people used to go and see the game at some time. There's probably more people here who have seen a game here than haven't and what we have to do is get them to come back. Their kids want to come along, it's just getting mum and dad to go.
Being the same age as Martin, I would be quite interested to know how
and why you decided to play basketball. Whilst I was at school,
basketball was not a curriculum sport, the boys did football, cricket
and some athletics. Obviously the height may have had something to do
with it! Have you played any other sports?
Sandra from Aldershot
MH: I've played other sports. I started playing basketball at school and in my fifth year, you had an option. At my school, it was hockey, rugby, soccer or cross country, plus basketball. In winter which one was I going to play ? The one indoors!
I've always been a big fan of football, I played cricket fairly well, I played rugby poorly and now I play golf to some disgraceful standard.
Why do you think Towers are struggled in the Saporta Cup this season ?
MH: We've been our own worst enemy. We gave the teams we've played against more respect than they deserved when they have come into the gym. We've thrown away over five games we've lost, four on a plate. We certainly should have beaten Split in Croatia and London. We should be sitting in second or third place.
We were going through our own transition period, trying to find our feet, and although things have picked up, it could be too late for us. With Europe, you look at all the teams who are successful, they have continuity. They've got the same players back who have played in this environment before. They play together repeatedly.
I think a team like Sheffield would do well in Europe because they have the same core of guys back every year. In Europe, because it's so diverse from the league you're playing in, you've almost got to go on auto pilot for the first 35 minutes of the game.
Our league really is so different from European competition. Other teams are playing the same kind of basketball at the weekend as they do in midweek. It's a completely different game.
You haven't always looked happy sitting on the bench this season.. Has
it been an awkward move for you personally ?
MH: It's been a difficult transition. Not so much sitting on the bench but it's just been a difficult start to the season. I had some ankle surgery over the summer, and the rehabilitation for that has been longer than I've been happy with. I've been frustrated by my own performance and I wouldn't say I deserve to be a starter.
But it's getting better now and the coach and the organisation have been really good to me and given me a chance to come along at my own pace. The long face is because I haven't been helping the team. It's not a personal thing. Of course, I'd like to be out there playing more but the long face is because we're losing. How can I have a smile on my face because we've lost to teams we've never lost to before?
You were an excellent analyst when you used to work with Kevin Cadle on
the NBA show on Sky. Do you foresee a career in the media after you stop
MH: Whoever asked that question needs to write to Vic Wakeling at Sky Sports ! I'd love to work in the media after I'm done playing or even now. But the opportunities need to arise and if I get a chance to go out in front of a camera, I'll do it.
If it comes, I'm waiting. My suit is hanging up. It would be my dream move to go from courtside to get involved with the TV coverage of the game. .
Do you regret the fact you are no longer in the England team and why is
that the case in your opinion ?
MH: That's the biggest disappointment in my career, today, six months ago, the future. It's the one thing that's missing now among the dreams I've got in basketball. One is to have a successful club team, win something like the Saporta or Korac Cup. And the other thing is to win something with either England or Great Britain.
So of course, it's a huge disappointment to be out of it. I understand the political situation which meant I was originally left out. That was me on my soapbox protesting for better conditions and so on. I understand people not seeing eye to eye.
It's disappointing that it's stuck with me. I feel that I have a tag of a trouble maker which i don't think I am. Everyone knows I just want a team to win and now I understand why I'm not playing. We've got some great young players coming through but I still feel I can contribute though. Of course, if I didn't feel I could contribute, I wouldn't be working so hard every day in practice.
But if you want the one thing that gets me long faced, then that is it. I hate them not being successful and I hate not playing for them.
Which player past of present have you admired most ?
MH: I suppose in this league, the greatest player I've played with was Alton Byrd. He made me look better than anyone else ever has. Give him credit, he had me averaging around 18 points per game one year, purely through him. He was just a dream to play with.
To take English born players, i was a great fan of Martin Clark and I think it was a huge detriment to the game when he stopped playing because he was the kind player we needed. He had all the necessary skills to become a great player and it just wasn't the right situation for him.
Of the guys who are out there now, I love playing with Steve Bucknall. I think it's great we go back together. I love to watch guys like Ted Berry. I hate playing against him but I've always been a big fan of Ted even when he was in high school and when I used to see him when I was in college. He's always had that explosion and those kind of players I love to watch.
Further afield, in the NBA obviously everyone loves Michael Jordan. In the Magic (Johnson) against Larry (Bird) contest, it was always Magic for me. With European players, I always used to love seeing and playing against (Drazen) Petrovic. It was a honour to play against him seeing he's not with us any more. (Toni) Kukoc was also a great player in Europe..
Can Towers win the Championship this season ?
MH: Of course we can. We're in a situation now is that there are 13 teams who can win it. With the new format, all you have to do is get to the top four in your Conference, then you have three one-off games, and you can win it.
This is like rolling dice this year. The best team can win 36 games but one slip up in the play-offs and its over. It's going to be a true measure of character.
You've got to count us up there just on paper because we have probably as good players as anyone else. But you don't play on paper , you play on a basketball court. So we'll be there or there abouts.
Watch out for the next Hoopchat Q&A in December
Photo: Nick Johnson, Tip Off Photos
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