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Young Scots sell coals to New York

Mark Woods 

Four of Edinburgh Rocks young hoop stars were transplanted to New York last week to undertake the basketball equivalent of selling coals to Newcastle. The quartet of James Steel, Ross Szifris, Keith Bunyan and new signing Stuart Mackay crossed the Atlantic to the prestigious Rutgers University to work along side some of the United States brightest coaches and college players. Their mission - to teach over six hundred Big Apple school kids more about the sport of giants. 
A strange experience ? You bet.  

"They couldn't quite understand the level we are at in Scotland in terms of our development," admitted Scottish international Steel, sporting his newly acquired imitation  Rolex.


Steel , Szifris and Mackay enjoyed Rutgers facilities
"It's a different attitude to basketball over there. They just assume that we are up and running in the sport and it takes a lot to convince them that we are far behind." 

With university facilities including several practice courts, support staff plus the vast 8,500 seater Louis Brown Arena which is home to the institution's varsity team, Steel thinks that the biggest gulf is in the resources available to competitors, a situation so often lamented in Scottish sport. 

"There is a lot learn from them to address that. The money available for their programmes is vast and there was more top class equipment in their building that we have in the whole of Scotland. From a coaching point of view, the whole set up was just tremendous," added Steel. 
The association between Rutgers' respected coach Kevin Bannon and Rocks coach Jim Brandon goes back over two decades. The duo shared court time in tandem at St. Peter's College in New York and each gained their first play calling breaks in Britain, Bannon with Birmingham and Brandon at Sheffield.  

When the call came from his old friend in Scotland, Bannon was only too pleased to find summer jobs for the apprentice professionals. "They certainly added to the experience," enthused the camp supremo. "I hope they are available again next season." 

With pre-season training at the British League club scheduled to commence this week, 22 year old Bunyan is convinced that the unique experience of practicing with Rutgers' current University team will stand him in good stead. 

"These guys play at such a high level every week and that in itself was exciting. But what stood out most is their work ethic. When you see players who have a shot of making the NBA, you expect them to sit back and take it easy. But in fact they try even harder and that should be the aim for all our Scottish players, to make a bigger impact in our second year on the squad." 

But by Friday, Bunyan and his team-mates were engaged at the somewhat less imposing surroundings of Leith Academy's gymnasium to pass on their newly enhanced knowledge to Edinburgh's younger basketballers. Less taxing certainly than the dawn 'til midnight sessions of the fortnight before but the ultimate ambition to develop a new generation of talents remains resolutely identical. 

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