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Steel seeks stimulation from books and blocks

Mark Woods

Scottish basketball's rising star James Steel is heading for the MBA. And no, that isn't a mis-print. Because Edinburgh Rocks' forward is combining the rigours of daily training and arduous coach journeys up and down Britain with studying for a Masters in Business Administration at Edinburgh University. So while most of the league arte presently enjoying a week's rest, the Rocks starlet is hitting the books for extra study time.

It might be unusual perhaps for a sportsman to opt for further education but Steel, 23, is only emulating his American team-mates, each of whom have college degrees. And with the levels of remuneration in domestic basketball still relatively low, he feels it is a sound move.

"Basketball is only a short term career and I am still seeing if I can make it in the professional ranks. Last year, I wasn't fulfilled and I felt the huge amount of free time I had was wasted."

Surprisingly the initiative for Steel to take up a qualification which is normally reserved for established entrepreneurs came directly from Rocks coach Jim Brandon. Himself a marketing graduate, Brandon personally appealed to the university to admit Steel, an approach which paid off.

"We're keen to make links with local universities and it's important to prepare oneself for when you can't play any more," said Brandon, who enrolled eight of his players in higher education during his term at Sheffield Sharks. One, Michael Payne, even went for his Ph.D.

"Most professional athletes retire when they are still young men but are too old for the game.

"I'm a firm believer that the mental and physical sides feed off each other. A lot of big corporations are installing fitness programmes for their staff, so I guess we're just doing the reverse."

With intensive classroom work, projects and revision in prospect, Steel admits that the duel challenge he has accepted is a massive one. 

"I put a lot of hard work in at the start of the season but now I've had to cut that back again," he admits. "Maybe it has been detrimental over the last couple of games and practices. But I'm motivated by my eventual career."

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