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Bronx boy Singleton out for Brum steer


You can take the boy of the Bronx, if you must. Yet unlike the big-bottomed Ms. Lopez, no-one has managed to remove the traces of New York’s most notorious borough from the veins of Billy Singleton. 

“It’s in the blood coming from there,” offers the Scottish Rocks man mountain of a centre. 

“For me, it’s heaven. The Bronx is a beautiful place despite what people might see in the movies.”

Basketball retains a special tradition in the hearts of New Yorkers which is not confined to the fortunes of the Knicks. Legends are made and reputations are lost in the city’s playgrounds, heroes in their hometown, anonymous beyond its limits. 

Singleton watched them showcase their high-flying skills but it wasn’t until the age of 15 that his affections transferred from baseball – and the nearby lure of Yankee Stadium – to the ulterior pleasures of the concrete parquet.

“There was a huge playground scene where I grew up,” he recalls. “In the inner cities, there are basketball courts everywhere and there was one next to my house where I used to spend a lot of time. The atmosphere was beautiful there. That’s basketball to me, as much as in the gym.”

Growing up a baseball nut, hoops came to him later. He grew quickly into those shoes but as never one of the high-flyers. "Other guys could do that. I couldn't," he admits.

“I played with Lloyd Daniels. He was just gifted. From the age of 14 everyone knew he was talented and some people have that God-given ability. Everyone has some of it. He has a lot more.

“He had a lot of trouble. It’s how you grow up and sometimes, you have problems in your family life. Personally. I love him as a guy. He was a super team-mate and even though he was from Brooklyn and I was from the Bronx, we played together throughout high school on summer teams and All Star teams. He was cool."

The ultimate mecca of the Big Apple is Madison Square Garden, of course, and while at St. John’s University, Singleton called it home court. 

“You have to realise there’s been a lot of great players go through there so to follow in their steps onto the Garden floor is just a privilege. You have to be grateful but also to seize the moment and do the best while you’re there,” he observes.

“In terms of colleges, St. John’s is like Man United in New York. Going there is a big deal and it was a big step for me personally, for my career and my education there. Winning the NIT in my sophomore year at the Garden was incredible. And then we went on to reach the Elite Eight the next year when we lost to Duke. Those two years were huge highlights." 

It is an attitude which has served him well over nearly a decade of plying his trade around Europe. Most of that spell has been spent in the British League, apart from year-long stints in Israel, Cyprus and an eye-opening initial excursion to Belfast (playing for Queen's) where the sight of tanks of the streets made him pine for the more familiar eccentricities of NYC. 

“Nothing prepared me for Belfast,” Singleton recounts. “It was a beautiful place and I met some great folks there who I’m still in contact with. But my first week there, I was petrified until I got used to the tanks and the atmosphere.”

Glasgow has been gentile by comparison but this weekend's push for a play-off crown for the rank outsiders sits comfortably with Singleton after his experiences of Wembley success of two years ago.

Now he's aiming for a second play-off winner's medal against Brighton Bears.

“In a way we are in the same situation now as I was when I was at Leicester, but in another way it’s different, because we didn’t have a winning record at Leicester. In 2001 we didn’t even start to get into gear until after December, after which time we were probably the best team in the league.

“This season at the Rocks we have been playing a little bit more steady basketball and we have beaten every team in the league at least once. We feel pretty good about that. We aren’t very happy with the season, but we are fairly happy. We can’t be totally happy, because we would obviously like to add a trophy.”

He adds: “The main thing I try to get across to the guys is to relax, stay calm. You have to just go out there and lay it all on the line, you can’t save anything up for another game in a situation like this.”

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