Fresh off the back of an impressive summer with the Irish National Basketball team, DIT graduate Stephen James sat down to talk with The DIT Edition's Cormac Byrne and Robert Geoghegan.
Pictured: Stephen James with Dublin Gaelic Footballer Kevin McManamon
James graduated from DIT in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Nutraceuticals in Health and Nutrition. He spoke exclusively about his experiences with the DIT team, team Ireland, and his local club side, Tempelogue.
Team Ireland competed in their first international tournament in eight years this summer, when they lined out at the European Championships for Small Nations in Moldova. James played an important role as Ireland progressed to the semi finals where they lost to eventual winners, Armenia on a score line of 60-74. After losing the third place play-off to San Marino, Ireland finished fourth.
James was content with Ireland’s performances at the Euros. “I was happy with our tournament, maybe at the end we got a little tired. We played five games over a week, normally we’d play once a week, it’s tough to get your body into the right position in tournament competition.”
The Dubliner was keen to talk about how quickly the standard of basketball is improving in Ireland, “The standard in the Irish league is getting better every year. Each year we keep getting better players in, unfortunately there’s no money in Irish Basketball. I’ve played underage before [for Ireland], it’s great to be part of the first Irish team in eight years. When I walked out onto the court for my first international cap, I had goose bumps.”
Financial difficulty has long been a problem for the development of basketball in Ireland. In February 2010, Basketball Ireland withdrew their senior men’s and women’s teams, due to the effects of a financial crisis within the organisation. The reported debt of the organisation was €1.2m. However, in 2014 an announcement was made revealing that Ireland would relaunch its senior basketball teams in the 2015/16 season.
James recalled how he came to being selected for the National team, “It was advertised that we were going to be entered into the championships. Twenty-two players were selected for tryouts, we had a training camp and then the squad was cut down to 12, four of my Templeogue teammates made it too.”
The Irish team lost two of its most experienced players to injury; Jason Kileen pulled out with a knee complaint, while Conor Grace pulled out due to a hand injury. James was disappointed by the loss of two important and experienced players, but at the same time he was happy for younger members of the squad to gain international experience,
“They [Kileen and Grace] were two big losses, Jason played for Ireland in the last competitive fixtures back in 2008, we lost a lot of experience there but it just gives the younger lads a better opportunity. For news guys though, it’s good for them as they are older and probably only had a few years left of international basketball. Next time an international tournament comes around we’ll be ready.”
For Team Ireland, the general consensus is that the European Championships for Small Nations can be a stepping stone to greater things, and possibly bring along a return to the heights of the late nineties and early noughties where the team were regularly competitive on an international level.
In 1993, the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght was built, with a capacity of 2,500. It would be a real shame to see such a modern facility wasted, and following the European Championships, James is hopeful that the future of Irish basketball will be bright. “We had to start somewhere, hopefully now we can make the jump up to the next level.”
James hasn’t completely ruled out a return to DIT in the future, although he admitted that college life didn’t exactly suit him, “When I was in college, basketball was my number one priority. I had a sports scholarship, they [DIT] provided some financial support, I had a free membership to the gym, discounts for physio treatment, it’s [DIT Sports Scholarship] a good package.”
The Templeogue small-forward thinks that the one area that the DIT basketball team falls down is the lack of foreign players. Other Irish colleges offer Masters Scholarships to foreign students to come over and play, “It was tough because we were coming up against two or three American guys who would be top players. If DIT had some of them, they would have a better chance to compete on a level playing-field.”
Aside from international success, James has recently tasted success on a national level too. His club team Templeogue won the National Cup in the 2015/16 season and currently sit joint top of the Men’s Super-Basketball League.
Team Ireland are looking to host next year’s European Championships for Small Nations. If they are chosen to host, James thinks that it could be the catalyst that basketball needs to expand in Ireland. “The funding that basketball gets is nothing compared to rugby, GAA and soccer. It gets less media coverage, but if Ireland gets to host the Euro’s next summer, that will attract a fair bit of attention.”