Adaptation is a word that that the men of North Star basketball club will be more than familiar with this season.
The 2012/13 Basketball Northern Ireland (B.N.I.) season is only a few weeks old but already both North Star’s Premier Division and ‘Seconds’ teams have both had to completely change their style of play.
North Star’s Premier Division team finished fifth in last season’s B.N.I. Premier Division but during the off-season they lost three of their most influential players.
At 6’5, Hungarian Mate Bencze, who was in Derry last year, was a pivotal member of the team when it came to winning rebounds. But the exodus didn’t stop there for the local basketball team. Forward Michael Brennan left to go and study at Northumbria University and Paul McGuinness also decided to call it a day.
“Mate, Michael and Paul were the tallest three players last season so obviously that’s going to impact upon how we play this season,” said player/coach Niall McDermott.
“But don’t get me wrong, the rest of the team have been working extremely hard and we are learning to adapt. And if we are to stand any chance of building on our fifth place finish in the league last season then we will have to focus on our strengths.”
As a result of losing their height advantage, North Star spent the off-season improving their fitness levels and speed.
“There’s no point dwelling on the past. We’ve lost three players but there’s real skill and ability in the team. If we are going to beat teams, we will just have to be much faster and much fitter,” he said.
McDermott’s tactics seem to be working. North Star have won two and lost one of their opening three games.
“We beat LYIT (Letterkenny I.T.) Ravens and Andersonstown Tigers at home but we lost to defending champions Ulster Elks away from home. Last season we were the most successful team at home. We won eight and lost one. But it was a different story away from home where we lost eight and won one.
“Given the fact that we have lost three key players, I’d be delighted if we managed to finish in fifth this season. We have to be just as ruthless at home this season as we were last season and if we can pick a win or two up on the road then we will be over the moon.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for the North Star Premier Division team. The departure of Mate, Michael and Paul means that younger players in ‘The Seconds’ are now getting their chance to play in the Premier Division.
“Our ‘Seconds’ did quite well last year. They won promotion from the second division to the first but because of the players the Premier Division team has lost, it has meant that a lot of the players from ‘The Seconds’ have moved into the Premier team.
“Young Niall Wilson, who was a good player for ‘The Seconds’ last season, is now playing for the Premier Division team. Niall is a player with really good potential and he’s also managed to find time to continue on playing for ‘The Seconds’.”
‘The Seconds’ have lost their opening three games of the First Division to Queen’s University, Belfast (Q.U.B.), Belfast Star and Banbridge. McDermott explained that Q.U.B. and Belfast Star are the strongest two teams in the First Division and believes that the team have more than enough time to start putting a few wins together.
“I think the lads will agree that Q.U.B. and Belfast Star are two of the toughest games they will play all season so if they start picking up a few points against weaker teams in the league then who knows what might happen.
“It’s also a credit to our American, Todd Gfeller, who is 49 years-old that he’s still leading by example in ‘The Seconds’. Todd’s in remarkable shape and he’s an important player.”
He continued: “‘The Seconds’ have lost quite a few players so I think it’s fair to say that this season is about maintaining their Division One status.”
McDermott said that the addition of coach, Andy Gill, to the team is a huge bonus and added that he hopes that it will reap rewards in the future.
“Andy Gill is a coach with bags of experience,” said McDermott.
“Andy used to coach the London-based Lithuanian team and he’s also coached the Wales international team and the Milton Keynes Lions. When Andy not busy helping us out he also coaches City of Derry rugby club.
“I think Andy’s wife is from here but he was working in England for a while so could never give as much time to coaching as he’d like but he’s based in Derry full-time now. I am delighted he’s on board because it means that I am able to concentrate more on playing.”
Next year needs no introduction when it comes to what it will mean for Derry but North Star are also hoping to benefit from the city’s City of Culture celebrations when they host an international basketball tournament in August.
“It’s going to be a massive tournament,” confirmed McDermott.
“It’ll be for young people under the age of 18. We are hoping to bring youth teams from France, Spain, the U.S.A. and England.
“Obviously it’ll be great to welcome international visitors to play basketball in Derry but from our point of view we’d hope that the tournament would raise the profile of the sport locally.”
McDermott explained that over recent years the club have struggled to maintain an interest in basketball at all levels but said that he would like to see that change with the help of next year’s big international youth tournament.
“Our girl’s teams have struggled to keep numbers but after Christmas we are hoping to put together maybe an U14 and an U12 girls team.
“I think that working in partnership with the Culture Company will do North Star Basketball no harm at all, Basketball is a great sport and with the indoor facility in Bishop’s Field in Creggan, there’s never been a better time to get involved with the sport in Derry.”
North Star will also host their annual Christmas tournament on December 28.
“It’s a tournament we host every year. The reason we do it is because there tends to be a lot of ex-players back in the city for the holidays and we try to get as many together for a tournament.
“I am also led to believe that North Star used to play in Derry during the sixties, seventies and eighties. I think they were formed as a result of the American military base that used to be in the city. I know that a few local men used to play for them so if they’d be interested in getting involved with the club again I would be only too happy to hear from them.”
North Star’s membership currently stands at around 120 and McDermott said that whilst they are keen to concentrate to the exploits of the Premier Division and ‘The Seconds’ team they are also focused on raising awareness of the sport amongst young children.
“One of ‘The Seconds’ players, Emmet Harkin, coaches ‘The North Star Pee Wees’ on a Saturday morning. It’s aimed at primary school children over the age of five. It’s very popular and I’d recommend it.”
For further information on North Star Basketball Club visit www.northstarbasketball.com, Facebook: NorthStarBasketball, Twitter: @NorthStarBasket or email: firstname.lastname@example.org