Four international call-ups, a host of local honours and a string of players moving on to bigger and better things in the United States of America.
That’s just some of the achievements by the basketball academy programme at the County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds since its formation eight years ago.
The thriving scheme, under the guidance of expert coaches, Darren Johnson and Billy Beddow, continues to go from strength-to-strength and the long-term future of the sport in Suffolk looks bright.
Head coach Darren Johnson said: “To achieve what we have in such a short amount of time is incredible really.
“We didn’t start pushing the programme properly until three years ago. We did it in reverse by starting with the Elite team and working our way down.
“There has always been a big interest in the sport in West Suffolk, it’s about putting down a ladder or pathway for the children to follow. As far as I’m concerned there has always been talent, it’s about getting the structure in place.”
Charlie Fitch, Roger Watt, Jed Robinson and Phoebe Parker have all won international call-ups, while Maya Price, 15, was handed an opportunity with the England under-17 women’s programme earlier this year.
The academy is also responsible for producing 34 East of England players. On the honours front, the under-17 boys were national runners-up in 2012, while the under-15 and 16 girls were crowned East of England champions in 2015 and 16.
With the under-17 boys also securing the Eastern of England title for three of the last four years, the programme is moving forward at a rate of knots.
Johnson’s coaching pedigree is second-to-none having played and coached at the highest level of the college system in the United States.
He has also coached London Towers, who played in the Euro League against the likes of Barcelona, as well as the Northern European Basketball League, and BBL.
Fellow coach Beddow was one of the first members of the County Upper Elite squad and is also in his third year as coach of the East Region under-13 boys.
“The mindset is very different to what I’ve been a part of in the States,” admitted Johnson.
“For a chunk of my career, the system I’ve been around in the USA is very different. It’s very full-on from the onset over there. Because basketball is a minority sport over here, you are trying to keep the kids in and develop them. High schools in the states will practice six-days-a-week, two hours minimum every day, while over here we only get one or two practice sessions a week.”
Twenty-nine students have progressed from the academy to the USA in the last eight years and Johnson believes that Martin Bagdonis and Jed Robinson will also follow suit in the summer.
And he has also already identified some of the next wave of young talent coming through on the conveyor belt.
“Brandon Marshall is 13 years old. He is currently six foot seven inches tall but is predicted to grow up to seven foot two.
The school offers a unique opportunity to all student-athletes who want to achieve in the classroom and on the court.
They offer talented players the opportunity of combining an excellent academic programme with an elite level of coaching.
The project works closely with outside support to offer all student-athletes an international level of athlete education and lifestyle mentoring.
This includes guidance on and off court activities such as seminars, strength and conditioning programmes, speed and agility training, and core stability training.
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