THE head coach of County Upper Basketball Academy has told how he wants to help Suffolk’s best youngsters progress through the centre’s ranks and earn a shot at a college sports scholarship in the USA.

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The Bury St Edmunds-based facility, led by former London Towers coach Darren Johnson, offers student-athletes the chance to follow a structured programme in both the classroom and on the court and has produced a number of players that have progressed Stateside and into the big-bucks business of the college basketball system.

The Ipswich-born coach himself started his collegiate career as a student-athlete at DMACC College in Iowa and also coached there before coaching stints at South Dakota University and the University of Texan Pan-American.

Currently, only two under-19 County Upper players – David Baulcomb (Haverhill) and Oliver Barrett (Bury St Edmunds) – are from Suffolk with students from as far afield as Hungary taking advantage of the academy’s expertise.

Meanwhile, Charlie Watts (Mount Olive College), Jamari Wright (St Thomas College) and Dan Shaw (The University of Alaska) are among several former County Upper graduates embarking on four-year long scholarship programmes playing basketball.

“If they’re good enough and they prove to me that they want it enough and are willing to put in that extra effort, then I will get them involved in the recruitment process for a scholarship in America,” said Johnson.

“Gaining the scholarship is the easy part but fighting for your place and earning you spot on the team is the tough part.

“That’s where having the right mentality and attitude comes in.

“Hopefully what we can provide here is a development programme that would then give them a fighting chance over there.

“The challenge of mine is to get kids from the area into County Upper to see if they can develop.

“There is some talent out there in years eight, nine and 10 and we have a good middle school league in the area.

“I can bring kids in from elsewhere but I want to be giving local talent a chance.”

Johnson has recently taken 
his under-19s team, who play in 
the National Academy League, 
out to America to experience the collegiate basketball system.

There, coaches are on lucrative contracts, games are televised and watched in packed arenas and the yearly budgets of the college and universities’ sports budgets often run into eight figures.

County Upper’s players were also given a taste of what could be ahead of them, losing 105-42 to NCAA Division Two team DMACC (the third best in the country at that level) and DMACC’S league rivals, Iowa Central, 92-42 before playing games against Marshalltown and South Western County College. All the players on the opposing teams were on scholarships.

“A lot of our kids read about and watch the NBA and watch the college games but they only see the end-product. They don’t know what these top athletes have to go through to get to that point,” said Johnson.

“A lot of them come back from the experience having seen a different side to things, what effort needs to be put in and the commitment needed towards their sport and their studies. It is extremely cut-throat.

“I have seen a difference in some of the kids since they have come back and in practice sessions, they are pushing each other that bit further.”

n For more information about the academy visit cu-basketball.com or call 01284 754857.

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