Ricky Fetske: March Madness - the race to College Basketball's '˜Big Dance'

Ricky Fetske playing for Bradford DragonsRicky Fetske playing for Bradford Dragons
Ricky Fetske playing for Bradford Dragons
Yorkshire-based basketball player Ricky Fetske, the former Leeds Force player who now plays with Bradford Dragons, writes exclusively for The Yorkshire Post.

March 3

March has officially arrived. This usually is the time of year where basketball seasons are drawing to aclose. Teams are looking to end their season on a high note; making their final push for playoff spots, some to avoid relegation, and some stuck in-between playing for sheer pride.

March also means a time for Madness. For college basketball fans, you know exactly what I mean. For those of you who are unfamiliar with March Madness, it is the NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament also known as the Big Dance. This single-elimination style tournament is played each spring in the United States featuring 68 teams to determine the National Championship. This event has become one of the most famous annual sporting events in the United States.

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The field is made up of the 32 teams who win their conference championships and 36 teams awarded at-large-births chosen by the NCAA selection committee. These teams are divided into four regions and organized into single-elimination “brackets” which predetermines, when a team wins a game, which team it will face next. Each team is seeded 1 to 16 based on their overall records and strength of schedules. Fun fact: a 16 seed has NEVER beaten a 1 seed in the tournament, in 124 tries. All teams aspire to last multiple rounds in hopes to reach the coveted Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and eventually the National Championship.

How much money is in this event? A LOT. Owning the rights to broadcast the March Madness tournament for 14-years (through 2024) is worth $10.8 Billion dollars to CBS and Turner Sports. The American Gaming Association reported that over $2 Billion was wagered on some 70 million brackets for the 2015 tournament. It is estimated that a $1.9 Billion loss is incurred by businesses due to workers being “distracted and unproductive” during the basketball tournament. That is truly madness.

But why is the tournament so appealing? One reason is the prevalence of “Cinderella” teams. These are typically small schools that are seeded low and unexpectedly win against favored teams. Notable Cinderella teams in recent years are #15 seeded Florida Gulf Coast and #13 La Salle, who in 2013, made it to the Sweet Sixteen. That same year Wichita State made it all the way to the Final Four after beginning the tournament as a #9 seed.

The unpredictability of the tournament adds to the allure and is well documented. The odds of correctly predicting every game in the tournament for a perfect bracket is 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Everyone went crazy last year in an effort to fill out the perfect bracket, after Warren Buffet pledged to give $1BILLION to any person who can correctly pick the winners of all 63 games. Alas, in the 35th game in the tournament the final perfect bracket fell among the 11.57 million ESPN.com entrants.

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Who are the teams to watch for this year? Duke is the defending champion but has had a difficult year and do not seem to have the depth to make another deep run this year. The top 10 ranked teams according to the Associated Press poll (as of February 29, 2016) is Kansas, Michigan State, Villanova, Virginia, Xavier, Oklahoma, Miami, North Carolina, Oregon, and West Virginia respectively. I will be looking for the senior leadership by Kansas’ Perry Ellis, Michigan States’ Denzel Valentine, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, and North Carolina’s Marcus Page in their team’s journey through the tourney.

While watching the first round of last year’s contest between #4 Louisville vs. #13 UC Irvine, I recognized a player that I played against in England. In 2012 in the (then) England Basketball League Division 1, I played for the Bradford Dragons and competed against 17-year-old Luke Nelson on the Reading Rockets who went on to win the league MVP and the post-season title before transitioning to UC Irvine in the NCAA.

In the Big Dance last year, Nelson led his team to a near-upset, losing 57-55 to Louisville. UC Irvine’s coach Russel Turner was quoted after the game saying, “Aside from winning that game, that’s about as good an outcome as you could have. To lay it all on the line and be a basket short, that’s basketball.”

There’s still time left before March Madness begins. The 78th edition of the tournament is scheduled to begin on March 15, 2016. In the coming weeks make sure to fill out a bracket by going to ESPN.com Tournament Challenge. It’s a fun and easy game to play with friends, family, and coworkers. Get ready to revere the emotion and passion that each team plays with on their way to eternal glory. Find out who is going to be this year’s Cinderella team and try to predict it. The Big Dance is coming and you are invited, don’t be late.

February 25

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In an effort to play basketball in the United Kingdom, I have received many stamps in my passport. In fact, last week I flew to Rotterdam, Netherlands for the sole purpose of renewing my expired visa.

Let me back it up a bit. My first year in England, I played basketball on a Tier 5 working visa with no issues. The next two years I held Tier 4 student visas, as I studied full-time MSc courses at two Universities, where I played for teams in the National Basketball League Division 1, the British Basketball League, and BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) competitions.

In the closing weeks of the 2014-15 season, my fellow American team-mate and I were informed that we were forbidden to play for the remainder of the season because we did not have appropriate visas to play professional basketball. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) provided this information to Basketball England (BE) on April 16, 2015. BE suggested that all clubs review the status of players with a Non-EEA (European Economic Area) visas. If an individual did not have appropriate entry clearance they recommended their immediate suspension from all activity, at the risk of accruing a £20,000 fine.

The news circulated throughout the country and affected numerous teams. Notably, the Durham Wildcats had to withdraw from the BBL citing, “Recent clarifications from the Border Agency have resulted in this model no longer providing us with the base from which to recruit a competitive team.”

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The end result for me personally, was that I missed the last two games of the regular season and was able to remain in the country solely for academic purposes.

In June 2015, an update was provided by BE and the Home Office, following the April notification that shook up basketball in the UK. Professional leagues were defined (BBL, WBBL, and NBL D1) and participation in those leagues by non-EEA players necessitates a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) or Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) visa. This rule would also disallow University-attending non-EEA players from playing BUCS because “it is not a professional competition”.

Furthermore, an update on the BE Governing Body Endorsement Requirements, specifically for players from the USA and Canada, requires players to complete “at least four years eligibility in the college system having played in NCAA 1 or NCAA 2 or in the NAIA 1. […] in the previous two seasons the player must have played in at least 75% of games they were eligible to play in.”

This came as devastating news to me, as I played four years in NCAA Division III. My initial thought was that after two years of playing in NBL D1 and one year spent in the BBL, I would now be prohibited from playing because the college I graduated from five years prior. It turned out that the rule for returningplayers specifies that “When an overseas player is returning for another season, the UK clubs have to demonstrate that they played at least 75% of their previous UK team’s competitive games where they were available for selection.” I fulfilled this requirement which enabled me back onto a squad.

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BE cited the tightening of these Endorsement Requirements as to “ensure we do not displace resident labour and to ensure we only permit those participants entry into our leagues who have played / coached at the highest level.”

As it stands, the NBL Regulations 2015-2016 already stipulates that all clubs can only “register on the Scoresheet a maximum of 2 Non-EEA Players.” But I contest that players from NCAA DIII schools deserve a chance to play in the professional leagues of NBL D1 or BBL if a club so wishes to recruit them. Since my time playing here I have had two teammates from DIII schools, one captained our team and one was a dominant point guard for multiple years in NBL. I question the justification of excluding an entire Division of basketball players from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

In order to play this season I signed two three-month contracts. After receiving Certificate of Sponsorships (CoS) I sought to exit the country for the sole reason of re-entering through UKBA to receive my visa.

This route took me onto a ferry-ride from North Wales into Dublin, Ireland and back. But alas, there was no UKBA at the port. So I then flew from Manchester to Brussels, Belgium and back and recently Manchester to Rotterdam and back (not before missing two games with an expired visa).

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Bradford Dragons Chairman Stuart Culliford was quoted in last weekend’s program guide referencing my visa situation: “Makes me laugh when the Daily Mail complains it is too easy for non EU passport holders to get into the UK. They have clearly never tried to find their way through a visa system that is designed to be difficult.”

I hope to inform some of my friends, former team-mates, and colleagues the current eligibility requirements and get an idea of some difficulties that arise being a non-EEA aspiring player.

February 11

Letter to My Younger Self

Inspired by Chauncey Billups’ “Letter to My Younger Self” on The Players’ Tribune.

Dear young Rick,

In 8th grade, at 12 years old, under the title MY LIFE AND GOALS FOR THE NEXT 10 YEARS you will write down: “Some of my goals for the next ten years will be to get good grades in high school so I will have an opportunity to get an academic scholarship. I will also want to play a lot of sports and accomplish a lot in those sports so I have an opportunity for a sports scholarship. I will also like to get good grades in college so I can get a good job. I want to play on some sports teams so a scout could observe me and I could get on a professional sports team. And when I get out of college I want to get a nice house for my family and work at a job I like.”

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In no way will your journey be an easy one. But hey, as Teddy Roosevelt said: “Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”

Academics must remain a top priority, but additionally in High School you’re going to earn a spot as goalkeeper of the soccer team… and love it. You’ll make lifelong friends and learn the importance of a good work ethic, a positive attitude, and being a good team-mate. Abruptly, adversity will come your way that will derail you. A catastrophic injury will fracture your growth plate in your right ankle before soccer season ends or the basketball season begins.

It will not be easy to sit there and attend EVERY basketball practice and EVERY game with a walking boot on your foot. But you will cheer along with your teammates, laugh and joke with them, and feel like a real member of the team. After the season is over you will receive a ‘Freshman Basketball Undefeated 19-0’ shirt and feel that you were really part of something special. But the truth is, you weren’t. The next season you will walk into the gym as a non-returning player. None of the JV or Varsity coaches will know your name. Between freshman and sophomore year you will grow 4-5 inches and must re-invent yourself as a big man. During tryouts you will hustle and work your tail off, but your efforts will not be enough to make either team. This will be your lowest point. But believe me, this is only just the beginning. Use this experience as motivation to succeed.

After some pleading, you get invited back to practice on a temporary basis with the team. You’ll feel like an outcast. You can’t help but presume that everyone there knows your name wasn’t on the team list. You will be the lone player on the court in a plain t-shirt when the rest of the team wears official reversible jerseys with the school name adorned across their chest. Every practice will be recorded on a camcorder, which will add to the pressure. You may occasionally glance over to the bleachers to see the ominous blinking red light mocking you. Making the team will no longer be a goal, but an obsession.

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Advice to you, young man: Don’t be discouraged. Listen. Learn. Do your best. Your hard work will pay off. You will be called into the coach’s classroom on the day of the first pre-season game, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. After a few brief words with the coach, soaring through the air and landing in your outstretched hand will be the coveted practice jersey, a symbol of your hard work and dedication.

At that moment you will feel verification that you do belong and you are a valued member of the school’s team. From here on out, you are provided the platform to work towards the accomplishment of your goals you wrote down two years prior. 12 years later, that jersey can be found in your closet. A hanging reminder that when times were tough, when you could have quit, you remained steadfast in your resolve to strive for those set goals. And for that, I’m proud of you.


Rick Fetske

February 5

Basketball, of all the major sports, is dependent on flow. The transition from offense to defense, and back again, is at the core of the game's appeal. Every so often during a game that flow is abated when players

get fouled, resulting in either possession or a free throw. The free throw line was invented by the game’s creator, Dr. James Naismith, and has been a 15-foot wide open shot since 1895. In a recent game between the Houston Rockets and the Detroit Pistons, All-Star center Andre Drummond set a new NBA record with 23 missed free throws in a game, going 13-36 from the charity stripe. This eclipsed the previous record, set earlier in the season (November 30th) by DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers who missed 22 foul shots.

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It is not a coincidence that these poor free-throw-shooters are getting to line so often. Ever since the late 1990s when Coach Don Nelson of the Dallas Mavericks implemented a defensive tactic to intentionally foul the worst free throw shooter on the opposing team, the Hack-A-Shaq strategy was born (named after Shaquille O’Neal). With this strategy in mind, last Wednesday night the Rockets head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was well aware of Drummond’s reputation as a poor free throw shooter and facing a half-time deficit, went to Ludacris lengths to foul the Detroit big man. Houston’s K. J. McDaniels proceeded to intentionally foul Drummond five times in nine seconds of game time.

Even though Drummond shoots free throws at a dismal 35.1% this season, he is an All-Star caliber player in other facets of the game: leading the NBA in rebounds (15.0 per game) and double doubles (41) while averaging 17.3 points per game.

The Hack-a strategy has received wide-spread criticism and has been debated by fans, players, and NBA coaches and representatives alike. Critics argue that in addition to its making the game unpleasant to watch, using it also violates "the spirit" of the game, puts the team employing the strategy more quickly into a team foul penalty situation, and shows weakness or low confidence in that team's defensive abilities.

It’s gotten to a point that during foul shots, players have been jumping onto the backs of poor-shooting players to avoid playing defense and electing to instead to take their chances on the ineptitude of players’ shooting ability. Some argue that the free throw is a fundamental part of basketball, and that the NBA should not change its rules—and send the wrong message to future generations of players—because a small percentage of current players lack a basic skill.

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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been steadfast in supporting the existing rule: "I love that it is in the game. It's the NBA version of 'Are You a Better Foul Shooter Than A Fifth Grader?' I think it adds to the game. It introduces drama: 'Will he make it?' Great big men are so valuable in almost every other aspect of the game; they will remain in high demand no matter how poorly they shoot free throws. The contradiction is built into the modern NBA game. You need dominant big men to succeed and some dominant big men will always be terrible free-throw shooters.

Back in the 2000-1 season, the Los Angeles Lakers hired Ed Palubinskas to help coach Shaquille O’Neal to improve his free throws. The method seemed to work as O’Neal shot 68% during the remaining 15 games of that season, even going 13-13 from the line during the last home game exclaiming: “It doesn’t work anymore!”

Abundant research has been conducted on free-throw-shooting, most notably on gaze behavior by the individual attempting the shot. Joan Vickers (1996) coined the term ‘quiet eye’ defined as: the final fixation towards a relevant target prior to the execution of movement. Her findings concluded that longer quiet eye periods in the preparation phase gave the performer extended time to execute the skill effectively.

There are additional Sport Psychology methods that could help a poor free throw shooter make improvements, such as: an analysis of their pre-shot routine, utilization of positive mental imagery, and application of deep breathing and relaxation methods.

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It does not seem like there will be a rule change in the immediate future and free throws will continue to be a substantially important part of basketball games. For those who suffer from poor free throw shooting, think about your routine and your mindset while you are on the line, because I bet it’s all in your head.

Come see myself and the Bradford Dragons take on Manchester Magic in the Trophy Semi-Final this Super Bowl Sunday at the Dragon’s Den in Bradford! See bradforddragons.co.uk for details.

January 29

David Blatt’s second NBA season was cut short after being fired last Friday by the title-chasing Cleveland Cavaliers, despite leading the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record. Blatt is perhaps one of the most successful coaches in Europe the past decade. Blatt’s success in Europe is highlighted by winning the Euroleague championship and Coach of the Year with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2014 and FIBA EuroBasket gold medal for the Russian National Team in 2007.

General Manager of the Cavaliers David Griffin was at the forefront of this firing. In discussing the coaching change during a press conference late Friday afternoon Griffin cited “a lack of fit with our personnel and vision.”

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Griffin went on to replace Blatt with Tyronn Lue, promoted from Assistant to Head Coach, who will make $3 million this season and next season with a team option for a third year at $3.5 million.

The most baffling aspect of this situation is the timing of this firing, considering the current position of the Cavaliers (1st place in the Conference), and bearing in mind the NBA Finals run on an injury-depleted roster under Coach Blatt last summer.

Other coaches in the NBA are not happy about Blatt’s firing. Dallas Mavericks coach, Rick Carlisle, the president of the NBA Coaches Association, expressed shock and disappointment over the situation: “I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this can happen. It’ just bizarre…it leaves you with a bit of an empty feeling, because Blatt is a great guy, and he did a great job there.”

Renowned coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich, was quoted after a 30-point loss Monday night with one of his trademark snarky comments: “I’m just glad my general manager was not in the locker room. I may have gotten fired.”

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Carlisle referred to Blatt as “one of the best coaches in history” based on his success in Europe and international basketball.

So why would the Cavaliers fire Blatt and hire Lue? The team received wide-spread criticism after a 34-point loss to the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Cleveland.com reports that their record does not illuminate the turmoil and animosity that went on behind the scenes and how it ultimately led to Lue becoming head coach. Sources say that Blatt was reluctant to hold players accountable.

It was apparent that Blatt did not have the necessary relationship with his guys to get players to buy in. Lue was quoted last Saturday, saying: “I’ve talked to [Lebron James]. I said I’ve got to hold you accountable. It starts with you first. If I can hold you accountable in front of the team in doing the right things, then everybody else has got to follow along and fall in line.”

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Lue’s reputation is that he has a better understanding of how to manage personalities, having played with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Blatt leaves the Cavaliers, his first NBA coaching job, with an 83-40 record. This .675 winning percentage was the best of any coach in franchise history.

It is important to note that it is not unprecedented for a coach with such an elite winning percentage to be fired. The Mavericks let go of Avery Johnson despite his 194-70 record in three-plus seasons, a .735 winning percentage that at the time was the best in NBA history.

For my Master’s dissertation last year, I interviewed professional basketball players and their coaches in an investigation on perceptions of coaching effectiveness. An interesting finding was when participants explained how they would measure an effective coach; the most popular answer was results (winning) but also collective and individual improvement and athletes’ opinion of and respect to their coach. The latter finding is subjective based on the individual, counter to the measurable win-loss percentage.

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It seems that the Cavaliers’ GM did not measure success in results, but in the other areas that I found in my study: he perceived a lack of improvement along with a disconnect between the athletes and the coach. Lebron James has been to five straight NBA Finals and the Cavaliers goal is to win the championship and they feel that he has a better chance to do that with Lue as the coach.

NBA coaches are a highly scrutinized profession and for those teams with the expectation to win it all, anything less is unacceptable.

January 22

A recent survey conducted by the Los Angeles Times polled 24 coaches, players, and assistants in search of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) dirtiest players.

At the top of the list, receiving 13 out of 24 votes was Cleveland Cavaliers backup point guard and Australian native, Matthew Dellavedova.

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Dellavedova was at the forefront of the most controversial plays during the Cavaliers play-off run last year. He earned the reputation of a dirty player after injuring Kyle Korver diving for a loose ball and drawing fragrant two fouls from Hawks center Al Horford and Chicago Bulls center Taj Gibson, getting both ejected.

It was reported that a Western Conference coach stated: “He is as dirty as they come. When you’re hurting people, that is not OK.”

I would like to refer back to the play where Dellavedova injured Korver in the NBA playoffs.

On the play, Dellavedova mishandled the ball and dived after it in an effort to secure possession as Korver lunged towards the ball with the same intention. Dellavedova was tough enough to hit the floor for the loose ball and thus earned possession of the ball for his team.

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An article written by College Basketball analyst, Jay Bilas entitled “Toughness” illustrates the qualities of a “tough” basketball player, drawing on examples from his own basketball playing days: “there was a loose ball that I thought I could pick up and take the other way for an easy one. While I was bending over at the waist, one of my opponents dived on the floor and got possession of the ball.

“My coach was livid. We lost possession of the ball because I wasn’t tough enough to get on the floor for it. I tried like hell never to get out-toughed like that again. The first player to the floor is usually the one to come up with the loose ball.”

‘Inside the NBA’ analysts are staunch believers that Dellavedova is not a dirty player. Shaquille O’Neal stated: “I commend this guy for going out playing hard, diving for the ball, it’s just the nature of the game. It’s a mentality, the guys a hustler. It’s a loose ball, he hustles for the ball.”

Both Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith echo Shaq’s interpretation of Dellavedova’s play.

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Coaches and team-mates in Cleveland have defended Dellavedova, saying that the defensive-minded guard simply plays hard and gives supreme effort on every possession. His non-stop hustle, infectious energy, and role of irritant have earned him an important place on Cleveland’s roster.

The Los Angeles Times report that an old-school East assistant coach said: “He ain’t dirty. He just plays hard. See, guys resent people that play hard because they don’t want to play hard. So if a guy plays hard, he’s dirty. He’s not dirty. He just plays hard. People question the play he made in the play-offs against Korver. I just think it was poor judgement.”

An unnamed coach from the West went as far to say that there are NO dirty players at all in the NBA anymore, citing the current rule structure: “Back in the 80’s and 90’s, you could cheap-shot guys. But now it’s a fine, it’s a suspension, it’s a points system. There’s no enforcer like there used to be. Who’s an enforcer like Charles Oakley? There’s no enforcer because of the rules. How much can a little guard get under your skin? And Dellavedova is a back-up. He ain’t dirty.”

In my opinion, 24 people are not the most reliable representation of the collective opinion of the whole NBA community.

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Nonetheless, the aggressive play of Dellavedova has resulted in his reputation of being a dirty player. I have no doubt that Matthew Dellavedova will continue diving for loose basketballs and perhaps more players should take a page out of his book, and play tougher.

January 9

On Thursday the Powerball, an American lottery game offered by 44 states where the current estimated jackpot is $1.5 billion, was drawn. Yes that is Billion with a ‘B’.

The New York Times reported that your chance of winning this jackpot was one in 292.2million (So you’re telling me there’s a chance?).

Sitting there with a ticket in your hand you can’t help but imagine: what would I do with all that money?

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Now imagine signing a contract to play a professional sport, the salary reaching lottery-type numbers: what would you do with all that money?

That’s the experience of many rookie basketball players in the National Basketball League (NBA). The NBA Rookie transition program for first-year players consist of four days of classes aimed at helping them make the jump to the pros. More than 1,600 players have participated in the program, which has been running since 1986. This year the emphasis was on financial management, healthy relationships with friends and loved ones, transitioning to a post-playing career and continuing education.

The importance of this transition program has been well documented over the years. ESPN documentary series, 30 for 30, centered on this issue in an episode entitled ‘Broke’. Former NBA player and current business man, Jamal Mashburn, explained the difficulty of attaining a wealth without any knowledge of how to manage it: “it’s like you become a CEO of a corporation before you’re ready to do the job”.

High-profile NBA players now-a-days are making their big bucks in endorsement deals. It has been reported that Michael Jordan earned more money on sneakers in 2014 ($100 million) than in his entire 15-season playing career ($94 million).

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Damian Lillard (seven-year/$100M), Kevin Durant (10-year/$300M), and James Harden (13-year/$200M) all signed massive sneaker contracts within the past year. In 2003, a 19-year-old Lebron James signed a seven-year $93m deal and recently renewed his deal with an unprecedented lifetime contract. For these players, it is unlikely that they will be at risk to be broke after a number of years.

Of course, not all of the 446 players on the 2015-2016 opening-day roster lists have massive endorsement deals but the current average salary is still $5.15 million, the highest in American professional sports.

Even with those staggering figures, Sports Illustrated reports that the reason 60 per cent of NBA players lose their money 5 years after retiring are due to: Players’ vulnerabilities; Length of career cut short; Managers and investments gone wrong; Spouses, children, and divorce; and lack of education.

Former American football coach and current analyst, Herm Edwards, made a relevant analogy to the epidemic of former players overspending post-retirement: “You got champagne taste, but only got beer money. That’s not good!”

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I find it hard to believe when reading about so many former pro athletes filing for bankruptcy. I think what’s important is not how much money you make but what you are doing with it. Educating yourself is important and as Herm Edwards says, “A goal without a plan is a wish”. For all those out there wishing to win the lottery, it’s just not very likely that you’ll win, but do not let that stop you from reaching your goals you have in life.

Come check out the Bradford Dragons this Saturday at 6.15pm in NBL Division 1 action as we take on the Hemel Storm at the Dragon’s Den. Check bradforddragons.co.uk for more information.

Friday, January 8

Basketball is a sport that has complex sets of rules. These rules vary based on governing bodies. For example, Basketball England is the national governing body for basketball in England and is responsible

for all aspects of the sport. All matches are played in accordance with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rules of play.

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Alternatively, in the USA, the governing body for collegiate sport is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) who regulates athletes of 1,281 institutions.

I played four years in the NCAA for Fairleigh Dickinson University, before making a transition to England Basketball and the FIBA rulebook. It took a few weeks to gain the knowledge and acquire experience to learn how the game is played in a new country. A significant rule difference was in NCAA basketball, playing with a 35-second shot clock, compared to the 24-second used in FIBA competitions. I prefer the FIBA shot clock and found it to impact the speed and the pace of play in a positive way. A shorter shot clock means more possessions and more points.

Recent changes to the shot clock rules have come into effect. FIBA has changed the resetting of the shot clock to 14 seconds after the ball hits the rim when possession is retained by the offensive team.

This year, the NCAA has reduced the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds after scoring in Division 1 dipped to 67.7 points a game last season, which neared historic lows for the sport. The last time the NCAA shot clock was last reduced was for the 1993-94 season when it went from 45 seconds to 35.

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Additionally, for players in the NCAA with aspirations to play in Europe or elsewhere using FIBA rules, the reduced shot clock may be beneficial in preparation to play at the next level.

More rule differences that I have personally been affected by are: FIBA three-point field goal distance (6.75m) is further back from NCAA (6.25m) and accounts for more spacing on the court; FIBA lane size is larger than that of NCAA; the offensive team has 8 seconds to get the ball over half court to avoid a violation, compared with NCAA’s 10 seconds; FIBA has four 10-minute quarters and NCAA has two 20-minute halves; in FIBA two free throws are awarded on teams’ 5th foul versus NCAA’s “one-and-one” rule on the 7th, 8th, and 9th foul of the half before two shots are awarded on the 10th; in the NCAA, a timeout can be called by coach or player even if the ball is in-play which differs vastly from FIBA, which necessitates only the coach can request a timeout through the scorer’s table and will only be awarded on a dead ball; and in FIBA once the ball strikes the rim any player can play the ball, opposed to NCAA where an imaginary cylinder exists above the basket and touching the ball while any part of it is in the cylinder is a violation.

Many young players in England have aspirations to play basketball in the States, where they could attain scholarships to study and play at competitive institutions. I believe that the transition from FIBA to NCAA would be easier than vice versa. Based on some rule differences, in the NCAA you have: a closer three point line, longer shot clock which could lead to slower paced games, and more liberty with calling timeouts.

I have enjoyed my transition into FIBA-style basketball with pre-game dunking (which is forbidden in NCAA) and come game time, aggressively pursuing the basketball (above the cylinder) after it hits the rim.

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This weekend at the Dragon’s Den in Bradford, my team-mates and I will be taking on Reading Rockets where a fast-paced high-octane game is expected. Check out bradforddragons.co.uk for more information and we hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 31

On December 25, the basketball world was blessed with an NBA Finals rematch in the NBA’s 68th annual Christmas Day games. Steph Curry’s defending-champion Golden State Warriors battled Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, with the Warriors prevailing 89-83.

In the aftermath of the Christmas Day games, headlines flowed stemming from the commentary during this game. The comments were made by former NBA player and ex-Warriors’ head coach, Mark Jackson.

The topic of Jackson’s statement was about his former player; reigning NBA MVP, record holder for most three-pointers made in a season (286), the NBA’s current leading scorer (30.5ppg), and the recent recipient of the 2015 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year: Steph Curry.

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“Steph Curry’s great,” Jackson said. “Steph Curry’s the MVP. He’s a champion. Understand what I’m saying when I say this. To a degree, he’s hurt the game. And what I mean by that is I go into these high school gyms, I watch these kids, and the first thing they do is run to the three-point line.

“You are not Steph Curry. Work on the other aspects of your game. People think that he’s just a knock-down shooter. That’s not why he’s the MVP. He’s a complete basketball player. […]

“We don’t fall in love with the things that make ‘em great. We fall in the love with things that they do great.”

My understanding of Jackson’s comments is that young basketball players today are tending to imitate Curry’s highlight plays without learning the fundamentals.

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To a certain extent, I think this I true. I have coached high school, National League, and community basketball for over four years and when there is no structure, kids will insist on shooting the deep jumpers instead of fundamental skills.

Now is this because of Steph Curry or is this the era of basketball that we are currently in?

The fact of the matter is that the game of basketball has changed in the past few decades. The three-pointer wasn’t even added to the NBA until 1979. Back in the 1992-1993 season, when Mark Jackson was a player, the leading NBA three-point scorer was Dennis Scott with 2.0 made 3-pointers per game.

This number is eclipsed by NINETEEN players this season, with Curry leading the charge with 4.7 per game.

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We are living in an era of basketball where three-point scorers are idolized and teams need consistent shooters to be successful.

However, when I open up practice as a coach, I always focus on fundamentals: dribbling, passing, rebounding, right AND left handed lay-ups, defense, etc.

It’s important for these fundamental skills to be engrained into athletes at a young age to promote development. As long as these skills are being practiced and improved upon, then I see nothing wrong with young basketball players

imitating their favorite player.

Curry understands where his former coach was coming from but emphasizes that “It’s all about practice and routine and repetition […] so you can’t skip that part of the process.”

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Although Curry wishes that Jackson phrased his statement in a different way, Curry gets what he’s saying and took it as a compliment.

Using imagination and playing through sports idols is why many of us enjoy sports. If we begin to suggest that kids imagining they can shoot like Curry, crossover like Iverson, fadeaway like Kobe, or dunk like Jordan is somehow hurting the game, we begin to lose sight of the meaning that sports hold for kids and what makes childhood such a beautiful thing: the freedom to dream.

Friday, December 18

It is my pleasure to be writing to The Yorkshire Post audience on life in the UK and all things related to basketball. I am Ricky Fetske, a 26-year-old American playing for the Bradford Dragons in Division 1 of the National Basketball League. This is my fourth year in the country, after leaving the States to experience life as a professional basketball player.

I attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey where I played NCAA Division III basketball to some high acclaim. Upon graduating with my degree in Psychology, I never ceased pursuing my love for basketball, competing locally in seasonal basketball leagues and assistant coaching the Absegami High School boys’ varsity team.

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My world was turned upside down when I received a text message from a high school conference-rival and friend, asking if I would like to come to England and play with him for the Bradford Dragons. And that’s, as they say, was that.

My time in the United Kingdom has been extraordinary, to say the least. My first year in England, I had the fortune to attain my England Basketball Level 2 Coaching Certificate and head coached the Under-18s Dragons team.

Since then, I have coached at numerous schools and various teams, even coaching female prisoners at HM Prison New Hall. I currently do community coaching at Mount St Mary’s Catholic High School in Leeds and All Saints Catholic College in Huddersfield, in addition to head coaching the Notre Dame Sixth Form College boys’ team in Leeds (we are currently undefeated).

After my first year playing and coaching basketball in England I made the decision to pursue academic endeavors. I achieved scholarships to Northumbria and Leeds Beckett Universities where I completed Master of Science degrees in Psychology and Sport and Exercise Psychology respectively. I achieved these degrees while playing for Team Northumbria in the NBL D1, Leeds Force in the British Basketball League, and both universities in British Universities & College Sport (BUCS) competitions.

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I’m now back with the Bradford Dragons and we are currently sitting in 11th position with a 2-8 record after back-to-back four-point losses.

Battles with injury have been a detriment to this point of the season but the whole team is optimistic that we will make a successful run when the season resumes in 2016.

In my spare time I enjoy reading and my favorite authors are George R. R. Martin and Stephen King. I like to play video games and currently have PlayStation 2 plugged in, playing the classics.

I enjoy playing poker with the guys, creative writing, and travelling. Two years ago I travelled to seven countries (Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Croatia) with three of my Northumbria team-mates on an 18-day euro trip of epic proportions. Within the next three years I am hoping to be practicing as a Sport and Exercise Psychologist while continuing to play basketball.

Until next time, Cheers.

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