Last Wednesday night I met up with Head Coach at Southend Swifts Basketball Club, Stephen Pearl. I'd landed on my feet...
Basketball first caught my attention when a Greek lad at school started playing the game in London and promptly stopped wearing trainers and starter wearing 'sneakers'. The year was 1990, I thought the kid was double cool.
Michael Jordan may have made the sport globally recognised but this kid in my school, also called Michael, was the only person we actually knew who played the sport. I think even our PE teachers secretly thought he was cool, despite their preference for football, rugby and athletics.
Around the same time my pal Johnny had a basketball net put up by his dad on the carport attached to their garden and my first playing experience came with the boys I grew up with; we'd try and 'slam dunk' the ball but at less then 5ft tall we would have to resort to sitting on one anothers shoulders to get the job done.
As we settled into our teens this Amercian fad passed, our hair grew, and grunge music and girls took our attention.
So when I met Coach Pearl in the car park of Eastwood High School I expected to be greeted by a giant from across the pond....though while Coach Pearl may not be a giant in terms of physical size, he is a goliath in terms of Basketball knowledge and hospitality.
Stephen understood my need to compete in the same number of games as a team would in the Olympics, from day one to the final, and what's more he'd already worked out exactly how I could do this all with Southend Swifts - what a star!
We talked about the club's set-up, standing in the community, the expectations of the players to give something back to the club - Coach Pearl was as proud of the young Swifts that helped introduce basketball to kids at local schools as he was of the 17 students who'd gone on to play in the United States.
I wasn't just there for a chat mind, within half an hour I'd joined the 16-18's and was doing lay-up drills under the coaching of Simon, one of the clubs talents who'd played in the US, he's now returned to coach at the club that gave him his opportunity.
We progressed through shooting hoops from the penalty line, practising 2-on-3 scenarios with an outnumbered defence, learning and role-playing set plays and finished on a best-of-three / first to seven baskets competition.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first training session for The Basketball Challenge, and was wholeheartedly welcomed in by the lads; including Louis (who gave me penalty shooting tips), and Little Darren (he's 6ft 9'...but is shorter than his brother!).
They've even got a player called Jordan, so they must be good!
I've a few weeks of heavy work, where I'll need to focus on challenges during the weekend, but then I'm looking forward to working with the Southend Swifts and will definitely make the effort to give something back.