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Fry is on the ball to inspire breakthrough
LUOL Deng might not be signing for the Rossendale Raptors just yet but the basketball superstar and his NBA colleagues are helping to shape coach Jim Fry and his side’s future.
The Raptors have a partnership with British ace Deng’s foundation designed to get more youngsters involved in basketball, while Fry is using his NBA colleagues as inspiration for his own flourishing squad in Rossendale.
The Raptors are hoping to combine a promotion push with a bright future as they press forward on and off the court.
Fry said: “We have a partnership with Luol Deng – who in basketball terms is a superstar. We have signed up with his foundation and that is a massive thing for us.
“We are trying to get people from under-privileged backgrounds involved in basketball. We put special coaching sessions on a Saturday before our national league games.
“There are a lot of good players and if we can get some of them to play for us and enjoy the sport then all the better.”
Fry speaks passionately about the sport he has been involved in all his life. He was a player who represented England as a junior, and he believes basketball is on the cusp of a breakthrough into a mainstream sport in this country.
“The sport as a whole is growing,” he added. “There is more exposure and people will come and watch basketball. But there is still more work to do. One of the reasons the sport is so popular in America is because of the whole spectacle that goes on around it. You don’t even have to like basketball but you can go and watch a game.
“We need to try to recreate that here. But it comes with funding and with more exposure. If we can get those two things and everyone pulls in the same direction then there is a bright future for the sport because it will grow.
“We used to lose a lot of players to other sports because of the funding. A lot of people who were really good basketball players ended up in sports like rowing because there is a clear funding path.
“What the sport has perhaps not done is moved with the times in this country.
“When I was playing the 1970s to now some of the people in the power positions are the same and we might have fallen behind a little bit. But the sport definitely has a bright future. The crowds coming to watch NBA games in this country are good and the support we get is good. Hopefully that will continue to grow.”
Growth is also an apt word for the upwardly mobile Raptors who currently compete in the English Basketball Division 3 North – the highest level they have ever reached and one they came close to escaping last year, their first at that level.
And Fry is confident that this season can be another impressive one.
He added: “This year we have improved the squad. We have got some really good players.
“The standard is pretty high. It’s the highest standard we have played at and we nearly got promoted last year.
“I think this division is the strongest of the four in terms of competition and I think there is six or seven sides who could win the league and I put us in that.
“We are starting to put Rossendale on the map a little bit in basketball terms.
“We still get people saying: ‘Rossendale? Where’s that?’ We are up against a lot of big teams in our division with the likes of Sheffield and Birmingham but we have proved we can compete.
“We have a great club here and we are going in the right direction.”
But Fry is wary of growing too quickly and at the expense of the long-term future of the side.
He added: “Last year we were close to winning promotion and we also made sure we put a few of the youngsters into the team.
“That’s important to us because we have to think long-term. We have to make sure that there are players coming through who can replace the players we have in the squad at the moment.
“In some ways that was a good thing behind not getting promotion because going up before we are ready and then coming straight back down is no good to anybody.
“We have a few local lads who form the core of the team but we also have people coming in from outside.
“There is a whole host of things we can look at it in the future. At the moment we are only allowed one foreign player but we can have as many EU players as we like so we could go and get in some players from places like Spain and Romania.
“But we have to balance that with retaining our community feel. It is a balancing act. Our aim is to play top level basketball and to do that you obviously need top players. But we want to make sure the club has a future and that people can come and play for us.”
* Rossendale Raptors face Sheffield Sabres at Haslingden Sports Centre today (tip-off 5.15pm), before entertaining Tees Valley Mohawks 2nds tomorrow in the cup (tip-off 4.45pm).
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