Back in Col­lig

Irish Examiner - County - - Sport -

“Just to play com­pet­i­tive basketball is what I al­ways dreamed of.”

Af­ter the nadir of be­ing re­leased by James Mad­di­son, Na­tion was drift­ing. A way back into basketball came cour­tesy of a coach­ing gig for the girls’ team at Har­rison­burg High School in Vir­ginia.

“Coach Mark Ne­o­fo­tis and De­mont Perry... they changed my life around. Mark got me away from Tampa and wel­comed me into his home and got me coach­ing, to help pay my rent and keep me in­volved in the game.

“Coach­ing those girls at high school made me want to play again. It brought back the love.

“I was in the gym ev­ery day so I was work­ing out ev­ery day.

“I was kind of a big star in that area from col­lege. A lot of peo­ple would have known who I was.

“The easy work was play­ing basketball. I was do­ing that since I was five years old and I’m 25 now but Mark helped res­ur­rect my life be­cause I was go­ing down the wrong path and with the wrong crowd.

“I kept be­ing in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It was def­i­nitely a case of be­ing in the right place when Ballincol­lig came call­ing. That was through Don Burgess, who had a con­nec­tion with Ballincol­lig coach­ing stal­wart Fran­cis O’Sul­li­van.

“Coach Don asked me was I still try­ing to play. A cou­ple of weeks had passed but Fran­cis rang Don and told him he was look­ing for a guy. Don told him how I was work­ing with the kids and set it up.

“A day later Sully (Kieran O’Sul­li­van, Fran­cis’ brother and Ballincol­lig head coach) called me and ‘boom’, they sent the con­tract over, I signed it and away we went.

“I love play­ing in Ballincol­lig be­cause I’m work­ing with the O’Sul­li­vans.

“Kieran, Daniel, Ciarán, Fran­cis is a huge fac­tor in the club. They’re bril­liant basketball minds and we’ve young guys like Dy­lan (Cork­ery) and Pa (O’Ma­hony) and a vet like Ian McLaugh­lin, they all bring it ev­ery day at prac­tice.

“Com­ing to Ballincol­lig is one of the top three best things that have ever hap­pened to me, along with go­ing to col­lege and be­com­ing an un­cle.

“My niece Jaylen, who is six in De­cem­ber, is the heart and soul of the fam­ily.”

As well as in­spir­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of Ballincol­lig bas­ket­ballers with his soar­ing slam-dunks and stylish side-steps, Na­tion is giv­ing back in coach­ing terms too.

He of­ten falls in with Nicky Bo­hane as­sist­ing with var­i­ous teams from U10s up­wards.

“I love be­ing in the gym around basketball. I love help­ing out with coach Nicky.

“It’s great to help kids be­cause youth is our fu­ture.

“I don’t want to change the whole world but if I can help one per­son and down the road they can do the same, then the cy­cle goes on.”

Mean­while, the games are com­ing thick and fast for the Di­vi­sion 1 unit. Na­tion’s 48-point haul en­sured they came back from 15 down against ri­vals Fr Mathew’s while they sur­vived an away trip to Kil­lar­ney too.

“The game in Kil­lar­ney was great. I was re­ally up for that. Nicky and Col­man (O’Flynn, the club chair­man) got the drums out for that and to play in front of 800 peo­ple made it a big stage and the more watch­ing the bet­ter.

“The at­mos­phere was crazy and it was wild how loud the Ballincol­lig fans were.”

Ire­land might not seem like the most sen­si­ble place for some­one try­ing to keep on track, but he has put that phase of his life be­hind him.

“I’m in a good place in my life. I par­tied hard, I par­tied all night long, I par­tied be­fore games.

“I’ve done ev­ery­thing you could think of.

“I’m to­tally fo­cused this sea­son to make sure I get the best sit­u­a­tion I can next year.

“If there’s a team thing I’m there. I’m a firm be­liever in team ca­ma­raderie.

“Other­wise, I stick to the straight and nar­row be­cause I’ve used up my chances.

“I’ve taken ev­ery­thing as a les­son, in­stead of a loss.”

And the lessons learned in the US have trans­lated into bril­liant buck­ets in the Ir­ish league.

An­dre Na­tion with Ed Burke, the man­ager of club spon­sor Trade­house Cen­tral.

Ballincol­lig basketball star An­dre Na­tion dropped in to visit the club’s U10 and U11 play­ers at train­ing in Coláiste Choilm re­cently.

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