This summer (July 2022) PSB Connect was able to go on an international basketball tour in partnership with BTM Basketball.
PSB Connect provides international youth basketball opportunities to connect players, parents, and coaches. from around the world.
This was truly a life changing experience for everyone involved. This trip was just the beginning… stay tuned as we plan to connect internationally again in 2023.
BTM helped provide an incredible tour for our players and families, below is a recap of the trip. The blog below was written by the staff at BTM.
In July ‘22 we were lucky enough to host Pro Skills Basketball, one of the USA’s top youth basketball organizations, in our home city of London. The group of 72 people on the tour was made up of players, parents, grandparents, siblings and staff, many of whom had never been to England and were eager to experience some of the wonderful things that London has to offer.
The majority of the group arrived on Wednesday at Heathrow airport, flying in from various cities across the US including Charlotte, Denver, Philadelphia and Nashville. They were met by BTM representatives Henry and Naseem who led them to the Holiday Inn Excel via private buses. The red-eye flights and London traffic certainly left everyone feeling a little disoriented, but there was no time for snoozing as there were activities planned for the remainder of the day.
After a swift lunch and introduction to BTM Director Tom, the group hopped on the DLR to UEL’s SportsDock for a chance to assimilate with new teammates and shake off the cobwebs after a long night/day of travel. PSB’s Head of Media and dynamic skills Coach Cristian led the two teams, split into U14 and U18 groups, through an intense warm-up and several skill drills. Despite the unfamiliarity between teammates, the energy was electric and the players soon warmed up to one another.
After practice it was to the Emirates Air Line, a cable car that runs across the River Thames with spectacular views of the city. On the other end they were met with a brief introduction to fellow BTM Director Mark, and then indulged in Jimmy’s World buffet in the O2 which has a variety of great foods. Some families threw in the towel early and hopped back on the tube to the hotel, with others battling the jet lag and exploring some of the attractions that the O2 has to offer.
Thursday began with a team practice at the SportsDock, with PSB National Director Chris Goodrum coaching the U18 team and Director of PSB Denver Ross Schraeder leading the U14 group. The practice involved lots of competition in preparation for the evening games versus Milton Keynes Basketball Club, one of the UK’s fastest growing basketball organisations.
With only two practices to create familiarity with teammates and introduce some form of loose system, the PSB coaches did a tremendous job in quickly instilling team culture, a testament to the PSB programme and the “FOCUS” values that each location stands for.
After practice it was time for some sightseeing and the PSB group hopped on a private bus to Shoreditch, a trendy and artsy part of East London. They were met by Dave and Phil who would guide them on a “street art tour,” experiencing some incredible art including a piece by legendary British artist Banksy. A few highlights of the street art tour were a small piece of used chewing gum that had been turned into art, and a brick in the cobbled street that had been replaced by a transparent block with a figure inside.
Following the art tour the group grabbed lunch at the famous Old Spitalfields Market before being bused back to the hotel, during which being introduced to the tremendous driving skills of our tour bus driver Paul who navigated the 75-seater through the London streets with ease.
The players, families and staff arrived at University of Hertfordshire eager for their first taste of British competition, and were not disappointed with the match-up against Milton Keynes Basketball Club. Both PSB groups got off to slow starts, but came bouncing back in the second half with great energy on the court, from the bench and from the parents in the stands. However in the end it was not to be as Milton Keynes won both games, despite a tremendous effort from the PSB boys. Some well-deserved Nandos at the Hatfield Galleria finished off the evening, and it was time to head back to the hotel for some sleep.
Friday began with breakfast at the hotel and then a swift trip on the DLR line into Central London, where the group were met by two private open-top buses complete with tour guides. The “Big Bus” tour would take PSB through central London, where they would see landmarks such as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and many more.
The weather was spectacular with the sun beaming down as the bus navigated the busy London streets, with stops at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Trafalgar Square for group photos and much-needed opportunities to grab refreshments.
After intense basketball activity since arriving in the UK, the open top bus tour was a great opportunity for the PSB group to unwind and gather their thoughts on the trip so far. Later that afternoon they had free time to explore the city, with visits to Buckingham Palace, the West End and the inside of several pubs amongst the various sites visited by PSB group members.
Saturday morning began with a practice at UEL’s SportsDock, in preparation for the afternoon match-up with London Thunder, one of the capital’s top clubs who play in the unique “Thunderdome” facility. London Thunder are run by British basketball legend Steve Bucknall, and are one of very few clubs in the country that have their own basketball court.
At the end of a great practice it was the UK versus the USA, War of Independence style, as BTM Rep Naz took on PSB’s Cristian in a highly anticipated one on one contest. Cristian stormed into the lead for the USA, and despite a frenetic comeback from Naz, it felt like July 4th 1776 all over again as Cristian swished the game winner.
After the drama of the morning, it was back to the hotel for lunch and a delicious Caribbean spread from Zings, a local Caribbean food supplier. Players, parents and staff ate curried chicken, jerk chicken, wings, pasta and more and were left nicely full and ready to head to Lewisham to battle the Thunder.
It was hot and intense in the Thunderdome and a great opportunity for PSB to experience classic London basketball. On the U14 side, the Thunder towered head and shoulders (literally) above the PSB players, whose contest would be decided by whether PSB would be able to rebound against their massive opponents. PSB U18’s went head to head with a strong and athletic group from Thunder, but used their skill and ball movement to take the lead.
The U14’s showed copious amounts of toughness and heart as they battled against a huge front line from London, with the Americans hitting tough shots from inside and out and making up for their size disadvantage with hustle plays. Meanwhile the U18 team stretched out their lead with consistent play at both ends and matching the energy of the Thunder team. Ultimately the PSB U14’s couldn’t quite hold on and the game got away from them in the 4th, while the U18’s weathered a Thunder comeback attempt to take a convincing victory.
An exhausted group of players, parents and staff were driven to Westfield Stratford City, a massive shopping centre with a large food court, where they dined for the evening and relaxed before heading back to the hotel for some rest.
Sunday was an escape from the bustling city and a chance to visit Brighton, the sunny seaside city on the South coast. The group boarded the bus bright and early and due to some road closures, experienced a scenic route which included traversing some very narrow village streets around Mid-Sussex. As per normal, bus driver Paul’s expertise prevailed and the group arrived outside Brighton Pier with plenty of time to spare.
After some time spent on the Pier, one of Brighton’s most famous tourist attractions, PSB took over the Brighton Beach Court where the boys played several games of one on one and Cristian and Naz took on some local ballers in a heated three on three game. Ross had the opportunity to add another notch to his global basketball, which had been bounced on the Great Wall of China amongst other places.
A hearty lunch at Donatello Italian restaurant ensued, with pizza, pasta, ice cream, chocolate cake, sorbet and other delights on the menu, before a short trip on the bus to the University of Sussex where the boys would take on British powerhouse club Sussex Storm. Based in Crawley, Storm’s alumni includes Cameron Hildreth, a rising Sophomore at Wake Forest and Chenai Mushore, an incoming Freshman at UC Irvine.
The U14’s started with a bang, racing out to an early lead as they sought their first victory of the tour. Meanwhile the U18’s started a little slower, showing some slight signs of fatigue from the previous day’s game, as the Storm team took a small lead into half-time through their energy and aggression on the boards. For the U14’s it was much of the same in the second half, as they swarmed the Storm team defensively and converted turnovers into transition scores. The U18’s continued to push back, but couldn’t quite close the margin as Storm ran away with the win.
Back in London at the hotel the group beamed about their Brighton experience while tucking into a buffet spread. Time had flown by, and with only one full day left of the trip there was still so much to see and do in England’s amazing capital city.
With some London experience in hand, the PSB families were given the morning and afternoon to head into Central London independently and visit places they hadn’t yet seen, or revisit those they had and thoroughly enjoyed. Some of the staff made their way to Hyde Park for a spot of boating, taking advantage of the incredible weather that the UK had given them throughout the week.
After regrouping back at the hotel, it was a final journey to UEL’s SportsDock where the boys would play One2One Basketball, a London select group featuring some extraordinary athletes based out of the capital city.
Warm-ups proved entertaining as the One2One U18’s performed a variety of spectacular dunks, while even some of the U14’s were rattling the rim on the adjacent court. Nevertheless, as per usual the PSB groups were unphased and on the U18 court the Americans took an early lead through lock-down defense and some accurate outside shooting. The 14’s took a little longer to get into their groove, but soon found some rhythm and matched the Londoner’s shot for shot.
The atmosphere in the gym was electric and the noise rose with the intensity on the court. On the U14’s side, PSB made a storming comeback and found themselves down only a few points going into the 4th, despite having a very distinct size disadvantage. The U18’s started to run out of steam, as One2One brought in athlete after athlete and ran away with the game, with a plethora of highlights along the way. However the U18’s had worked incredibly hard and showed immense toughness throughout the contest. The U14’s couldn’t quite close the gap completely and the boys from London grabbed the victory.
The “final supper” of the trip would take place at Yi Ban Chinese restaurant, where enough food was served to feed a small country. There were some heartwarming experiences and gratitudes shared by PSB staff, players and parents, who gushed about the trip of a lifetime that would be coming to an end the following morning.
The PSB group was shuttled off to the airport bright and early in the morning, where they boarded their flights back to their respective hometowns, while some of the coaches headed off to explore destinations such as Scotland and Belgium.
It was an absolute pleasure hosting this wonderful group of people, who from the very start took on every practice, game, activity, meeting and meal with curiosity and positivity. Most of the players had never met each other prior to landing in London, but emerged from the trip as not only teammates but close friends. Pro Skills Basketball is led by some extraordinary coaches who offered invaluable support to their players and parents’ experience and helped us to run an unforgettable London tour – big thanks to Ross, Chris, Cristian, Antonio, Jill, Jason, Victor, Brook, and Elizabeth for being so great. Until next time PSB!