The London Lions, the premier basketball team in the UK, is set to launch a first-of-its kind youth teams initiative, set to provide to a series of unique opportunities for aspiring basketball players and coaches to progress professionally throughout the country. This initiative marks a major step forward for the sport in the UK, as the Lions will be one of the only clubs to create an independent youth team structure, distinct from any existing school or college partnership. Trials will commence on July 31 at the University of East London, targeting talented players in the U12, U14, and U16 age groups for both boys’ and girls’ sides.
Recognising the need for increased opportunities and support for aspiring athletes and coaches in the UK, the Lions are committed to nurturing talent and providing a platform for growth that culminates in professional success. Testament to this, recent data from the club reveals that a staggering 62% of Brits were unaware of available avenues to pursue a career in sports during their school years. With basketball’s popularity on the rise in the UK, boasting an estimated 1.3 million regular players – serving as the second most popular team sport – the need for avenues to develop into elite opportunities has now come to the fore with the new initiative.
The players will embark on an intensive game schedule, competing against sides from across Europe, other British Basketball League (BBL) clubs, and in European tournaments. By exposing young players to high-level competition, the Lions aim to provide a suitable pathway for their development, eliminating the necessity for them to seek opportunities elsewhere.
The current landscape of UK basketball presents a unique challenge for coaches, particularly due to visa restrictions that limit the presence of elite professionals from around the world. Presently, only Head Coaches in the Women’s British Basketball League, British Basketball League, and Division One on the men’s side are granted a visa endorsement letter by Basketball England, the governing body of the sport. This restrictive environment has resulted in a lack of exposure to different coaching styles, hindering the growth and evolution of aspiring players.
To address this issue, the Lions launched a pioneering coaching development program, sending coaches to leading clubs across Europe for a fully paid three-month learning experience. The participants will now assume full-time paid roles managing the youth teams, bringing with them new ideologies and perspectives that will benefit the development of young players throughout the UK. By diversifying coaching approaches and sharing European basketball insights, the Lions seek to unlock the hidden potential within British basketball, evolving players, coaches, and clubs alike.
In addition to their commitment to youth development, the London Lions recently competed in the inaugural Jr. NBA European Finals in Valencia, Spain. This elite competition hosted six U-15 boys’ teams and six U-15 girls’ teams, with one exceptional Lions player, Emmanuel Ahamefule, being selected to compete at the prestigious Jr. NBA World Showcase in Las Vegas. These achievements underline the abundance of hidden talent prevalent in the UK, further motivating the Lions to create a nurturing environment where players can thrive. The Lions are proud to pioneer this ground-breaking initiative, providing aspiring players and coaches in the UK with unparalleled opportunities to excel in the sport they love. With their new youth teams and commitment to cultivating talent, the Lions hope to aid in elevating British basketball to new heights.
Emmanuel Ahamefule, who played for the Lions at the JR NBA European Finals said:
“Valencia helped a lot with my development as a player as I was able to express myself on the court. I had amazing teammates by my side and amazing coaches there supporting me. I’m looking forward to Las Vegas as I will be competing with the top players in the world, and I will be able to show my ability on such a high stage. London Lions taught me the importance of next play mentality and always keeping my head up no matter the circumstances. This will really benefit me in the long run, and I would like to thank London Lions for helping me with this opportunity.”
Head Coach of the London Lions Women’s Team, Stella Kaltsidou, said:
“I believe it’s important for all the clubs to have the youth teams under the pro team structure that requires the cooperation of the coaches from the pro team in order to build a plan based on the philosophy of the team. That doesn’t need to include the strategies of the pro team but more the philosophy on spacing and individual and team defence. That takes communication, observation and adjustments by the coaches in order to evaluate the progress and help the young players get ready for their transfer to the pro team.
“Investing in coaches is the number one priority in order to be able to invest successfully on young athletes. Coaches, especially at the young ages, work as a role model for the players, so what is most important is to teach them work ethic, discipline, respect, patience, sportsmanship, mental toughness, help them love what they do and show them the way to be the best they can be on everything they do.”
William Twigg who attended the Lions’ International Coaching Programme and will be a full-time coach of the youth teams said:
“The coaching development journey with the London Lions has been a remarkable experience, marked by growth, learning, and countless moments of inspiration. I am very fortunate to work alongside a dedicated and visionary staff at the Lions. Their expertise and mentorship have been instrumental in honing my skills, expanding my knowledge, and instilling a deep passion for the game.
“The Lions organisation has provided invaluable support and resources, enabling me to grow both professionally and personally. Transitioning into a full-time role with the Lions has been a privilege. Being able to dedicate myself to the development of our youth teams is a testament to the trust and belief the organisation has placed in us, and we are deeply grateful for their unwavering support. Really excited to get the program off the ground and see the professionalism run throughout the whole organisation.”
George Vaz Rocha who also attended the Lions’ International Coaching Programme said:
“My journey over the last 5 months with the London Lions coaching programme and now leading up to begin working with the kids in the youth academy has been educational, eye opening, and more than anything, FUN. I thought I knew a lot about basketball and coaching before starting this journey but I was so, so, wrong and I’m glad.
“Having an opportunity to work with coaches so highly regarded in their fields has been extremely motivating. Just to be in the same room with coaches I follow, respect and admire is awesome and not something you can do anywhere. Learning from them has been invaluable and a lot of the learning has been what they don’t teach but how they conduct themselves. How they speak to players or coaches, or how they prepare for practices and games, for example.”