During the past 15 months of national lockdown we have certainly seen an increased interest in maxibasketball, particularly following the inclusion of the Team GB Maxibasketball programme as part of the Elite Talent Pathway in England and the prepration og GB teams to compete in next years Europen Maxibasketball Championhips in Malaga.
However, as engaging as that might be, we are also keen to talk about some of the wider benefits of being involved in sport and to show its impact on, and potential benefits to, individual physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. We recently highlighted the importance of coaching during UK Coaching Week, and how a good sports coach can encourage an individual player to believe in themselves and to achieve their goals.
One such player is former Solent Stars junior and now GB Maxis 35+ player, CHRIS CASSON, who wanted to share his experience of being a talented young baller growing up in the care system, destined for a US college basketball career and who, despite serious setbacks, used the power of sport to return to the game after a 15-year absence. He certainly had (and still has) some inspirational coaches and role models in Solent & England international Drew Sewell and ex- NBA Indiana Pacer and USA Dream Team member, Chris Mullin.
We first met Chris Casson at our training camp in April. He couldn’t attend the June camp due to a family emergency, so he used the time available to reflect on his some of life and basketball experiences. He shared with us as follows:
“The reason I am writing this is to talk about the weekend 24th & 25th April 2021 – the first Great Britain men’s maxibasketball team performance camp. Although I had met some GB 35+squad members online, due to covid, this camp was the first time that we all got to meet up indoors. With the unpredictable weather and covid restrictions putting a hold on outdoor and indoor playing time – I had not played competitively in that environment for 15 years due to injuries, but basketball has never left my mind.
Growing up in the care system through no fault of my own, I had a choice of two paths: finding trouble or finding something positive. The children’s home where I lived had a half court in the back garden. The rim was 9ft high and I spent all my time there – I’m talking all my time – it was that or end up dead or in jail like everyone else in the home went on to do. It was at this home that I met Drew Sewell, and subsequently at Solent, Roy Lewis and Mike Spaid – names some of you will be familiar with. Drew Sewell was my carer. I was fortunate enough to be taken under his wing, to be given the time and advice growing up in a difficult environment. With Drew’s basketball contacts, I had amazing opportunities which I took full advantage of.
Drew played basketball with Chris Mullin at high school, and they remained best of friends. Drew is now my friend, but as a young player he coached me and I was grateful to have his advice, and occasionally spoke with Chris on the phone. The rest was ultimately up to me: I took the chance to try out for the Solent stars youth team, and it was soon apparent that I needed more competition. I would practise with the men, and through this got invited to trials for England. However, before I could get there, I was given the chance to go to Oklahoma basketball camp. This all happened very, very quickly and I felt like my feet never touched the ground. I have always remained dedicated, focused and allowed basketball to talk for me. Upon my return to England, various scholarship opportunities to various schools in America were offered.
I decided to go to the University of Connecticut. I was greeted by Coach Jim Calhoun and the roster of players were, to say the least, exceptional. From here, my life was pretty set and the dream (as it was for all of us) was to potentially enter the NBA draft. Then before I got to play a game, the worst happened at practice and injury took me out of basketball. I needed reconstructive surgery on my ACL. The first operation didn’t go successfully, but I still graduated and then came back to England, still unable to walk a year later and spiralling into a very dark place.
I needed a second surgery, at which point, the surgeons discovered a very bad infection and it was a matter of time before I potentially lost my leg – and also myself. Fortunately for me, I was in the care of an excellent surgeon in Portsmouth, but after two further surgical procedures, physiotherapy and electroshock therapy, I was at a point where it seemed like I would never walk or run, let alone play basketball. However, with serious rehab and endless hours in the gym – happily here with GB Maxis is where I’m at now.
I’m thankful to have this opportunity with Team GB Maxis to represent my country and play with some of the best players that we have produced. Everyone I met at the camp was warm, friendly but also motivated and competitive. I can’t put into words what this means to me and if it all ended tomorrow, then what an amazing story to tell up until this point, however we are just getting started and the best really is yet to come. Anyway my point in all of this (is to everyone): keep pushing on no matter what – there’s plenty of opportunities in all age groups – there’s things to work towards for all of us.
Finally I would like to say a huge thank you to the GB Maxis coaching team and everyone involved, especially Sadie Mason. I feel that I never chose basketball, but basketball chose me and I’m grateful for the opportunity and look forward to the next camp.”
Chris, we thank you for having the courage to put this out there. We can only imagine the depth of disappointment, mental and physical challenges you’ve experienced. We’re glad that you’ve come through it, and that this maxibasketball family continues to be your motivation and a platform for continued physical and mental health/strength. Thanks for sharing your incredible story; much respect and we of course wish you all the best at future camps. #determination #powerful #basketball #family