By Declan King
As sports academies go in Ireland, the North Atlantic Basketball Academy (NABA) is one of the most successful with 15 of last year’s students in the United States on basketball scholarships.
The brains behind it is a Dubliner, Dermot Russell, from Cabra, who had a dream to play basketball in the States while playing school ball at St Declan’s CBS.
Even at that early age, he had a plan to help people to get to the States to study and play ball because he knew how difficult it was.
After his Leaving Cert, he was recruited by Three Rivers Community College in the USA, but he didn’t finish and decided to come home to UCD and finish a business degree.
While away, his dream grew even more and he came up with an idea to set up an academy and recruitment agency to help Irish kids follow their dream.
“I began to play basketball at a very young age,” says Russell. “Other friends of mine played soccer and gaelic football but it was always basketball for me.
“There was a gang of us at St Declan’s and we had a good team and an even better coach, Liam Hartigan, who took us to the top in schools and club competitions.
“The lure of America was always there for young kids like me but the facilities were not in place at the time to make it happen.
“I was lucky, as were a few of my friends, to get to community colleges and high schools but all the while I was thinking of ways of making it easier for talented Irish kids to get away
“I started on a small scale in Inchicore with just Irish kids but since that it has developed and we have attracted boys and girls from all over the world to our state-of-the-art facility at the Deaf Village.
“The beauty of the academy is that the athletes not only play basketball but attend our fully-accredited facility where they study at the highest level.
“I have just returned from a new elite programme in Dallas where Daniel Russell from Inchicore, Reece Efole from Tallaght, Casey Kellett Whittman from Navan and Sammy Acjicki from Dundalk are showcasing their skills.”
Russell has been impressed by Efole, who is 6’ 9” and a late starter in the game.
“Reece has come on in leaps and bounds. His mom Donna played for Killester with the famous Eamon Molloy.
“He has already got ten expressions of interest from top colleges and one definite offer. Amongst the 10 expressions of interest is Kansas State in the Big 12.
“My own son Daniel is with Reece in Loyalty Prep in El Paso but they will be moving on shortly to improve their skills.”
He adds: “It has grown beyond our wildest dreams but our plan is to add other sports to our programme as we have the facilities and a proven template.
“We plan to add two four-week pilot programmes starting in January for soccer, rugby and possibly GAA.
“I know it sounds like an ambitious idea but we already have the infrastructure in place for basketball.
“We also have a deal with DIT where academy students can go to the most up-to-date campus in the country to do degree courses.
“Last year we had basketball players from the USA and Europe who played with Killester Basketball Club and the college and also completed their master’s degree’s.
“Killester have recruited Alex Herreros, who has played at a very high level in Spain. His dad Alberto is in the top three players ever to play in Spain.
“He is GM of the Real Madrid Basketball organisation. Alex is also playing with DIT, as will another Spaniard Ferran Huerta.
“Last year Luis Filiberto Garcia Hoyos and Chantell Alford graduated with master’s degrees from the programme.”
The final word goes to Alex himself as to why he came to Dublin?
“This is the first time I’ve played outside of Spain. I’ve played three years in the EBA and one season in Division 1.
“This is going to be one of the best experiences of my life. When my agent told me about the deal to join NABA, play for Pyrobel Killester in the Super League and study for my Masters at DIT I jumped at the offer and didn’t have to think twice” said Alex whose parents have already been over to see him play.”