Joining Ball in Europe as a contributor is Sam Chadwick, a youth-team assistant coach and aspiring sports journalist/head coach (so call ‘im the BiE intern, then) based in Great Britain. Sam’s home team is the British Basketball League division three team Solent Kestrels, his favorite team is Unicaja Malaga (“as Joel Freeland plays for them and he used to play at my club,” he explains), and his favorite NBA team is the Chicago Bulls (“a consequence of growing up in the 90s”). Sam also writes his own blog on all things basketball-related at BehindTheB.blogspot.com.
When I was first contacted about writing for Ball in Europe, editor Os Davis told me to try and keep the focus mainly on European players and specifically (as I live in England) on British players and teams. Straight after I started looking for a story, a player or a team that I could base my first column/article on. In the end, I simply decided to write an article on a team that I know the most about: the Solent Kestrels, née the Solent Stars, a team that I personally have played for and the team I learned the game from.
The Solent Stars were founded in 1980 with a starting lineup of Ken Walton, Trevor Denny, Marvin Johnson, J. Robinson, Paul Philip and former NBA player Jimmy Guymon. Guymon later founded the Solent Stars youth programme for young kids in the Southampton area – especially his son Matt – who had aspirations of playing in the U.S. The club had been formed at the end of the previous season from two Southern League teams, the Portsmouth Pirates and Southampton Sharks.
The Solent Stars were successful for many seasons and in the 1980s and 90s drew a few thousand as the average attendance (which was very high for that time in the UK) as they became increasingly successful, winning three national cups and four play-off championships.
Despite this strong history going into the new millennium, the team was on a downward spiral; at the end of the 2000-2001 season, Solent finished second to bottom in the National Basketball League Conference, with a record of 6-15.
Solent was losing and losing badly and tried to make amends in 2001-2002, ultimately finishing the season in third place behind Plymouth Raiders and Teeside Mohawks: This would be the Stars last stand at respectability, and from there the seasons got worse. The Stars finished from between 8th and 12th places in the final years of the club. In 2006/07, they finished 8th and the club finally folded after receiving minimal support and suffering from a general lack of financial security.
The final closing of the Solent Stars was expected to end the Solent youth programme. Fortunately for me as a player, programme organizers decided to break away from the Stars after the men’s team started using youth funds to pay player salaries and hall rental. This eventually led to the creation of the Solent Kestrels, currently the top youth team in Hampshire and possibly in the south of England.
Last year, all but one team in the Solent programme advanced to the playoffs, and teams from the Under-13 level all the way up to the U18s had varying success levels. One of the strongest U18 teams I have ever seen finally finished fourth after a devastating semi-final loss against the Hackney White Heat and a demoralised finish against the Reading Rockets in the consolation game: Currently, almost half of that under-18 team squad play at the high-school level in America.
Solent’s Under-15s also finished in fourth place after losing in the semi-finals to the eventual champions, the Sheffield Sharks, who have a strong youth programme in England and are one of the top teams every year.
This season, Solent looks to continue the success with my U13s team (yes, I coach) making the playoffs, and the U14s, U15s and U18s also making it to the playoffs. Hopefully, the club will continue so long into the future and produce players able to play professionally in continental Europe and the U.S. Best of luck to all the teams in the playoffs!
Sam Chadwick is a assistant coach for the Solent Kestrels U13 team. He also writes a basketball-centered blog called Behind The Back.