Raiders add teenagers to BBL squad
MARJON Plymouth Raiders have awarded their first two-year basketball apprenticeships to teenagers Jordan Blount and Tristan Hall.
Guard Blount, 15, is from Cork, Ireland, where senior professional Colin O'Reilly also hails from, while forward Hall, 17, is from Portsmouth but has come through Plymouth Marjon's development programme.
It is the first time the BBL club have formally had an apprenticeship scheme, which has long been common practice for aspiring 16-year-olds in professional football in Britain.
Blount and Hall are two of 14 students at Raiders' new academy at Discovery College in Plymouth, which offers school-leavers two years of intense basketball training alongside further education.
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Raiders boss Gavin Love has been so impressed with the duo that he is fast-tracking them on the club's BBL roster.
They will train every night with Raiders' seven senior professionals and Hall could even see minutes in the BBL this season.
Blount will not because he is Irish. New BBL rules in 2012/13, bidding to support this summer's London Olympics legacy, mean clubs can only recruit five non-British players and Raiders already have five.
Love, whose team entertain Dublin Thunder in pre-season at the Pavilions tonight (7.30pm), said: "Unfortunately Jordan can't formally be part of the BBL roster because he's Irish, but regardless of that he will practice with us every day and do everything the professional players do.
"Tristan will formally be on the roster because he's British and having young, enthusiastic guys like them around keeps older guys on their toes."
The Herald helped Raiders launch a search for two new stars this summer, a drive which culminated in open trials at Plymouth College on August 25.
Love had heard of Blount and Hall before that day, but did not realise how good they were.
"I knew who they both were, but I hadn't really seen them play before the trial," said Love, who then invited both to sink or swim, so to speak, in pre-season training with Raiders.
"This is the apprenticeship we have talked about and Jordan is a talented young man and he wants it.
"He's only 15 and I don't think there are many 19-year-olds he wouldn't look out of place going against.
"Tristan Hall is another lad, who is practicing with us and doing a very good job. He and Jordan are two very good young players.
"They're improving every day and you can see it, even in their bodies. They're using muscles they've never used before."
Blount came off Raiders' bench in Wednesday's opening pre-season win over Team USA Select at the Pavilions. Hall was unavailable, but is set to make the bench tonight.
Blount jogged onto court and immediately received a friendly tap on the back from Raiders' leading scorer last season Jeremy Bell, underlining the respect he has already garnered from top professionals.
"They're learning from veteran BBL players, who have played around the world," said Love. "You can't teach that experience. It's so valuable and that's why the apprenticeship is worth its weight in gold to these two guys."
Raiders also have a double-header of friendlies at the Pavilions tomorrow against Thunder again (11am) and a different Team USA Select squad (4pm).
Love added: "Jordan and Tristan are both with the academy at Discovery College and are getting eight hours of basketball a week there. They're getting another eight hours of basketball with us and when they're available they're getting eight hours of conditioning in the morning.
"It's basketball, basketball, basketball and wherever these guys are now, in 12 months they're going to have improved leaps and bounds."
It is naturally early days on every level, but Raiders believe both Blount and Hall, through contacts, ideally will be playing basketball in the education system in the USA next season, where Raiders will continue to carefully monitor their progress.
Love, who himself first joined Raiders as a junior at 15, said: "The club hasn't done this for years and years, but I'm really happy we're doing it now.
"We discovered Jordan through a contact in Ireland and that's what we're looking to do – bring talent to Plymouth."