Courtside duty in Wales

In the first Q&A of 2020, Gavin Caney shines the spotlight on former King’s Lynn Fury basketball coach JAMES BAMFIELD

How did you get into basketball?

I was actually a football goalkeeper and wanted to be the next Peter Shilton. But I was released from Sheffield United’s school of excellence and became a bit disillusioned with the game. At that time the 1992 Olympics had the initial USA Dream Team and after watching them I was hooked.

I loved that everyone got to attack and defend and were much more involved in the game. I also was a natural obsessive, so being able to practice on my own in the back yard without needing someone to shoot was a big factor in falling in love with the game. 

I was also very lucky to find a local club, the Arrows, who were led by Pete Kelly BEM, an amazing youth coach who gave me some fantastic opportunities.

What tempted you to become a coach?

I was actually a player coach for most of my time at Fury with the seniors, having played to British Basketball League level. 

I set up the team and it was a natural step to lead the coaching but I was very lucky to have great assistants such as Andy Milbourne and Lee Makinson. I was also determined to get as many local youngsters playing as possible, so was very active in the community coaching and head coached the academy at the College of West Anglia. 

When the body failed me it was nice to have a natural progression to coaching only, although I literally played until I fell apart.

Tell us a little bit about your time with Fury.

It was a rollercoaster 17 years! The first few were literally a fairytale, from establishing a club in non-league to three straight promotions and being in National Basketball League Division One was a dream. We had gates of 700-plus and players from all over the UK as well as US imports. But despite having so many good things in place we just didn’t have a pipeline of local talent coming through, so as our seniors dropped away, we couldn’t sustain the success. 

This impacted gates and finances and so we made the decision to drop down to Division Four and run the club as a development programme giving local academy products – who thrived – exposure to National League basketball. We won three regional titles in four seasons, two of them undefeated, and several players made the jump to the National Basketball League. 

We had some great kids who went on to play both in the UK and US at a high level such as Patrick Manifold. The last few years were very successful with the Eastern European community becoming a big part of the club. Ultimately, I got to compete, play, coach and be friends with a whole host of wonderful people, as well as meeting my wife here, so the memories will last a lifetime.  

Fury folded in 2017. Did you see it coming? 

It probably should have folded every year. The costs of running a team were significant and court costs, transport, refs, and entries kept going up year on year. 

I had always had to sacrifice financially to keep the club afloat. I spent four to five years riding a push bike around the schools to reduce my outgoings. My wife has always been tremendously supportive of me and supported the team, sold tickets on the door etc, but when we decided to have our first child I had said I wouldn’t subsidise the club anymore as family had to come first. 

Some promises of support were made to me prior to our withdrawal that weren’t upheld and so there wasn’t really any decision to make. I was absolutely devastated as I had to give up doing something I loved but I knew it was the right thing to do.

You’re now head coach of Wales’ senior men’s team and assistant coach for top flight British Basketball League team Manchester Giants. How did those amazing opportunities come about?

I guess I had always wanted to coach at a higher level and when I didn’t have the Fury I decided to focus on my own dreams a little more. I had been working in the Basketball England regional performance centres with a view towards getting into a national team role and the Wales roles came up. 

I felt it was a position I could make a real impact in and so I decided to apply and the rest is history. With Giants I’m very grateful to Danny Byrne, (head coach) who I met over the summer, and we developed a good relationship around some scouting and collaborated on a few other things. 

When he offered me the chance to join his staff I jumped at the opportunity.

How has being involved with the professional and international game differed to lower level basketball?

The level of preparation is a lot higher, both in terms of your own team but also the advanced scouting. A big part of my role is using video and analytics to prepare scouting reports for upcoming opposition. 

I’ve really enjoyed working with the players and trying to help them develop both as individuals and a team, it’s been a difficult season but I’ve learnt so much about the pro game.

Talking tactics with the Welsh team. Pictures: SUBMITTED

Finally, what’s your aims for 2020 and the future?

When I decided I wanted to coach at the top level I committed to doing everything I could to develop as a coach so I’m actually in the second year of a Masters in Performance Coaching. It’s with Stirling University and has really helped me challenge and strengthen my quality of thought and decision making. 

I’d like to find the right situation for my family to be able to coach at the pro level and coach in Europe and the USA. I really hope we can develop the Wales programme and gain the respect of the Great Britain basketball community. I’d love to have a chance to lead a GB side as head coach too.

The facts are…

Name: James Bamfield

Date of birth: 01/07/1978

Birth place: Chesterfield

Grew up in: Dronfield

Clubs played for: Sheffield Arrows, Chester Jets, Northampton Neptunes, King’s Lynn Fury

Clubs coached: King’s Lynn Fury

Current club: Manchester Giants

Sporting hero: Michael Jordan (player), Greg Popovic and Pablo Laso (coaches) 

Twitter: @Fury13JB

• James is father to two boys, Alfie (four) who loves dinosaurs, and Max (eight weeks) who loves milk.

• He won West Norfolk Sports Coach of the Year in 2005 after leading Fury to promotion to Division One. James isn’t one for awards though so skipped out early to get to practice.

• The awards didn’t stop there for Bamfield. In 2015 he was crowned National Basketball League coach of the year.

• James got married in 2012 to Kate in Las Vegas. They didn’t have a big ceremony but spent eight weeks travelling China, New Zealand, Australia, Los Angeles and then finished in Vegas. Reverend Jeff performed the ceremony witnessed by the limo driver!

• He learned to speak a little Lithuanian to communicate better with the players at Fury. 

Quickfire questions

Restaurant or takeaway?

Night in or night out?

Bath or shower?

Tea or coffee? Latte 

Sweet or savoury? 

Summer or winter? 

Day or night? 

Cinema or theatre?

Favourite food: Fillet steak

Least favourite: Celery

Favourite TV programme: Suits

Least favourite: Love Island

Favourite film: All Rocky and most sports films 

Least favourite: Most romcoms   

                          Answers in italics