This month, we asked London Lions guard Jack Isenbarger to compare basketball fans in England to the fan experience he's had in the States. As you can imagine, it's a little different across the pond.
The team I currently play with, the London Lions, get crowds of roughly 750-2,000 for home games. In the BBL, crowd attendance varies based on the location of the game, the current position of the team (win-loss record), and how well the game is marketed. The luxury of playing with the London Lions is that we have a great venue in the Copper Box, which was built for the 2012 Olympics. However, the arena often feels empty because the arena has a capacity of 7,000 people.
As the team experiences success, like anywhere, the fan base should grow. The British Basketball League is eager to have a team compete in the transnational FIBA EuroCup Challenge, which would bring much more exposure to the league and allow teams in the BBL to be rewarded for winning the League and gaining promotion into such a league. One qualifying factor for a team to compete in the EuroCup is to have an appropriate size arena. I’ve heard rumors that the three teams vying for what would be the inaugural EuroCup participant are the Newcastle Eagles, Leicester Riders, and the London Lions.
Basketball is much bigger in America than it is in England. Many Londoners don’t know that a professional basketball team exists and there are two primary barriers. First, soccer or ‘football’ dominates the realm of sport in the U.K. – basketball is viewed as a minor sport in England. Basketball is below soccer, rugby, cricket, and ice hockey. Secondly, the London Lions only moved to London in 2013. Before, the team was based in Milton Keynes. Awareness of the sport and the team ought to grow with winning, marketing, and the potential for a FIBA EuroCup entry.
Player diaries are back for the 2017/18 season! We caught up with Jack Isenbarger, who is playing for the London Lions of the British Basketball League. Isenbarger was kind enough to blog for us last season, and we're hoping to hear from more from him this year! Interview is below.
What are your goals for the season? Are they the same as last season?
As far as goals for the season, our team wants to win the league and win a championship. More importantly, we want to be healthy and playing our very best basketball of the season in April as we head into the playoffs. The personal goals and motivations for each player are different, and we are still learning about one another.
Personally, my goals this year include improving my individual defense by working with our strength and conditioning staff to build lower body strength and lateral quickness. Another goal is to remain strong and healthy through the entire season. Going into my fourth year out of college and having fought through injuries in the past, I have a greater appreciation for health and the energy I need to spend taking care of my body so I can recover and perform as the season grind endures. One offensive goal of mine is to be a consistent three-point threat and improve my scoring options that come with being a sniper. This includes working on individual moves such as shot fakes into pull up jump shots, step backs, and finishing at the rim. Percentage wise, I would like to finish the season in the 90-50-40 club (90% ft, 50% fg, 40% 3pt).
Another goal of mine is to be intentional about investing into the relationships with my teammates. I believe that the closer our relationships are with teammates and coaches, the more successful we will be on the court. It's been a blast getting to know my teammates thus far as we had a 10 day preseason trip to Poland, which really facilitated team bonding. I think we have a strong foundation and sense of belonging which will help us throughout the season when adversity comes. Another great thing for team bonding our team captain has done is that he created a fantasy NBA league which we all play in, including our GM. It's a great way to connect with guys and feed the competitive and social need of all the players. So far we won the preseason league tournament and are 3-0 heading into a double header weekend against Newcastle and Leeds.
December 9, 2016 - It's almost been 3 weeks since I got injured and I'm starting to get my strength back after an AC (shoulder) sprain. I was blindsided by an open court screen against the Newcastle Eagles. The injury is common in football and rugby players, and the physio informed me that it would be best to rest from basketball for 3-4 weeks and supplement physical therapy until I am pain free and strength is restored to my shoulder. Fortunately, it was my left shoulder (my non-shooting shoulder). For my job, I am paid primarily to shoot and score the ball among other things. Therefore, it's a relief to know my shooting will not be affected by the injury.
Nonetheless, I am itching to get back on the court. I hate not being able to practice. I hate not being able to play. Yet, I still have been able to help the team in other ways such as working out teammates in positional-oriented drills and doing in-game notetaking to track flow of the game and look for ways to help us improve. It's a way for me to look at the game through my "coaching" lens. As much as I don't like not being on the court, it's been refreshing to see the game through a different perspective.
With Christmas coming up, it means many teams will be making roster changes in hopes of making a spot in the playoffs. We're currently sitting in ninth place of a 12-team league where the top eight teams make the playoffs. We feel that we have a top-eight team when everyone is healthy, and we have proven we can play with the top teams in the league.
Off the court, I'm looking forward to get a little break for the holidays. I'll be spending time with some friends I've made through the basketball club. We're heading to Portsmouth for a proper Christmas dinner and then we'll get to visit London too. It's not ideal being away from family but it's nice to have friends who so generous as to open up their home to me. Last year when I was in Spain, the most difficult day of the year was Christmas. It was my first Christmas spent away from Zionsville, Indiana. This year, I'm hoping it will not be as difficult but I know it won't be easy. Christmas is a time to be home with loved ones and I plan on being home next Christmas.
November 8, 2016 - Today was a light day with the only team obligation being weight lifting from 10-11:30 this morning. We didn’t have practice this afternoon which meant I got to grab a late lunch and then take care of some errands like doing laundry, buying groceries and opening a bank account here in Leeds. Walking home from lunch with a teammate, I bumped into one of our team's co-owner’s in town. He runs a restaurant chain called PizzaWay, and he showed us around his newest location (it’s similar to Blaze Pizza in America). The new location is ideal for the business and convenient for those of us who live in Headingley. Because PizzaWay is a major sponsor of the team, they provide players free pizza – a perk I’m certainly thankful for!
The overall spirit of the team was down after a close loss to Glasgow moved us to 2-5. We have the pieces and talent that we need, but we aren’t executing in practice or games at a high enough rate. Knowing each other’s strengths and weakness takes some time but once we synchronize, I’m confident we’ll be tough to beat. The league emphasizes scoring in transition and fast break situations, yet we’ve had the lowest transition production at ten percent of our offensive coming in transition. That is partly our lack of creating turnovers and turning them into easy baskets. That is also partly due to our style of play. We are a systematic team that emphasizes a half court orientated game. We want to score using our half-court plays and work our sets in order to gain an advantage, extend an advantage, and maintain an advantage.
Off the court, the weekend included three days of travel and site seeing adventure. I channeled my inner tourist by visiting Liverpool with my teammates on Saturday. We went to the Cavern Club where the Beatles found a home and performed regularly. Liverpool had a museum featuring a history of the port city and another museum on slavery. The night concluded with a fireworks show on the water in honor of the holiday “Bonfire Night” and the legendary tale of Guy Fawkes, who tried to burn down the parliament on November 5, 1605.
I'd found out the day before that my brother Matt would be flying to London to spend three days for work. I was able to catch a ride with a generous team manager/photographer. After about four hours and a stop at the Dr. Martens’ factory, we arrived in North London. Next, we walked to the closest tube station to get to the center of the city where my brother’s hotel was located. We spent an hour catching up in his hotel room before going with him on his drone presentation to 500 Apple employees in the world’s most successful Apple shops…no big deal.
It was cool to see behind the scenes of my brother’s job, and we finished the night with fish and chips! The next day, I said goodbye early because my brother had to travel to Stratford to give more presentations, and I met up with Kieron, our team manager. We grabbed a coffee and walked around the city, which was beautiful. We went to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Winston Churchill war rooms, Trafalgar Square, and witnessed a procession leading up to the changing of the guard. Around 12:30 p.m. we took the Tube out of the city to get the car and on our way back to Leeds in time for practice that night.
We are happy to introduce the third Baller Abroad in our player diary series, Jack Isenbarger! Isenbarger is a second-year pro out of Elon University in North Carolina, where he was named to the all-conference team multiple times and finished his career as the school's all-time leader in three pointers made (264). After a season in Spain, Isenbarger signed with Leeds Force of the British Basketball League, the top tier in England. He what his experience has been like so far: