Nabil Murad, developing interdependence in youth basketball

We caught up with Nabil Murad, Leicester Riders U18 Men’s Head Coach to talk youth development and the importance of instilling a team first mentality.

Growing up in Dublin, Nabil’s basketball journey began relatively late on in his school years. “My first interaction with basketball came about after I was injured playing football. Unable to kick a ball, I’d hang around the basketball court during break time and dribble a basketball. By the time I was fully fit I figured my handles were actually quite good; that’s how it all started. I’d never played basketball before that.”

Nabil formalised his love of the game by throwing himself into the club scene, working his way up the ranks from newcomer to international coach. “I worked with so many clubs in and around Dublin, playing and coaching: I really put in the hard yards at club level. Eventually I got recognised and was asked to coach the Dublin Ladies Inter Regional Squad. From there I was made an assistant coach for the Ireland U16 Women and after a successful period I was offered the chance to coach in the States, as an assistant at Bishop O’Connell High School. Unable to renew my visa, after the season ended, I went back to Ireland to work with the Ireland U15 Boys and complete a Master’s Degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology at Ulster University. It was at that point that I got a call from Riders, who wanted to know if I’d be interested in taking up the role of U18 Men’s Head Coach. After speaking with the guys and listening to their vision, I decided to make the move and join the team.”

Now a part of the Riders coaching staff, Nabil is working collaboratively to impact the next generation of British basketball stars. “I’ve experienced basketball from a variety of viewpoints and I can say the programme here [Leicester Riders] is great. I’m in an office with Josh [Merrington] and Krumesh [Patel] so I’m always learning and we’re constantly talking about how we can positively impact the kids as best we can.

“One of the biggest challenges at the U18 level is moulding a group a players, who are all used to being the best player at their school, into one cohesive unit that work to better one another. The true selling point is to show that basketball is a team sport and for individuals to become successful they must learn to first become interdependent. We cite the likes of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal as examples of the importance of the sum being greater than the parts: utterly dominant players who struggled to convert their greatness into championships until they became apart of clubs with effective team environments.

“Building a strong rapport and genuine relationships is another critical facet; once a player knows you care, they’re much more likely to listen to you and apply what you say. By doing that, I can connect with my players and point them in a direction I believe will best help their development.”

Having experienced youth development on both sides of the pond, Nabil understands the differences between the players produced by the two systems. “The most striking difference between the kids that enter the system here and their counterparts in the States is simply the exposure to basketball they’ve received. Kids in the States are born with a basketball in their hand: it’s all they’ve lived for the previous decade. Exposure to AAU basketball also increases their physical and mental aptitude for the game too… The more quality basketball we can expose our kids to, at a younger age, the quicker we’ll be able to close the gap.

“Having said that, while in general the ability to read and react to the game isn’t yet where we’d like it to be, nor is the athleticism, I feel the kids here have a more advanced technical skill set: this is what allows us to compete.”

Understandably, given the age of the players under Nabil’s tutelage, balancing basketball development and education can be a challenging task. “When a player figures out why they want to play the game, each has their own ambitions and dreams, they begin to manage their time better. That’s something I obviously help with, we give them timetables, schedule rest and incorporate study into our overall development plan. It’s just as important for us that a player receives a strong academic grounding as it is to attend a workout. We hold each player accountable for their performance on and off the court.”

Although not a household name to many British basketball fans, Nabil has long-term ambitions to take the reins at the senior level. “At some stage in the future, I’d love to coach at the senior level and take charge of a BBL team. However, for now, I know my skillset and I understand my niche: I can make a real difference to players between the ages of 14 and 19. I’d love to give the senior game a go, later down the line, to see if I could cultivate the same success and build similar relationships with my players. Of course the Riders have a great development system here and I’ve been to many BBL practices and interact with the other coaches and senior players, it’s something I’ll definitely look to do in the future.

“I don’t plan too far into the future. I’m going to do the best job I can right here, right now. If something opens up because of that then we’ll see, but for now my focus is on making the best of the group of players I’m currently working with.”

Image: P.Davies