Full court game with Mike Kwentoh
"The kids were loving it and I was loving coaching more than I ever loved refereeing"
A severe injury prevented Kwentoh from progressing as a player. Despite aspirations to go further with his own basketball career, he was re-introduced to the sport through refereeing. But, after falling out of love with refereeing, Kwentoh began his coaching journey at a secondary school in West London. It was here where his amazing journey with the Chiswick Gators began.
AW: How did your basketball coaching journey begin?
Mike Kwentoh: I played at school and at club and junior international level and had aspirations to go far. Then I had an injury at the age of 18 so I stopped playing and focussed on going to university. As life went on, a friend of mine re-introduced me into the sport. There was a lack of referees at the time that was quite funny and they needed more referees and I thought I can get myself back involved and earn a bit of pocket money while doing this.
AW: What led to the change from refereeing to coaching?
Mike Kwentoh: After a couple of years in the officiating game, I still had a passion to be involved with basketball. I progressed up the referee levels from junior level to a level 1 to 2 and 3 where I was doing more senior matches and international junior friendlies. I was held back from going to level 4 and fell out of love with refereeing so I decided to revisit coaching. I went back and did a degree in sports science, then went back into teaching and I was doing some part time teaching at a school that needed a coach in Chiswick. The kids were loving it and I was loving coaching more than I ever loved refereeing.
AW: How did you go from coaching at a West London secondary school to starting the Chiswick Gators?
Mike Kwentoh: In the school I was teaching at, the kids decided they wanted to pursue basketball more than any other sport. They decided they wanted to start they’re own club because there weren’t any basketball clubs in the area at all and they couldn’t get to any of the other local clubs. I said to the parents that I would be happy to coach them and then we set up a committee and they were happy to do the club and they were happy to do it for their kids. That was four years ago!
AW: Just how far has the club come in the last four years?
Mike Kwentoh: It slowly started to snowball. More kids started to arrive, more people started to hear about us and it started to grow organically. A couple more coaches got involved and the players that I started the club with, one of them is turning 20 and he is now coaching at the club. We just kept growing and developing it, we have from year 3 to kids who are in year 12 and 13. We now have over 300 members at the club and the thirst for basketball has grown tremendously. It just kept going and we finally made the decision to go into the national competitions. We got commitment from the coaches to be with us on weekends and we got permission to use the minibus from the Lampton School. I was taking the minibus, picking up the kids at a meeting place, taking them to matches, bringing them back. It was fully functioning until the lockdown situation.
"More kids started to arrive, more people started to hear about us and it started to grow organically."
Kids need to see a pathway, there’s no trying your luck and hoping someone will discover you, there is a pathway.
AW: Do you think basketball is becoming bigger and more popular in the U.K?
Mike Kwentoh: Basketball is bigger now, but I think it’s reached its peak and stayed where it is. It hasn’t burst through into the mainstream. The U.K is still dominated by the three main sports, football, rugby and cricket, but for young kids, basketball is easily accessible, all they need is a ball and a hoop. For its popularity, the NBA is global now, people have heard of LeBron James and Kboe Bryant, in that global sense it’s grown.
AW: Did you have a vision to grow the club to how it is now? Or did you just want the kids to have a platform to play basketball?
Mike Kwentoh: At first, I wanted the kids to have a platform because the kids I was coaching at the time only did it in P.E. Now, they’ve got a bit more of a taste for it. These kids were not being exposed to the higher level. For me, it feels so rewarding to start from doing a sport in P.E, where you’re learning the basics and having a go and having fun, not really good at it, to having that grassroots where you’ve got a local club. We can now take this and go into a local league and play against others at the same level and compete and go through the experience of being in a league and experience going up a league or going down and results. For them, at that time, they never had this, they’ve gone from playing in the playground to playing in a local league. It’s all about different levels where you can have fun and compete. I never thought we would get to this point – one of the kids was begging me to start a club, and these were the guys who started the club, I was just coaching them!
AW: If some kids love basketball and want to go a bit further with their standard, what advice would you have for them?
Mike Kwentoh: There’s three things you need to do to be successful in the sport of basketball:
- If my school has a team, am I in the school team?
- Am I practicing on my weakness? A common one is working on your weaker hand, dribbling the ball and shooting it with your weaker hand – am I dealing with that issue and practicing enough?
- Once you’ve done those two parts, am I on my club side? Am I in the starting team?
After this, there’s regional teams and regional development. Kids need to see a pathway, there’s no trying your luck and hoping someone will discover you, there is a pathway.
AW: Have there been any children that have gone on to achieve well from Chiswick Gators?
Mike Kwentoh: Three kids have made regional teams in their age groups from Chiswick, and one of them I’m so proud of. He was the smallest kid and I knew from day one when I first met him at one of our first summer camps he would do well. He came in with a lot of desire, he was always focussed and when it came to the matches, he was up for it and he had determination, hardwork and mindset. When things went wrong, he switched on and went on the next thing. He put his head down, chipped away and worked – he has the right work ethic. It took him two years and he made the first regional team, the under 12s. He took his mum to Ravenscourt Park and worked on his shooting, he wasn’t the quickest so he had to work on his shooting to be relevant in the game. He went on to make the big shot to put his regional team three points in the lead at the regional competitions against the best team at the competition. Not only did Eddie (Edward Astley) make the regional team, he won the British shooting competitions at the regionals, beating kids in Manchester, Newcastle – some of the best there are. He is so focussed and determined. To me, this is the biggest success the club has had.