I don’t think junior basketball players in the UK are soft — actually far from it. I know we have some really tough kids but what I’ve found is there doesn’t seem to be a real ‘all out’ continuous competitiveness.

Is this due to the lack of competition in Basketball England junior leagues? Is it because not many juniors are playing up or in senior environments to be really pushed on a constant basis? I don’t know. But it’s something we have found the DENGTOP50 continues to challenge players on this very element who attend the camp.

The introduction of the ranking camp three years ago brought a lot of negative messages which didn’t surprise me at all — it’s not in British culture to label and separate others on a scale of 1–50. Labelling them for being better. However, I was confident this would quickly turn around when people saw the benefits and goals of the camp — which it has!

The ranking element is the first of it’s kind in UK basketball so with anything new there comes skepticism and uncertainty — this also includes from the players. But I believe in it. I actually believe in the ranking element so much I’ve been working on a system to rank teams in junior leagues but I will save all of that for another post on another day.

The aim of the DENGTOP50 was to create a whole new competitive edge to UK basketball via a ranking system — not just for the players but also coaches and clubs across the country. To build a platform that pushed eliteness, that pushed players to not only be apart of an exclusive club but to also want to be the best [ranked #1]. As well as this, to also hit players with the harsh reality they aren’t where they think they are to create hunger to prove us wrong.

I strongly believe the camp is filling a void, mainly with helping to change players mindset.

This is how.

Our first year running the camp, the majority of the players didn’t come in ready to full out compete against one another. It was so obvious from the get go — so many were glued to their teammates and friends joking around. It was like being ranked #1 wasn’t on every players mind and they were there for a fun camp and to get free Nike kit.

We had to change this straight away.

It was Luol [Deng] who decided he wanted to speak to all of the players to see where their mindset was. He asked a simple question as all the players assembled and sat down at the court.

“Who is right now sitting next to someone who is their friend or teammate?”

Nearly every single one of the 50 campers raised their hand. For me it was clear this mentality had to be changed or the camp would never serve it’s purpose. The campers had to separate themselves from everyone else, whether a teammate, friend or a complete stranger. The mindset had to be each player out for himself to do all he could to be ranked #1. This wasn’t the players fault — they simply didn’t know anything different.

I knew from this moment that Luol had to speak to all the campers before they even reached the court which is something we have done ever since.

So we have now a camp each and every year where 50 of the UK’s best players are going head to head fighting through every minute to climb the leaderboard during and after the camp.

The competitive mindset is already plugged into each player at the camp before they step onto the court — they have to decide what they want to do. What mindset they will have when the leaderboard pops up throughout the camp seeing what position they are currently in. How will they respond.

For many, the ranking camp also takes players out of their comfort zone which again means adjusting their mindset — this is a vital element to the ranking camp as well. This has shown to separate the ultimate competitors.

Not only has the DENGTOP50 created an ultra competitive atmosphere but maybe even more importantly continues this when players leave the camp. Re-ranking and following/publishing stand out performances throughout the season has created competition all over the UK amongst the 50 players at the camp.

To give you an example, I literally got goosebumps when I saw a video of a player from last years camp being highlighted by his club team for doing so well at the camp. Well, he flat out said he wasn’t happy that he finished in the Top 20 and felt he should have been ranked higher. This is the exact mindset we want all UK players to have — I loved it.

I didn’t take his comments as negative at all. I took them as positive as he got exactly what we want every camper to get from the camp. The mindset to never settle. To want more and never to be satisfied. The type of competitiveness I hope more and more people also push within UK basketball.

This never settle mindset, to be all out competitive everytime you step on the court will really make our country produce more and more players with that competitive edge — which for me can only be a good thing!


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