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A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life

"A good coach can change a game, a great coach can change a life"

Those words adorn the wall of Club and Academy Head Coach Nick Drane’s office, stitched into a blue tapestry made for him by his players at the close of the 2017-18 season which saw his newcomer Division 2 WNBL side go unbeaten. On the way to a historic season which saw the young Ipswich side, comprised entirely of homegrown players Drane had helped develop, storm the league and playoffs, as well as upsetting a handful of NBL D1 sides to famously win the National Cup.

It wasn’t the first Ipswich Women side, in fact for much of Ipswich’s history they have been led by a successful women’s side, but given the impact this most recent incarnation has had on women’s basketball in England, it is easy to forget that it has only been around for 7 seasons.

Further Awards and Championships have followed. League champions in 2024, 2021, 2020 in D1 following the D2 win of 2018. National Cup winners in 2024 to add to the 2018 success, and Playoff Champions in 2021. At the Under 18 level, the Women have won the 2023 National Cup. The WEABL side have been 2x 3x3 National Champions and in 2020 were co-champions in the Covid-shortened season. Nick is the only coach in the country to have received both EABL and WEABL Coach of the Year Awards, alongside NBL Coach of the Year Awards and the countless MVPs, DPOYs, MIPs and Team of the Year awards his players have earned under his tutelage.

On Friday, Head Coach Nick Drane was awarded perhaps the most significant of the list: the John Sage Coach of the Year Award, commonly referred to as National Coach of the Year. This award is testament to over 20 years of contributions to British Basketball, fortifying the understanding that the Suffolk playcaller is among the country’s elite coaches, recognised by the sport's governing body, Basketball England.

Coach Drane and the 23/24 squad (Richard Leach)

Despite the success of Ipswich Basketball Club and Academy on the national level, Suffolk and Ipswich have very few reasons to be a basketball hotbed. Ipswich is a town with a population of less than 150,000, roughly a fifth of Manchester’s, a tenth of Birmingham’s and a fifty-eighth of London’s. Yet Ipswich Basketball Club and the Academy based at Copleston Sixth Form has created opportunities for its athletes worth millions of pounds in scholarships, for example. But while winning an award as such is a huge honour, and winning championships is the goal of any high level coach, the true impact of Drane’s coaching has been on the lives he has changed. "A great coach can change a life." We spoke to a number of Coach Drane’s players and colleagues, past and present, about the impact he has had on them.

Club Chairman, Nick Newman, who has worked with Coach Drane as a player, coach and now club official, led the tributes, saying:

“We’re very proud of the work Nick has done in Ipswich for the past 20+ years. He has led the programme to 18 national titles and his work developing youngsters in the Ipswich / Suffolk area and across the country has been immeasurable. This award is a great recognition of an outstanding basketball coach and richly deserved.”

Perhaps the first “big” name to come out of Ipswich during Drane’s era, both in stature and in impact, was Lee Linton-Hodges. The 7ft big man, who recently returned to the Ipswich Men’s set up, wrote:

“When I joined Ipswich all those years ago I was right at the beginning of my basketball journey. Nick took me under his wing. It was a difficult time for me in my life, no real goal and I was a very unconfident young boy.

Basketball changed me drastically but more so the relationship that I formed with Nick changed me also. Nick, for me, as amazing a coach as he is, offers so much more. The support and safety net he gave me as a young man that was lost is what I really needed at that time in my life. You see this over and over again with how he is as a coach. Nick was at my wedding, and I can’t think of many other coaches that develop that type of relationship with their players.

There is a reason players with so much talent come back to Ipswich for summer camps and other events to support the club and, let’s be honest, it’s not the town!

This award is so deserved. Nick is an incredible coach but an even better person and I am so pleased he has finally got the recognition he has deserved for all the hard work and relentless hours he has put into making this basketball club the family that it is now.”

Another big name to come out of the Ipswich programme is Ethan Price. Ethan, a recent transfer to Washington State University after three years at Eastern Washington, added:

“Coach Drane had a huge impact on my basketball journey. He gave me a platform at the academy to be able to show my ability and instilled a belief in me to be able be the player I am today. His ability to bring the best out of a player and person shows a lot about him as a coach and a mentor and I’m glad to call him a friend for life!”

Esther Little is perhaps the most prominent female player to come out of Ipswich Basketball Academy, heading to Gonzaga where she has played the last three seasons. Under the guidance of Coach Drane and his team of EIBC volunteer coaches, Esther was a regular in the junior Great Britain lineups and has long expressed that despite her huge success on the court, it was off the court that Nick had the bigger impact.

“Nick is a coach that puts the person before the player. I lost my mum when I was 13 & the impact Nick had on me during that time will stay with me forever. He doesn’t ever think twice about what he does, it’s just him. The care & love for his players goes way beyond the basketball court, but on the court, the confidence he instills in his players is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The relationship we have will last a lifetime. I will forever be in debt for the support he has provided to me & my family throughout my years at the club & beyond.”

Through his work with Ipswich Basketball Academy, where he is Academy Director, Nick has worked closely with Copleston Sixth Form, where the Academy is based. One of his colleagues there is Jack Goodrich, who as well as being Assistant Director of Sixth Form, has also been a junior coach and committee member at the club. Jack added:

“Nick is obsessed with basketball and an outstanding basketball coach, but there are plenty of outstanding basketball coaches out there. What makes Nick stand out is his undying commitment to his players. It is a huge privilege to work with young people, to inspire and support them on their journeys, and I have had the pleasure of seeing the growth of the Academy over the last 11 years I’ve been involved. Leading the Academy and Club is a job that carries weight, and Nick wears that with pride and a true sense of responsibility. There is a reason why his players love him so much, and there is a reason why young aspiring elite players around the country and looking to Ipswich to help them develop, both on court and as people.”

At the Academy, Coaches Adam Robinson and Danny Manning have been by Coach Drane’s side for much of the work put into the EABL and WEABL programmes, as well as becoming mainstays in the EIBC coaching roster.

Adam: “Nick’s versatility and ability to have an impact on every aspect of the programme from community sessions to the elite seniors is remarkable, but also vital to ensuring the club has the success it does.

His work ethic and leadership on and off the court helps improve everyone involved. It make IBC a unique environment which impacts all levels of basketball. It’s the reason I’ve stayed involved for so long.”

Danny: “Nick’s work with players and coaches is unmatched. He is responsible for guiding and nurturing some of the nation's best players and coaches, whilst also ensuring that every young person who comes through his programme leaves as a more confident and empowered one.

I will forever be grateful for the opportunities he has afforded me and the massive role he has played in helping me to establish my career.”

Sam Newman with Coach Drane on the sideline (Pavel Kricka)

From winning the Under 13 National Championship to being named NBL D1 Playoff Final MVP, Sam Newman has experienced most of what can be achieved in the NBL. His journey started under Coach Drane’s guidance, with the pair a deadly coach-player duo from that early U13 success to the Ipswich Senior Men’s team. Sam added:

“Nick is “my” coach. He managed to push me, keep me grounded, develop me and put me in situations to succeed. My career is built on the time and effort he put into me as a junior, and the work ethic he (eventually) managed to get me to commit to. He is LONG overdue this sort of recognition but those who know basketball know what he has created in Suffolk is second to none.”

Finally, the lead player of many of Coach Drane’s most recent successful teams, and a vocal supporter (sometimes on NBL Final broadcasts) of her coach, Harriet Welham. Welham and Drane as a combination have become a formidable force in WNBL. Harriet added:

“I’m so glad Nick has won this award, there’s no one more deserving than him. The wins/losses, the trophies and the national titles speak for themselves and none of it is possible without Nick. He’s helped change the women’s game in this country, not just in Ipswich, producing players and coaches along the way. It’s also the stuff he does off court that makes him special. I wouldn’t be the player or the person I am without his guidance and support, so I’ll always be grateful… thanks Nick”

Drane and Welham in a National Final (one of many) (Richard Leach)

Congratulations, Nick, from all at Endeavour Ipswich Basketball Club, Ipswich Basketball Academy and Copleston Sixth Form on an incredible achievement.

In 2022, Endeavour Ipswich Basketball Club marked 20 years of Nick's coaching career with the following tribute video:



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