Updated: Jun 1
Recent success at Ipswich Basketball Club has been well-documented and well-celebrated. In particular, the Women’s side of the club have had huge success at junior and senior stage over the past 6 or so years, with numerous League and Cup National titles.
However, success in women’s basketball at Ipswich has been long-established. Having been founded in 1976 and led by Bernard Ball, the then-named Ipswich Bobcats had their first ‘golden era’ in the 1980s, winning the National Trophy Championship, the club’s first national title. Bernard’s son Michael and daughter Kathryn would also play major roles in the club, with Michael taking over from his father as the figurehead of the Junior programme in the 90s and leading the Junior Women to four National Titles that decade.
Two players who contributed significantly to that early Ipswich Bobcats success are Cat McLean and Laura Shemming. Both have been selected to play on the GB Maxibasketball programme. We sat down with both to find out a bit more information about the programme and their history with IBC.
Thanks for meeting with us! First of all, congratulations on your selection to the GB Maxibasketball programme! For those in basketball who aren't already aware, could you explain what the GB Maxibasketball programme is and how you came to be involved?
Cat: Maxibasketball is a competitive category for players retired from regular basketball, and who wish to continue playing in high performance competitions against players in their age group. In the UK, maxibasketball is also referred to as ‘masters’ basketball.
Maxibasketball is divided into competition categories which rise in 5-year increments, starting from 30+, all the way up to 80+! The world governing body is the International Federation of Maxibasketball and they are responsible for organising maxibasketball competitions and events in every continent.
I got involved 3 years ago when I was invited to a masters weekend tournament in Venice, Italy. I met some of the GB Maxibasketball family and then went along to trials for the European Championship. This was supposed to take place in 2020 but obviously didn’t happen due to Covid. Thankfully this year we are on course to participate in Malaga, Spain at the end of June.
Your association with Ipswich Basketball Club goes back a long way. What are your fondest memories and biggest accomplishments when you think back on your time with Ipswich?
Laura: I played for Ipswich from the age of 14 until about 35, not sure quite when I retired but it would’ve been when Elaine Miller retired as coach. My best memory was winning the National Trophy at Maidenhall Sport Centre, making the winning basket around 1985.
My other fondest memories were representing England which I did from U13 through to senior women. This is what is so great about the GB maxi ballers, I get to play at a high level again, representing my country and teaming up with my ex-England teammates. Even though it is the over 50 category you can tell the pedigree of the players and the intensity they have played at and are still playing at.
Cat: I think I started playing with IBC when I was around 11. I left when I went off to University, and returned again to play with the senior women around the 2013-2015 seasons. I suppose with any team sport, when you get older you realise the friendships you make in a club such as Ipswich, are for life. Thanks to the power of the internet, I am still in touch with friends who live all over the world, from my time playing at IBC. I think the U19 team that we had in 1995/96 was a great team to play with. Under the coaching supervision of Michael Ball, we won multiple accolades that season.
Have you had your first training sessions with the GB Maxis squad yet? How has preparation gone so far?
Cat: I initially starting trialling for GB Maxibasketball in October 2019, before Covid, in preparation for the 2020 European Tournament. As that didn’t happen, we started training again once it was safe to do so and have been training almost every month since April 2021. Preparation is good - we have an amazing team of coordinators, coaches, physios, and others to keep us up to date with everything.
Laura: We have been training with the GB squads for 18-24 months now, spending 1 weekend nearly every month training and trialling for the team. The focus is getting physically stronger to avoid injuries… as you can imagine at 53 this a main concern! I suffered a bad Achilles injury in September 2019, therefore my recovery and rehab has been difficult at times.
The FIBA European Maxibasketball Championships are being held from 24th June to 3rd July in Malaga. What are you most looking forward to? What are the squad's goals for the championships?
Laura: Our goals for Malaga are to medal, we are not going there to lose. We want to compete with the European teams and win. I haven’t thought beyond Malaga, but the world championships are in Orlando in 2023 so we’ll see…
Cat: I’m looking forward to competing at a high level again, but particularly in an international arena, and also playing with teammates who I used to play against. Our 40’s squad wants to compete at that international level and come away with a medal.
Looking beyond this summer, what are your expectations for Maxibasketball in the UK?
Cat: Although basketball is the second most played team sport by young people in the UK (after football), it is still woefully under-funded. Conor Faulkner described the situation in a very well written Guardian article last month.
I’d like to see Maxibasketball grow in the UK, giving retired players the opportunity to compete at a high level again. For me, the fact that you have the opportunity to play basketball beyond National League and BBL/WBBL, and into your 60’s and 70’s is amazing and should be celebrated.
One of the great things about Maxibasketball is that there are plenty of weekend tournaments to get involved with. These happen across Europe and some further afield, 12 months of the year, and are a great way to get back into playing and reconnect with players, without committing to a large tournament like Malaga. https://www.mastersbasketballtournaments.com/
Finally… you both have a wealth of experience, if you were to give any advice to our young athletes coming through the Ipswich pathway, what would it be?
Cat: I feel like there is a lot of pressure on younger players nowadays as the sport is more high-profile, but I would say try and enjoy it as much as you can. As a player there is always room for improvement, no matter how much you have learnt already. I love the fact that I can still improve, and I can learn so much from my ex-opposition teammates along the way.
Laura: I would advise the younger athletes to take care of their bodies, physically and mentally, to take every piece of advice given and not think you know better as there is always something to learn. At 53 I am still learning about the game and receiving gems of information from a variety of coaches. The main thing I would say though is to enjoy playing as it is an amazing sport, you’ll make friends that will last a lifetime from it and be magnanimous whether you win or lose.