Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's hoops bonanza is about changing lives, insists Maguire


American dream: organiser Gareth Maguire ahead of this weekend’s US college tournament
American dream: organiser Gareth Maguire ahead of this weekend’s US college tournament
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Over the next two days, the SSE Arena will be the centre for world class sport featuring US college basketball players who could one day feature in the NBA but for organiser Gareth Maguire it means much, much more than simply who triumphs at the Hall of Fame Belfast Classic.

In the 1990s Maguire was part of the Star of the Sea side that won back-to-back All Ireland Superleague titles, while he also earned numerous caps for Ireland.

Maguire, married to another former Irish international, Dr Deirdre Brennan, admits the sport transformed his life opportunities and has been the inspiration behind his Sport Changes Life Foundation which has paired up with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Metro Athletic Conference (MAAC) to host the SSE Arena event.

"I started off with St Gall's basketball club and they did so much for me growing up. My mum Patricia brought me up and coaches like John Kennedy, Eugene Young and Bobby Morrison were like surrogate fathers to me," said Maguire.

"It's what they did for me, the opportunities in life that I got in basketball that inspired the foundation I set up with my wife Deirdre because I don't know where I would have been without basketball.

"We passionately believed that sport can change lives, so we devised a programme that involves kids coming to the University of Ulster for a six-month programme.

"We have worked in communities across the country and we take kids who have drug issues, alcohol problems, whatever may be the case and we bring them into the programme and look to help them.

"They get to play sport and we also bring them into the classroom - we want to show them what can be achieved in their lives and so far it has been going really well."

The inspirational foundation attracted the attention of the Americans, via the scholarship programme set up by wife Deirdre at the University of Ulster Jordanstown, which every year brings in US college players to study, play and coach.

Maguire is delighted that for the first time college basketball will be staged outside the country, being beamed live coast to coast into 600m homes in the States.

"It's terrific to have such an event in Belfast because Belfast is a success story," added Maguire.

"The fans are going to see some great basketball but more than that I hope this can inspire young people to play the sport - or any sport."

Belfast Star chairman Bill McCotter commented: "Basketball here has never had an event quite like this.

"I'm not sure people realise just how big this is.

"To have competitive college games in Belfast is incredible and Gareth Maguire and Mark Mulholland deserve great credit for making it happen."

Tonight's action: Manhattan College v College of the Holy Cross (4.30pm); Towson University v La Salle University (7pm)

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