In this edition of TUB Profile I talk to Cory McGee, basketball entrepreneur and 13-year veteran. We talk about youth development, the principles of basketball, playing ball in Europe, basketball in Britain and much more.
Cory, you’ve got a lot of basketball on your plate at the moment. Can you give a brief overview of your current ventures? How difficult is it to juggle each business and keep everything moving in the right direction?
It’s not hard to juggle my interests because after spending so much time in various countries where I could not speak the language, watch TV or read a newspaper I have a very good sense of who I am and where my strengths and weaknesses are. I truly believe people make time for what makes sense. I don’t mean that in a negative way. However, when you want to be the best player you have to put in work and go to the gym etc. Same way when you want to be a good student you have to go to the library and spend time with your books. Moral of the story: “the same way you play on the court should equal what you do off.” Through business I have to channel certain levels of time and to research exactly what direction and why and identify “teams may change up the defence”, so I may have to adapt to the environment and level of play and go in to the “Black Bond”.
You’re a graduate of Savannah State University. Looking back at your time in college, how did your basketball develop and how much did the experience shape your playing style heading into your professional career?
My time at Savannah State University playing ball was a great time and experience. The funniest thing was the toughest competition came from guys in the streets. Playing against them all summer actually proved to be an advantage for me and a few teammates who took those challenges and games very personal. I used to have people mad because I was on a full scholarship. So I had to prove it on a daily basis on and off the court – not in a physical way. So that definitely helped me, especially SSU being an all-Black University. You had to come with an A on all accounts (grades, clothes, points per game); if I should slip in any way shape or form, oh the line was as long as the M25 with people ready to replace me.
You enjoyed an excellent 15-year professional career that took you to many places including Ireland, Holland, Finland and the UK. Did you ever envisage playing in such diverse locations?
It’s actually 16 years (3 seasons in the UK), 13 seasons in 10 countries. I could not ever imagine those opportunities. I have played in places where even to this day I struggle with the pronunciation of the team. When you come from where I do leaving the city for a weekend did not really happen often. You may go to the other side of town, but to travel was something I knew nothing about before coming to the United Kingdom.
How difficult did you find moving between the countries, on and off the court? I’d imagine you were constantly having to reinvent your game to suit each league?
Basketball is very simple game but people can make it hard when they are not accustomed to fundamentals. European basketball has so many elements of fundamental basketball (penetrate & pitch, pick & roll, extra exaggeration on the follow through, shooting with a lot of arch). In Spain they play fast and really get up and down, Israel is very physical but very focused on execution, France very athletic and swift. As long as I stay in shape at 6’5″ point with a British Passport I would easily and happily adapt to whatever coaching ethos was there for me – to do my and something I love to do…. play basketball.
The greatest thing about moving from country to country was meeting and greeting the locals. I did not really hang out with my teammates, only because I know I was there to do my job and I needed to focus on just going over and exceeding expectations. I was on a totally different vibe. I did not want to be cut from the team or get overly personal. My teammates understood and respected I was there to win and respect the team, country, community and the opportunity to play and live a dream.
Among all your success, what do you consider to be your career highlight?
To highlight a particular time or moment in my career would be hard because I have won and competed for championships in Europe, but to be able to travel and meet so many incredible people is what makes it special – to have the opportunity to reach out to any team I played for and the owner or coach or fans, and the fact that they are so happy to hear about LEAP or Hoopla or my daughter and myself is truly a blessed feeling. So now it’s about connecting the dots and doing something really special because of “7 ounces of Leather”.
How do you reflect on your time playing professionally in the UK? How have you seen the game shift over the last decade?
It’s not for me to comment on the state of British basketball because it provided me with a chance to achieve my dreams. I can’t say I agree or understand the direction. Luol Deng and Steve Vear are doing an excellent job of inspiring kids and players. I think it’s really about setting realistic goals and objectives and holding governments and coaches and players accountable for actually playing for the benefit of the team and doing what it takes to produce results. That requires money and time and patience… so that’s a mountain in itself.
Do you feel that basketball in Britain is in a stronger position today than it was 10-15 years ago?
In your opinion what needs to change at a grassroots level for Britain to consistently produce high-calibre players, year after year?
Your academy, LEAP Diversify, aims to provide a system of relevant opportunities, making positive differences in the lives of children. What inspired you to establish LEAP and how important a tool is basketball for improving the lives of disadvantaged children?
Nothing Changes. “Changing the World, One Dribble at a time.” I have set goals and identified what it is I do and want and how to actually bring it to fruition. I’m looking forward to the New Year. There is a tremendously high expectation level set by L.E.A.P Diversify Basketball UK, having successfully taken a group of boys to Florida last July and competed in a Junior Varsity basketball tournament. The team finished with 5 wins and 1 loss. The young boys represented the United Kingdom as student-athletes and experienced some very loud and hostile fans – this being their 1st time in USA. I salute them all for the dedication and determination on and off the court. The players earned the respect of the high-school coaches and players. Quote from Tom Ryan, Head Coach Eckerd College (Former NCAA II Champions): “You guys have definitely raised the level of play and intensity of the tournament and camp.” Some of the LEAP players are going through the process of opening the lines of communication with a couple of high schools to attend from September.
My future plans are to continue making sure my players are first of all academically prepared and understand certain levels of life skills. Following that, then we can do what I do best: show/teach you the game of basketball and more importantly prepare and provide the relevant outlets to further educational and basketball ambitions.
To be able to see the world through the eyes of a child is a great thing. L.E.A.P was a part of the curriculum at Middlesex University (ranked 63rd in world academics). Some of the top business students would be selected to conduct market research and consultancy as part of their modules. I would then take their findings and results and put my twist on it and actually bring it to life/fruition. This now gives KUDOS to the students, MIDDLESEX University and provides LEAP with FACTS and information on how to better stay ahead and prepared for forward progress. So L.E.A.P Diversify Basketball is a much more powerful engine than bouncing a ball. So to the naked eye you watch my videos of players and think ‘hmmm, ok, those kids are decent and play a little ball’. But look again; they are preparing for what is to come. Basketball teaches you about individual accountability, teamwork, togetherness, hard work. Basketball doesn’t allow complacency. Bottom line!
You took part in this year’s Hoops Aid, suiting up in the All-Star Game; how did you become involved with the event and how did you find the experience?
HOOPS AID was a really good time and special event. Big shouts to LANCE HAGGITH and his family… really class people. It felt good to suit up and play against guys I have not seen since Budweiser BBL. I had to let them know I still get up and down with no issues and still can score. Plus I had a lot of kids and families from my academy in the stands and friends from all over the place from my time in the UK. Even better than playing in HOOPS AID was having the chance to COACH in an OLYMPIC venue, before the All-Star Game. The same team I took to Florida played in the warm-up game and we won. So all in all it was a great day and road trip for L.E.A.P Diversify Basketball UK and to support HOOPS AID was truly inspirational. Big Shouts to Debbie Martin Garcia (Shoot for Change).
What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve received, in terms of your basketball development?
“You get out of the game what you put in”. Best advice to young players today would be: “Handle your business in the classroom”, this will provide you with relevant options moving forward or in case of injury. Considering there are only 24 hours in a day and some people sleep for 8, it leaves 16 hours to be successful. You will have to develop a very strict template for hard work on and off the court. To be successful it will require “BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS” – there is no other way around it or need to sugar coat it. Value your education and stay dedicated to the fundamentals of basketball before venturing into fadeaways and dunks. Play defence first!
Tell me about Hoopla Fashion. What’s it about and how’d it come about?
www.hooplafashion.com was a handmade gift to me for my birthday. After receiving it, I instantly grew attached, but I also realised that I personally had not seen anything like this before. After doing some homework HOOPLA is now copyrighted, trademarked and official. The New York Knicks and Spike Lee have worn pieces and like what we do. I now have a very talented business partner Denny Armstrong. Prior to the handmade bracelet, Dennyz was not into basketball at all but she has been seen recently at tournaments, so look out folks and stay tuned! HOOPLA is cool, different, trendy, relevant, adds tremendous levels of swag to your chosen outfit or attire sporty or smart. We have the proof.