Brian Aldred: Ball is Life – a quarter of a century at Basketball England

Basketball England’s Coaching Delivery Manager Brian Aldred calls his 25-year career at the governing body a ‘humbling experience’.   

Within the organisation and the basketball community at large, the 54-year-old, has helped engender a coaching culture that puts people at the heart. Because of Aldred, coaches across the game have a deep understanding of their role in developing people and helping them realise their full potential, as opposed to seeking plaudits and banners.  

“My experience in the game has been humbling,” he said. “I’ve tried to take all the good practices I’ve learnt over the years and share them with the coaches I work with – I hope that comes across in my demeanour. It’s about engendering the right kind of attitudes and philosophy for coaching; to have a genuine interest in people and their development.” 

Despite his embargo on superlatives, Aldred has a cabinet full of success across his two stints at BE (adding up to nearly 30-years), which started with casual summer work he picked up as a student, before going full-time in 1988 for a few years and subsequently leaving the organisation to work in retail and financial management.

It wasn’t long until he was back in the fray, however, returning in 1996 to work in the competitions department and organising the national team, booking flights and coordinating travel for former England head coach László Németh and players, including now colleague Head of Talent and Performance Steve Bucknall.

“I had a good friendship with Peter Scantlebury on the England team, and he said Brian’s a great guy, so that’s when I first came across him," said the former London Towers shooting guard. "We got in closer contact with the England team, when he was the [team] manager and he went about his business very diligently, we got talking and I realised how much he cared about the game, the players, and how we did.

“If there’s a guy you want to talk to in the business that knows everything, he’s the guy. He’s been there and done it all in terms of Basketball England. I still lean on him, and ask him for his wisdom and opinion when I’ve got a problem and I will continue to do that.”

Aldred (top left) coached the Sheffield Hallam University team whilst assistant coach for the Sheffield Sharks

Guiding principle of his career

Aldred’s passion for coaching and developing people has been the guiding principle of his career. Moving from competitions he worked with revered officiating aficionado Alan Richardson to approve tutor schemes, put on coaching clinics and conferences, and embed the UKCC framework – which enabled governing bodies to develop quality coaching programmes and included raising awareness about safeguarding and the welfare of participants – into BE’s coaching strategy.  

More recently, Aldred delivered a project that provided a group of 40 coaches with an in-depth experience of coaching cultures and practices abroad with the help of Erasmus+ funding and worked closely with UK Coaching to launch a leadership and performance programme, designed to support the development of aspirational female coaches in the game.  

BE's CEO Stewart Kellett congratulated Aldred on his service, calling him a 'great and loyal colleague'.

"Brian has been a great and loyal colleague, dedicating 25-years to help so many coaches and people across the game to get the most from their basketball," he said.

"Being part of a national governing body to serve thousands of people in our great sport is a privilege, and it's been really good to hear Brian comb the history of the game, reflect on that privilege and all the people he has interacted with. He has become the oracle of basketball for so many people who seek him out for those great stories and guidance on all things in the game.

"It’s rare these days to celebrate loyalty and longevity to one great cause and it’s a really proud moment for Brian to be able to celebrate this milestone with his valued colleagues, the basketball community and everyone who knows him. Congratulations Brian!"   

Aldred speaking at the 2018 National Game Conference

Giving back to the game that gave him so much

Originally from Bolton, Lancashire, Aldred has been involved in basketball since secondary school after his friend’s brother talked enthusiastically about his coach – the legendary Humph Long. 

“One day we walked past the sports hall and we had a go. It was a footballing school, but I preferred to use my hands and was a member of the rugby and basketball teams. My interest in the game flourished and my friend and I immersed ourselves by watching professional games and borrowing books from the library.” 

Aldred, who now lives in Wakefield, went to Trinity and All Saints College (now known as Leeds Trinity University) in Horsforth, Leeds and inadvertently picked up the coaching bug when he was asked to take the women’s team for practice. In that moment, he felt he could give back to the game that gave him so much as a child.  

“As a kid, I followed the Bolton Bees/Bolton Wanderers basketball team, who were one of the first basketball teams to be associated with a football club and I used to do their stats. I’d go down to Leicester, Crystal Palace and Southampton and sit on the end of the bench doing stats. Fortunately, my mum was quite happy for me to disappear on a coach full of 20-30-year-olds because she knew I got a lot out of it. 

“I enjoyed being around the pros, semi-pros and American players. The way they interacted with the coaches, I was always interested in the tactical and technical nuances of coaching. I then went off to university to do a sports management degree and did a period of placements in Leeds and at Stetson University in Florida. I submerged myself in the women’s programme, the facilities, the coaching pathway and it was after this that I thought getting a job in basketball would be great.”

In 1994, the hands of fate came together as the Sheffield Forgers concluded a successful season in the National League and their management team Montgomery Leisure Services secured investment from Chrysalis Records and Mushroom Records to put in a bid to enter a franchise team in the BBL for the 1994/95 season – and thus the Sheffield Sharks were born.

Aldred was asked to be head coach Jim Brandon’s assistant in the early years of the franchise, and for a decade assisted Brandon, former player Chris Finch - now head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves - and England’s most capped player (at the time) Peter Scantlebury in making the Sharks one of the best teams in BBL history, winning four BBL Championships, a BBL Playoff title, four BBL Cups and a BBL Trophy between them. 

“It was a fantastic place to be. I learnt a lot in terms of the practicalities of coaching within the professional game. I supported those guys and gleaned knowledge of inter-personal skills, player management, dealing with the highs and lows, courtside operation and game preparation. 

“That first season, we shocked the league with our bunch of misfits! Jim had done a good job in recruiting some British players for the team, including Roger Huggins, who was a model-athlete. Our imports in the shape of Chris Finch and Todd Cauthorn meant we were hard-nosed and committed to the cause. We won the league and because of that we were able to go and play in Europe.” 

Aldred with former NBA commissioner David Stern at the 1995 McDonald's Championship in London

'Running in my three-piece suit'

As well as playing against Real Madrid in the European Cup (now called the EuroLeague), the Sharks were also invited to play at the 1995 McDonald’s Championship in London – an international men’s professional basketball club competition that featured a representative of the NBA against champion club teams from the rest of the world. The Sharks were named alongside Spain’s Real Madrid Teka, Israel’s Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv, Italy’s Buckler Beer Bologna, Australia’s Perth Wildcats and the Houston Rockets.  

The Sharks came sixth in the tournament with a 0-2 record but that’s immaterial to the fact Aldred met former NBA commissioner David Stern, known for driving the growth of basketball across the globe.   

“There was a press conference, so we went down, and he was there,” added Aldred. “Obviously, he was a revered man for what he did with the league, turning it from a brawling mess into one of the most marketable entities in the world. The McDonalds [Championship] was very much part of the globalisation of the NBA and he was very genuine when we met.”  

But meeting Stern doesn’t compare to the time when Terrell Myers, with four seconds to go on the shot clock, hit ‘That Shot’ to win the 1998/99 BBL title for the Sharks.  

“That was a game. There’s a full camera shot of me in my three-piece suit running and hugging Terrell. He hit that shot to sink the [Manchester] Giants in Manchester in front of a full house on Good Friday. And I remember after the game, I was driving on the M61 to Bolton to my mum and dad’s for Easter. I was in a branded Sharks’ car and I was getting beeped at. I remember thinking ‘this is your 15 minutes of fame’.” 

Scroll through a gallery of images of Brian from down the years below