35+ Tri-Nations: Berry and Toluwase still ‘scratching competitive itch’ for England

This weekend sees the inaugural 35+ Tri-Nations Tournament tip-off at Manchester’s National Basketball Performance Centre.  

The roster for the English men’s team is bursting with talent and includes British Basketball League (BBL) and National Basketball League (NBL) title winners and even a 3x3 Commonwealth Games gold medallist.  

Headed up by London Lions Academy Head Coach and former GB U20 Men’s Assistant Coach Liam Jefferson, England will compete against Scotland and Wales for bragging rights, and two of its stars Ian Berry and Sam Toluwase spoke to Basketball England to give their thoughts ahead of game time. 

Ian Berry (centre) plays for Eastbourne Neptunes in NBL D3 - South East

Special moment

Sussex-based Berry has been involved with GB Maxibasketball since he turned 35 and says representing England amongst talented players is a special moment for him and his family. 

As a junior, I was a borderline England player, but I never capped. So, playing for England and putting on an England jersey is really special,” said the 35-year-old.  

“It's a different sense of pride. My son’s going to come up and watch and it won’t be something that I take for granted. 

“It scratches that competitive itch that I still have on a massive level, to perform at a high level. My teammates are incredible athletes. If you dropped our team into Division One of the NBL, I've got no doubt that we would be really good.” 

Making his mark in Eastbourne

Berry started his basketball journey with the Brighton Bears and then as a senior – moving into professional ranks – enjoyed stints in the British Basketball League with Worthing Thunder and in the NBL with London Towers and Hemel Storm. 

Currently, he is making his mark with his hometown club the Eastbourne Neptunes – formerly the Lions – as a player and as its head of coaching and development. Berry says he always wanted to build up high-quality basketball opportunities in the South East.  

This season, the Neptunes, in their various junior and senior guises, have been in three local playoff finals, won two leagues, and for the first time, the men’s team competed in Division Three of the NBL.  

Eventually, Berry wants all his teams – junior and senior – to be in the NBL, as well as continue to provide grassroots and local league basketball for boys and girls.  

“As a junior player, I would have to travel for 40 minutes to an hour and a half to play national league basketball. I want to make it a lot more accessible and a lot easier for people to access regular high-level basketball in this area,” said Berry, who is also the head basketball coach at Eastbourne College and Sussex University.  

Sam Toluwase (centre) plays for City of Birmingham Rockets in NBL D1

Representing England, Nigeria and GB

After the Tri-Nations, Berry joins his teammate Sam Toluwase to represent GB Maxibasketball at the 2024 FIMBA European Maxibasketball Championship in Pesaro, Italy. 

Toluwase was part of the men’s 35+ team that came runners up two years ago at the Maxi-Euros in Spain and has retribution in mind, planning to leave Italy with a gold medal.

Naturally, he was pleased to be selected to play for England and kick off his summer of masters’ tournaments.  

“It’s good to see that we have a bunch of new guys. More versatile. More together. And everyone understands how to play even at this age. It's going to be an exciting weekend,” said the 38-year-old medical soldier, who is playing for the City of Birmingham Rockets in NBL D1.  

Toluwase, who has played professionally in the British Basketball League for the likes of Sheffield Sharks and Manchester Giants, is no stranger to national team call ups, having represented Nigeria for 10 years, playing in a variety of FIBA and Olympic Games qualifiers, as well as being selected to play for GB as part of UK Armed Forces teams that head to Belgium to play against other allied powers that make up NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).     

At 35, he received a call from GB Maxibasketball Programme Director Sadie Mason MBE to see if he would be interested in playing for GB at the masters’ level. 

“Some guys in their 20s don't even get to represent their country. And I've had the opportunity to represent England, Nigeria and GB. I'm just appreciative of how things [have gone].” 

Therapeutic balance 

In their first season back in D1, the City of Birmingham Rockets finished in ninth place, with a 9-15 record.  

Personally, Toluwase had a difficult season, having to take time away from the game and his team to deal with bereavement and family matters – on top of holding down his job in the army and studying for his surgical degree. 

“It's been a tough six months. One thing after another, but again, through this game that I love, it gives me my therapeutic balance in life.”