Rohan Smith is no stranger to Brixton Topcats as it was the exact place he first picked up a basketball at 11 years old. Now he is back playing for the Men’s team where we got a chance to catch up with him mid point through the 2015/16 season.
Q: When did you first start playing basketball and how did you get involved?
A: I started playing basketball when I was about 11 years old. A friend of my mums had been suggesting for a while that she take me down to the Brixton Rec where Jimmy Rogers ran a basketball club. She knew Jimmy because they’d lived on the same road for years and he would always try to get her son to play. Mum took me down there for the first time one Wednesday evening. I remember Jimmy coming over after the session was done and asking if I liked the burn of driving the body. He pointed at some of the older guys who were still practicing and said that if I kept working hard I’d get to that point one day. At the time, it seemed an impossible task. Just trying to get the ball in the basket took herculean effort and poise. How was I supposed to hold a ball in one hand with my elbow at a 90% angle to my wrist while also lofting the ball in a precise curve that resulted in a made basket? I kept going back. Jimmy was a vocal and tough coach. Sessions were hard work from start to finish. However, he managed to create a family and team spirit that permeated across all the generations at the club and kept you wanting to go back and get better. I’ve been playing basketball ever since.
Q: You are one of a few players on the team who played here as a junior, what do you think is unique about Brixton Topcats and how has basketball been a positive influence for you?
A: The Brixton Topcats has this incredible energy that has been nurtured over decades by a man who had a vision about what Basketball could bring to the lives of young, inner-city kids. It’s unique because of the community from which it was born. It’s unique because there is no-one quite like Jimmy Rogers. It’s unique because it is about so much more than basketball, and yet it couldn’t exist without basketball. It’s unique because it’s a family that stretches far beyond the parameters of the court, sharing a set of principles and lessons that have been instilled in Topcats from one generation to the next. These lessons, and the discipline and values I learnt at Brixton, have carried me to some amazing places. I would never have gone to University at UNC-Chapel Hill if it weren’t for the Topcats, and I’d never have played under the retired Jerseys of Jordan, Hansborough, Worthy, Ford and Jamison. For me, there is no way to fully measure the positive influence basketball has had on me; my entire life since age 11 has been given shape by it.
Q: Coach Baker is an English basketball legend from his playing days – what is he like to play for?
A: You feel like you’ve become a true student of the game again. He inspires me to think about basketball more analytically and to break it all down to it’s simplest of elements before building it back up again. I really do feel like i’m learning something new from practice to practice. He throws plays in and asks us to adapt to them, and when you begin to understand them it’s like there’s a light dawning in your mind. He makes it a challenge, and in doing so makes it enjoyable and worthwhile. My goal this half of the season is to gain as much basketball genius from him as possible.
Q: What are your thoughts on the season so far?
A: The first half of the season certainly didn’t live up to my expectations. I think we have been put through a serious challenge and that our first 9 games were evidence of the process of coming together as a team and trying to understand each other better. However, I don’t think our record reflects the quality of our team or coaching staff. It has been a joy to watch us play basketball for short stretches, and it’s in those moments that you start to see coach’s complete vision. It’s evidence that if we can complete the process of bonding as a team and understanding one another on the court, we can play some great basketball. So, while the season has been disappointing from a stats perspective, it is exciting to think about what the team will look like when it all starts to click.
Q: As we move into 2016, what are your goals for the second half of the season?
A: I honestly think we can win the majority of our games in this half of the season and earn ourselves a good spot in the playoffs. After our game this past weekend against Derbyshire, I have confidence that we can contend with every team in our league and have a solid chance of winning. As such, my goals are to bring to the team the necessary leadership, hustle and persistence we need to do well. On the floor that means doing whatever it is I need to do to encourage my teammates to be the best players they can be at both ends of the court.
You can see Rohan play this Sunday 31st January at Brixton Recreation Centre against Eastside Eagles at 4pm.