Barking basketball students hitting the heights to win US scholarships

Take a wander around Barking Abbey Upper School and you will no doubt spot a few heads towering above the rest.

For seven years the school, in Sandringham Road, has been nurturing the talents of basketball players from across London and abroad at its successful basketball academy.

Many of the youngsters, who are all aged between 16 and 19 and study A-levels alongside their training, have gone on to gain top sports scholarships at American universities and a few have secured spots on professional basketball teams.

The academy has gained such an impressive reputation that its court – which was built in 1999 – has been chosen as one of four training venues for the Olympic basketball teams this summer and will host the world’s top athletes in the sport.

Although students will not get the chance to see the professionals in action due to security restrictions, they are already benefiting from a �90,000 Olympic-standard court floor and improved lighting, which were installed and paid for by the organising committee for the Olympics last year.

Over the next couple of months, the school sports centre changing rooms will also be refurbished.

Academy director Mark Clark, who has coached basketball for around 30 years, said the Olympic involvement has been a huge boost for the school.

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“Not only has it seen our facilities improve significantly,” he explained.

“It’s also exciting for us and the students to know that world class athletes will be coming to our school to train on the same court we use every day.”

Barking Abbey’s basketball academy was formed in 2005 after the school’s basketball teams, under the guidance of Mr Clark’s wife Claire, became increasingly successful.

Mr Clark was brought on board to run the centre and together with two fellow full-time coaches has since trained around 30 to 40 students a year – many from London, but some from countries as far afield as Senegal.

The teenagers attend normal A-level lessons, then hit the court in free periods and every evening after school.

“It is a very busy schedule for them, but it’s essential they do well in their academic studies as well as their basketball,” said Mr Clark.

“We have great contacts with universities in America, including Ivy league ones who offer basketball scholarships, but it’s vital they have good grades and can pass the American SATs to secure a place.”

This autumn eight academy students will head off to American universities.

Mr Clark said the academy has not only benefited the youngsters who are enrolled on the three-year course, but also other pupils in the school.

“I believe the academy has inspired lots of other young people at Barking Abbey to get enthusiastic about sport – especially girls.

“Since it was launched we’ve seen a lot more girls take part in not only basketball but other forms of exercise as well. It’s a fantastic thing to see.”

Barking Abbey also has academies for netball, football and golf.