AS the well known saying goes, America is the land of opportunity.
Cork couple Paul Manning and his wife Natasha certainly took their opportunity with both hands when they landed there 12 years ago.
They left these shores in 2008 for what Paul thought was going to be a six- or 12-month project with his job in Pfizer.
However, fast forward to 2020, Paul now holds a lead manager role with Pfizer and is assistant coach to a powerhouse school stateside.
“The opportunity to move to the US came through my day job with Pfizer.
“I initially came over on a six- to 12-month project, and then it got extended to a role for two years.
“They then sponsored me for a green card to stay in the US permanently, and this year my wife Natasha and I actually got our US citizenship.
“I am still working for Pfizer, and currently lead Business Technology supporting our global medical, clinical and r&d groups in the UpJohn Division.
“Pfizer have been great to us over the years and have been fully supportive of my coaching endeavors as well, so I can’t speak highly enough about the company,” Paul said.
Paul played basketball with Blue Demons, and North Mon BC when he was younger. He also went on to play underage with Ireland. He held the role of head coach with Fr Mathew’s in Cork before he travelled to America.
Now he is assistant coach of one of the leading high schools in the States Westtown West Chester in Pennsylvania. He is also head coach of East Coast Power AAU U16 and U10 teams.
“Basketball has been great to me. Nearly all of my friends and our family friends in the US have come through coaching basketball.
“Thats what people under-estimate how sport is a great connector, and while it is great to play and coach at a high level, it is the relationships that really matter.
“Seth Berger, the head coach at Westtown has become one of my great friends off the court, and the parents of kids I coached seven years ago form the main part of our social circle.
“I was lucky to get my break in coaching here in the US. I was at a Villanova College game one day when I saw my good friend Pat Price.
“Pat was running an AAU program which is now called East Coast Power, and after talking to him I became involved helping him out with some teams.
“One day I was coaching one of the teams, when one of the parents called Seth Berger, asked me would I be interested in a assistant coach with his high school Westtown?
“My role on the team is that I look after the offensive, and I’m being lucky to have coached two guys Mo Bamba (Orlando Magic) and Cam Reddish (Atlanta Hawks) that now play in the NBA.
“Also a lot of the players in our program go on to play on a very high level with Division 1 Colleges.”
Natasha, Paul’s wife is also living the dream as she is now doing some acting and got a few small roles in some films recently.
“My wife, Natasha, took up acting a few years back. She used to do theatre as a child here in Cork at the Montforts, and always felt drawn to the arts.
“She’s doing film/TV type stuff now, and absolutely loves creating and going to her classes. Natasha has landed a few roles recently and she is scheduled over the summer to work on a few independent films which we are all very excited about.”
While living in the States Paul, and Natasha became parents to two sons Lucas aged 10, and Cian aged five. However, Paul is still undecided about returning to Ireland some day.
“Earlier this year Natasha and I became US citizens and Berwyn PA, a suburb of Philadelphia is home for us, and our two boys Lucas, and Cian who were both born in the US.
“We are very happy here now, I am doing well at Pfizer and the basketball side of things is awesome for me.
“To be coaching at such a high level. That coupled with Natasha’s acting career moving on and the level of opportunities here for the boys, I don’t see us moving back to Ireland anytime soon. But I would never say never!
“My mom and Natasha’s family are back in Cork so there is always a draw, and Lucas is asking about playing for basketball for Ireland some day like I did, so hopefully he is good enough, and that gives us an excuse to go back more often,” Paul said.
With so many young boys and girls going away on scholarships in America from Ireland, Manning offers very good advice before players commit to go, and play college basketball.
“First is believe in yourself, Irish players can and are being successful at the highest levels in the US. The foundations that are being set by basketball Ireland and stalwarts of the game in Cork like Francis O’Sullivan and Pat Price, are getting players on the right course,” Paul said.
“When you get here be coachable, do the hard work, find something that team is missing, and be that, make the hustle plays, make the extra pass – find a role.
“Be ready to work! The level of athleticism, skill, and attention to detail is another level over here.
“For example, the guys on my team will practice or play games on six nights a week, be in the weight room three days per week, some will do additional yoga days, and will do skills work-outs early morning a few days per week.
“The other thing is don’t overlook is the importance to grades in school. The better your grades the more opportunities are open for you to play at the prep school and collegiate level.
“Guys send us game film all the time, and we will not even look at them until we have their grades, and we have walked away from lots of high level players because their academics were not good enough.
“Lastly – everyone dreams of playing Division 1 but you have to be an exceptional basketball player to play college at any level, so if you offers are from Division 2, 3 or NIAA schools – go for it. It is still going to be super high level basketball, and a lot of guys go on and have successful careers from those leagues.
“I don’t want to sound negative, however, its a daunting task if your leaving home for the first time. I would recommend that any player that are interested in getting a college scholarship in the the States is to try a year of Prep School.
"That would give you a chance to test the boundaries of balancing school work with training everyday. “It would also see if you could live in a different country before you sign up for a four year program” Paul added.
With some good advice from Paul the players must remember that a opportunity to play Prep School, and come home to do a scholarship in a Irish University is another option as players like the O’Sullivan brothers from Ballincollig, Ciarán and Adrian, did successfully in recent years.