Cork ace is making the jump to the next level in professional basketball

Cork ace is making the jump to the next level in professional basketball

Adrian O'Sullivan, Ireland, in action against Birenbaum Raul, Luxembourg, last summer in the Mardyke. Picture: Larry Cummins

HEADING into last summer, the easy option for Adrian O’Sullivan would have been to stay with UCC Demons where he was coming off an All-Star season and the safest would have been a return to his home club Ballincollig.

But turning 25 and having just graduated from college, he also knew the time had come to make the biggest play of his career. While basketball is an international sport on par with soccer, there are limited options professionally. Most slots are occupied by Americans, Eastern Europeans and Spaniards, but an opportunity arose through Reading Rockets coach and Kerry man Alan Keane.

When a call came through his dad Francis about his availability, he was instantly on board.

“As soon as I had one conversation with Alan it took off from there. I’d always wanted to try playing abroad, more than just being in America when I was very young for that one year. It’s the dream of every good Irish basketballer really. I didn’t want to live with a ‘what if?’”

Francis O'Sullivan and his son Adrian celebrate Ballincollig's cup win. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Francis O'Sullivan and his son Adrian celebrate Ballincollig's cup win. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There was a temptation to pull on the Collig singlet again, especially with his older brother Ciarán and cousins Daire and Michael involved, and his uncle Kieran coaching, but he couldn’t turn down the move to Reading. It’s not as if he’s isolated across the water as former Tralee Warrior Trae Pemberton is in Reading, as well as Adrian’s cousin Ronan, now working in London.

“In Ballincollig we always say ‘try and be the best version of yourself’. Of course you’d be thinking about playing back here, especially if Ronan was involved too. The buzz in Ballincollig is amazing right now and it won’t last forever but I’ll always come home. Ballincollig will be the next club I’ll play for after my professional career.

“There are only two weeks in age between myself and Ronan and we’re each other’s biggest critics, outside of Ciarán, so we’re benefiting from that.”

Cousins Adrian O'Sullivan and Ronan O'Sullivan both received a UCC Sports Scholarship in 2016. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Cousins Adrian O'Sullivan and Ronan O'Sullivan both received a UCC Sports Scholarship in 2016. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

As a glamorous as it sounds being a professional baller, there is the pressure of contribution on and off the court.

“I never would have trained five times a week. Here there are 10 fellas who train every single day so it’s physically demanding but your body learns to adjust. You lift right, you foam roll, you stretch, you eat properly. Under Colin [O’Reilly at Demons] we trained very hard but recovery at night is crucial now.

“You learn never to get up too high or down too low. You can be flying on a Monday and stink the place out on a Tuesday.”

He’s sharing a house with Pemberton, women’s coach David Sanchez and another pro AJ Carr, so there’s a constant backdrop of NBA, EuroLeague or college ball. It’s full-on but that’s what happens when you make the leap from the Irish scene.

“The defence is way better because the players are fitter and better drilled for starters. It’s more athletic but the shooting percentages can be higher too. You can play two Americans at the one time and in some games all 10 on the court are being paid.

“It’s made me a better player, mentally as well, and I’ve had to become more of a leader because there are a lot of 16- and 17-year-olds on the end of our bench. The ethos is to bring them on.”

O’Sullivan knows a bit about player development. A natural scorer, capable of driving to the hoop and shooting from deep from a young age, he had serious injury struggles as a teen.

Ballincollig's Adrian O'Sullivan in action against Daniel Thompson of Blue Demons in the U15 A final in 2006, when he hadn't yet turned 13. Picture: Donna McBride/News Digital
Ballincollig's Adrian O'Sullivan in action against Daniel Thompson of Blue Demons in the U15 A final in 2006, when he hadn't yet turned 13. Picture: Donna McBride/News Digital

He had knee surgery at 12, two more operations after, and was on the sidelines with Ballincollig for the bones of two years. Yet he bounced back to earn a stint Stateside at Trinity Pawling, a prep school two hours north of Manhattan.

The Ballincollig club has always produced its share of fine players and when we meet to chat in their gym over Christmas he’s working out with his cousin Jamie, a brilliant guard, with another few young guns on hand working on their lay-ups.

“The future is ridiculously bright now. Forget about winning trophies underage but there are so many players on development squads, playing for Ireland, just getting that love for the game. There’s a balance across all our age-groups.

“The likes of Isaac (James) and Andrew (O’Connor) show what can be achieved. They’re only U18 but getting minutes in the National League. Next year’s U16s are the strongest team in the club but it’s not about having a couple of super teams, it’s about numbers.

“I’m one of the first professionals from Cork and the first from Ballincollig, so I’d love to think it’s paving the way that someone else from the Village can follow on, sooner rather than later.”

Ballincollig basketball club underage players, from U9 up to U18, Seán O'Flynn, Tadhg Murphy, Luke O'Sullivan, Rory O'Flynn, Andrew O'Connor, Daithí Murphy and Isaac James, after a game in Limerick where Andrew and Isaac featured for the national league team.
Ballincollig basketball club underage players, from U9 up to U18, Seán O'Flynn, Tadhg Murphy, Luke O'Sullivan, Rory O'Flynn, Andrew O'Connor, Daithí Murphy and Isaac James, after a game in Limerick where Andrew and Isaac featured for the national league team.

While he is tied up in a double-header of league fixtures for Reading this weekend, President’s Cup holders Ballincollig are in a semi-final against Limerick Celtics at Neptune on Saturday, 6pm. They’ve only lost once all season, with American Andre Nation ripping it up.

“Andre is awesome. He’s a superstar. He’d kill over in our league as well. Sometimes he cruises but there are glimpses of his quality in every game.”

While Ballincollig is his club, he had five seasons with UCC Demons, always in the mix for silverware.

“They were really good years with Demons. I was on a great team and I know exactly how lucky I was. Colin is maybe the best Irish player ever and Shane Coughlan is an absolute legend of the Super League. Then you’d Niall O’Reilly, young players like Ciarán (O’Sullivan) and Kyle (Hosford) who were coming into their own, Lehmon Colbert, Carleton Cuff, serious depth.

“I was bullied in ways when I was trying to mix it with those fellas at training because I was 19 in my first season, just turning 20, but it made me understand what it takes. There wasn’t a bad player in there. I was like a sponge.”

Adrian O'Sullivan of UCC Demons goes for a layup against Lawrence Summers. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Adrian O'Sullivan of UCC Demons goes for a layup against Lawrence Summers. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Across three seasons Demons won seven trophies out of nine. Recent campaigns weren’t as successful in terms of trophies but forced O’Sullivan into a more central role.

“There was more demanded of me which was a natural development. When Timmy (O'Halloran) came in we were very up and down, playing with three guards, which suited me.

“Kyle got hurt last year and Roy (Downey) went back to Neptune, Ciarán here to Ballincollig, so it put a lot my shoulders and I made the biggest jump really. I was playing 35 to 40 minutes a game because we didn’t have a deep bench and we were short options in the guard positions too.”

Given his own style he loves the NBA flair players in a sport of giants. Derrick Rose in his pomp with the Bulls, Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry now.

Stephen Curry #30 and head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors. Picture: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Stephen Curry #30 and head coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors. Picture: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There’s also Duke under Coach K.

His girlfriend Edel Thornton, formerly of Brunell, is involved in the college scene with Quinnipiac.

“Long-distance relationships and friendships are tricky but modern technology helps. I’ll support Edel in whatever she does and she’s the same for me. We’re both on a basketball path for now.”

Thornton is just one of the host of Irish prospects across the Atlantic.

“You’ve John Carroll, Sean Flood, Jordan, Aidan Harris Igiehon, the Irish Hulk, who is just a specimen and has so much potential. He always brings it back to being from Clondalkin. He’ll be unreal in a green jersey. John and Jordan can play in the number two spot and they’re 6’ 8”. They are physical but with serious basketball too.

“The likes of Adam Drummond and Sean Jenkins are still finding their way but there’s no doubt they can drive on as well because they have massive talent.”

O’Sullivan feels Irish basketball is stronger than ever. Mark Keenan has replaced Pete Strickland as Irish men’s coach and will be eager to develop the next generation.

Jordan Blount, Patrick Lyons, Keelan Cairns, Adrian O'Sullivan, Eoghain Kiernan, Ciaran Roe and Paul Freeman. Picture: David Keane.
Jordan Blount, Patrick Lyons, Keelan Cairns, Adrian O'Sullivan, Eoghain Kiernan, Ciaran Roe and Paul Freeman. Picture: David Keane.

“Travis Black and Keelan Cairns are both in Italy playing professionally so there’s a new team coming around. The likes of Colin O’Reilly, Jason Killeen, Isaac, Conor Meany, Conor Grace, they’ve paved the way.”

“Mark Keenan is coming in and rightly so because he’s proved himself in the Super League time and again and Templeogue have been brilliant lately. There is no competition this summer, it’ll be training camps and I just hope to stay involved having made the last two teams. There’s no feeling like wearing the green jersey.”

Luke O'Mahony, Ronan and Adrian O'Sullivan, Ballincollig, and Roy Downey, when they were U16s with Ireland. Picture: Richard Mills.
Luke O'Mahony, Ronan and Adrian O'Sullivan, Ballincollig, and Roy Downey, when they were U16s with Ireland. Picture: Richard Mills.

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