CORK basketball star Jordan Blount is confident Ireland can build on a promising FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Pre-Qualifier campaign.
Blount damaged his ankle ligaments in what was a terrific performance by Mark Keenan's side in a 88-82 loss to Switzerland at a packed National Basketball Arena. Despite the fourth-quarter injury, which will sideline the Neptune ace for six weeks, Blount was the third top-scorer in the game with 18 points and his explosive efforts electrified the home support at Tallaght.
He defended with typical aggression and his scores included a sweet step-back three-pointer coming down the stretch and a pair of highlight-reel 'and-one' lay-ups, which lifted the supporters to their feet.
"I think we gave it everything and the crowd responded to that," said Blount. "The energy in the arena was incredible. We've played in front of big crowds but having it sold-out and the supporters feeding off every block and every score made a big difference.
"We were just disappointed we didn't get the win. We were very confident coming in but they shot the ball very well at times."
Ireland led 47-45 at half-time but misfired in the third quarter, falling 75-65 behind. To their credit, they get some important defensive stops and rallied in the fourth, with Taiwo Badmus making some big plays to cut the gap to four with 2.43 remaining. Ultimately they couldn't reel the favourites in.
Lorcan Murphy, Will Hanley, and American-based Aidan Harris Igiehon and CJ Fulton were to the fore, with Cork's Adrian O'Sullivan and Cian Heaphy also in the 12-man match-day panel and Conor O'Sullivan in the extended squad. Igiehon's NBA-style block was a magic moment for those in attendance.
It was a very promising campaign overall. Ireland beat Cyrus twice in the group but lost to Austria and Switzerland.
"It was always going to be tough but I think we proved Irish basketball is going in the right direction.
"There were a lot of young players in Tallaght and we want to give them something to aspire to."
Blount left Ireland in his teens to learn his trade in Spain, England and Division 1 college ball Stateside before professional stints in Spain and Iceland. The 25-year-old, entering his peak, will be a massive draw for Neptune when the season starts in September, especially with Heaphy and Roy Downey coming off an impressive campaign where Colin O'Reilly's side fell just short to Tralee Warriors in the National Cup and Super League finals.
"I can't wait to get started but I'd a bit of time off booked anyway before the ankle injury. I'm getting married in Egypt this month."
Ireland will return to action in August in the equivalent of a GAA back-door section of the EuroBasket qualifiers.
Last summer Ireland swept Malta aside to land the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries but are eager to be competitive at the next level.
"We want to start getting wins now. The players are there, the coaches are there and the interest is there. We'll be looking to pack out the arena next month."
Their cause wasn't helped recently by an injury to powerhouse John Carroll, while Blue Demons' Kyle Hosford was given a standing ovation before the Swiss game as he stepped away from international duty.
For Blount, whose late father Gary was a familiar figure in Cork as a coach and ref, Leeside basketball is in a healthy place.
"There are three teams in the Super League for this season and there's some great talent underage."
Cork's Brendan Douanla (Ballincollig) and Jamie Cotter, formerly Ballincollig but now based with Reading Rockets, are in Paul Kelleher's 12-man Irish squad for FIBA European Championships coming up in Romania.
Blount has been coaching the BIPPS South Boys U15 this summer in Neptune, with Jodi Furlong managing the group.
"I love coaching. You get back from sport what you put into it."