AMERICAN native Pete Strickland came to these shores in 1980 to play and coach professional basketball with Neptune.
He then returned to Ireland to coach the senior men’s team in 2016 for a two-year period and retains strong links to many of the basketball fraternity on Leeside.
Strickland's first season at Neptune saw him in the role of player-coach in the Second Division of the National League. Along with another American Gary Gardener, they went undefeated in 16 games to land the title, averaging an incredible 109 points a game a feat that will be very difficult to beat.
He played with some very good Irish players, the likes of Pat Lucey, Dave Cody, Jim Nugent, Brendan O’Flaherty, Francis O’Sullivan and was assisted on the line by Cathal O’Flaherty. In Jim O’Donoghue’s bookJim summed up the influence that Strickland had with the northside club.
"Pete stood at only 6' 1", his impact on all aspects of his game was tremendous. He led by example, was supremely fit, continually in motion and his passing, shooting and dribbling skills were at the highest level.
"He was an astute tactician, was a great reader of the game and got the very best from his team. I personally think he was in the top ten American players to play with Neptune, which is a great compliment to the man."
Strickland knows they were great days with Neptune.
"A year after finishing my collegiate career at the University of Pittsburgh, I was back in Pittsburgh playing in an All-Star game with other current and ex-college players like myself.
“Dan Byrne of Blue Demons saw Wayne Williams and myself in this game and given permission to do so by Neptune’s leadership, offered me an opportunity to come to Ireland and play for Neptune.
"However, Dan kept Wayne to himself and Demons!
“I played the entire 1980-1981 season where we won the league and were promoted which was our goal from the beginning of the season. The next season I returned but only played in a few pre-season games before returning home for various reasons.
“The friends I made are the friends I’ve kept in my time in Cork and I loved having something to do with the real growth of the game in Cork in the '80s. I'm very proud of that and I had a lot of basketball knowledge stored from my time with my great high school coach, Morgan Wootten, and from my time with my great college coach, Tim Grgurich, that I couldn’t wait to pass on.
He returned to New York to attend NYU Graduate School of the Arts as an acting major and began helping coach the NYU basketball team.
"That was the beginning of the end of my acting career and the continuation of my coaching career!"
Strickland returned to Ireland to coach the Irish senior men’s team in 2016 after a phone call from his friend and former teammate Francis O’Sullivan. He spent two years with the program for the FIBA European Small Nations tournament in San Marino, before heading back to teach and coach with the DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland.
He took a step back this year to look after his wife Mary-Catherine, who had a stroke recently, but he hopefully will go back coaching in the near future when Mary-Catherine recovers.
“Francis O’Sullivan made me aware that they were taking applications and my NCAA coaching career was coming to a close because of the rules I wasn’t allowed to coach internationally.
“One of my greatest memories basketball-wise, coaching against a very well-drilled Norway team in the 2018 FIBA European Small Nations semi-finals in San Marino. Off the court, reconnecting with friends and, most especially, coaching children of former teammates or former rivals, which was a lotta fun.
"I returned home after a two-year period to teach and coach at the DeMatha Catholic High School and for the first time in my adult life I am not involved in athletics on a daily basis which is weird, but I also just had full knee replacement surgery.
"My wife is recovering from a stroke, so once she is back up and at ‘em, the possibilities are endless!"