Based out of what’s now Penwortham Priory Academy, the side had a great deal of success, with some youngsters even progressing to national honours.
Morphing into Preston Pride, the team continued to grow, with the junior side finishing runners-up in the RAF Northern Conference under Coach Matt Newby, now of Worcester Wolves in the British Basketball League.
Rebranding again to Preston Basketball Club during the pandemic, the club now has 180 players and runs eight teams: Under-9s, Under-14s, Under-16s, Under-18s, a girls’ team, a seniors’ firsts and seconds, and their National League side.
Club treasurer Andy Thrower learned to play basketball at the club in the 90s before going to uni and, amazingly, winning the Ballroom Dancing World Championships against some current Strictly Come Dancing dancers. He picked it up again in his 20s, re-joining Preston five years ago.
“I started playing basketball at Lancaster Grammar at 11 and, off the back of that, joined in at sessions at Penwortham Priory Academy back in ‘93,” says Andy. “My roots in the sport go back quite a long way – as soon as I joined, I fell in love with the fact that basketball is an intellectual sport as well as an athletic one.
“Everyone thinks that, if you’re tall, you’re going to be brilliant, but that’s not necessarily the case,” adds Andy, 39, who’s 6’5”. “There are short guys who do a lot better than me! It’s all about practice and tactics: it’s a test of mind and body. The sport’s a great equaliser - we have people from all walks of life coming to play, which is fantastic.”
The club’s National League side, who compete in the National Basketball League Division Three North West conference, have had a blistering start to the current season and play home games at the Sir Tom Finney Sports Centre (STFSC) thanks to a partnership with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
The arrangement sees Preston Basketball Club share coaching, facilities, match analysis, fitness and conditioning, and sports therapy with the uni’s men’s team, while players from both teams can play together in both the National and British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Leagues.
“It’s a really vibrant time for the club and this season is going amazingly well for every team,” says Andy. “The National League team is up against some immensely strong teams with players who’d otherwise be playing in Europe but who can’t travel due to Covid - guys who’ve played for England and college basketball in the US.
“It’s all about the kids, really,” says Andy on the club’s focus. “The kids’ set-up has doubled since coming back from Covid, which is insane. People have been sat at home frustrated and they’ve wanted to try a new sport. And the social side of things is a real selling-point, too.
“We’re in one of the lowest socio-economic areas of the city, so we’ve got grants to tackle inequality, which has been great,” he adds. “We’ve got a really diverse range of kids playing for us - about 35% from the BAME community, so that’s something we want to grow.”