Milton Keynes to Peterborough might not seem far – but Chris Tawiah’s hugely successful professional basketball career took him via Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania, Estonia and Texas, USA, to name just a few. Now taking a break from (Harlem) globetrotting, Chris has launched Peterborough City Basketball Club right here in the city – and everyone is welcome!
You’re originally from Milton Keynes and you’ve travelled far and wide with your professional career – why now, and why Peterborough for this new venture?
The sport of basketball has completely changed my life for the better. I feel it’s my duty to give back to the sport, and the best way I can do that is to try and open doors for children to enjoy a sport that has been extremely good to me. As Milton Keynes is not too far from Peterborough, it allows me to make the dedicated commute quite comfortably. I decided to do a five- week basketball camp this summer, just to introduce myself, and off the back of that the basketball club was launched this September.
Within six weeks the club has started to grow and we have been able to open doors to boys and girls aged five to 16, and allowed them to get involved with basketball. My mission – because we’re a community basketball club not a basketball team, which would only require 12 players so leave a lot of people out – is for a club that’s all-inclusive, that just opens doors for people that want that opportunity to turn up and play.
How did you choose your location within Peterborough, what was the criteria?
I actually looked at which secondary schools had a suitable sports hall, and Manor Drive fit the bill – we’ve built a really good relationship and they’ve been extremely helpful. I do my part by keeping the place tidy and respectful, arriving on time and leaving on time!
So, you’re becoming a mentor and a coach to a whole new cohort of kids – but how did you get into basketball yourself?
Like every other kid in the UK I was football mad, but when I was about 15 or 16 I was approached by a basketball coach, just as I was about to start playing a game of football. He offered to coach me for a tournament that was coming up, to see if I’d like it, and it all went from there. He came to Milton Keynes all the way from Norwich, where he lived, two or three times a week to coach me, because he had seen something in me worth investing in.
I joined a team he was putting together to play in the 3-on-3 tournament. We went all the way to the finals – and we lost. However, it was there I got scouted and picked up for the Milton Keynes Lions (now London Lions) and a year later we won the national championship at U16 level. At the end of that successful season I was invited with the National England Under 18s team to a tournament in France; in the basketball world, that’s how my name got onto the scene. A coach from America came down to see me and after liking what he saw, he offered me a basketball scholarship to Iowa Central Community College. From there I transferred to Frank Phillips College in Texas and finally graduated from Wiley College in Texas. This was a big achievement because sports scholarships to American colleges are rare, and they usually get awarded to kids within the United States. After four years in America I graduated with a degree in General Studies focusing on Psychology, Sociology and Business, and became a professional basketball player in the summer of 2016.
I played in Europe, in Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Romania, Macedonia, Portugal, as well as paying for the Leicester Riders and the London Lions, in England where I won the British Basketball League playoff, British Basketball League Championship, and the British Basketball League trophy, as well as playing in seven professional cup finals and being voted as an All Star in the Austrian Basketball League. I’ve always said to myself that I would only play basketball until I no longer found it fun, and when I started to spend too long away from my family and started to worry I was missing those moments I’d never get back with my kids, that’s when I started thinking about coming home and getting involved with basketball in England again.
What are your ambitions for the club?
It’s still early days for us – we only opened in September – but I just want to open the doors for as many kids as possible. Basketball is a growing sport in the UK and it can really change your life. I wasn’t on track to go to university when I was in secondary school, but a basketball scholarship took me there, so I feel like the sport has been good to me and I want to give back the best way I possibly can. I can’t say I have a limit of 500 kids to play basketball because 501 might turn up one night and I wouldn’t turn the last one away! It’s also keeping kids off the street, in a positive environment where they learn to become leaders, communicate with one another and stay away from unproductive, static lifestyles. We currently train on a Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5.30 to 8.30, and I know that there are kids out there that will do unproductive things from 5.30 to 8.30 of an evening, and this is taking them away from that, that potential to go down a bad path. Here, you can exercise, play basketball and meet new friends.
I’ve got to ask… how tall actually are you?
I’m six foot nine – but in pro basketball they’re nice to me and put me at six foot ten!
If I wanted to give basketball a try, but I was worried I’d be too short… what would you say?
I would say that at the highest level – NBA basketball – there was a player called Muggsy Bogues who was five foot three. It’s not a limitation. Sure, height can be an advantage, but you don’t have to be tall to play basketball. You want to play – come and give it a good run around, have fun, get involved, and try and take yourself to the next level. Maybe one day you’ll go to America and get lucky, get a scholarship or play professionally!
Peterborough City Basketball Club meets at Manor Drive Secondary Academy, PE4 7EP, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. To find out more about specific training schedules and how you can get involved, visit peterboroughcitybasketball.com
Chris is also the founder of Project Elevate, an organisation that delivers motivational guest talks, coaches, mentors and encourages young people from all walks of life to think and dream big, that wherever they want to go in life they can get there, and helping them reach their full potential with whatever they choose to do. To find out more, visit projectelevates.com