Tuesday 15 October 2019

Summers aiming to draw on lessons from superstar Curry in crunch Cup clash with Tralee

 

‘Puff’ Summers outside St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, where he does some coaching – a long way from his days practising with Steph Curry in North Carolina.
‘Puff’ Summers outside St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, where he does some coaching – a long way from his days practising with Steph Curry in North Carolina.
Barry Lennon

Barry Lennon

Although an ocean separates them now, Steph Curry and Templeogue's Lawrence 'Puff' Summers once honed their skills side-by-side at North Carolina's Davidson College.

In the week that the Golden State Warriors superstar scored 51 points against the Washington Wizards, his former colleague tonight faces Kieran Donaghy's Tralee at Inchicore in the National Cup's opening weekend.

A decade since they crossed paths, Summers still remembers the arrival of the 18-year-old future sensation, though he didn't seem it at the time.

"He was just a skinny kid who ended up at Davidson, just like I'd been a skinny kid who ended up there. He was unknown to the world yet, so there was no 'Steph Curry'," he recalls.

"He was always a great guy. He was very interested in the path I was taking and was saying, 'I want to be professional'."

While Curry has become a two-time NBA MVP and three-time champion, Summers moved abroad before settling in Kilkenny where he now coaches several schools, including the hurling nursery of St Kieran's College.

Fanboy

"All of a sudden he [Curry] went to the NBA and the first couple of years I could get a hold of him. And now, if you send him a Facebook message, you feel like a fanboy because you know he's not getting that," Summers laughs.

"I'm actually really mad at him because if he had been just a regular NBA player there's a chance we could have stayed in touch and I could have got him over to Ireland but not now. He's not doing a guest session in Kieran's College."

Getting to coach basketball in the famed small-ball stronghold, which boasts a record 22 Senior All-Ireland college titles, was going to prove difficult for Summers.

However, the Virginian knew his audience.

"I did the first couple of sessions and the PE teachers were not really buying it," Summers explains.

"Then I brought in tennis balls to do some ball-handling stuff and they were like, 'oh, this is very similar to hurling, this hand-eye coordination stuff.' And from there they loved me."

Summers now coaches the school's first and second years, and hopes to develop U-16 and U-19 teams, though hurling remains king in Kilkenny.

One of Summers's earliest successes at Kieran's was former student Colum Prendiville, whose talents earned him a place representing Ireland U-16s at the European Championships in Macedonia.

However, on return from that competition, Prendiville decided to focus his efforts on hurling and now plays for DCU.

"It's a very slow process but it's good to be in there. We have so many playing for the local club that are going to Kieran's it made sense for me to be there," 35-year-old Summers muses.

He has a Gaelic football legend to thank in Liam McHale for welcoming him when he first arrived in Ireland to play for Ballina.

The former All-Star and Deora Marsh, an American player who had already made the western town home, both made his move to Mayo easy.

"The first time I ever had bacon and cabbage was at Deora's house. He is full Ballina. But Ballina with a Mississippi accent," recalls Summers.

"Liam would pick us up from our house every day and we'd go shoot. He owned a bar at the time. He'd bring us to help pull the kegs into the bar."

The point-guard had originally been destined for Denmark the week he arrived in the west, but his agent called the day before his flight informing of an opportunity in Ireland.

Denmark was a higher standard but Mayo was English-speaking and offered the chance to shine. He accepted and three days later he found himself shooting around with just five other team-mates in a hall in Ballina - the rest of the side were in work.

He established a place on the court, the town and the country, marrying the club chairman's daughter Lynda.

"It was a running joke at our wedding that he flew me over to marry his daughter," he recalls.

"She was always coming to the games and was one of the drivers going down to the games. Slowly but surely I worked my way into the front seat of the car and, two kids later, here we are."

After playing with Limerick, Belfast Star, Moycullen and stints in Portugal and Australia, the family settled in Kilkenny and Summers joined Templeogue.

He has enjoyed his most successful stint in Ireland with the Dubliners, claiming both Super League and National Cup victories.

He'll hope that this, and his side's unbeaten record so far this season, bodes well as Templeogue take on Tralee Warriors in the marquee fixture of the Cup's first round.

"It's great that we have to get up to speed so early in the season. If we didn't have that sense of urgency before, we definitely have it now," he says.

NATIONAL CUP - Belfast Star v CandS Neptune, 6.30; UCD Marian v Moycullen, 7.0; Maree v Griffith College Swords Thunder, 8.0; Templeogue v Garvey's Tralee Warriors, 8.0.

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