A CHANCE conversation with one of Bolton’s most recognisable sporting stars led Steven Bush into a sport that’s rapidly gaining local fans.

At 7ft4in”, Alan Bannister is hard to miss. The Horwich-born former athlete played professional basketball all over the world, including the NBA in America where he played for Utah Jazz.

Alan has long been an envoy for the sport locally so perhaps it was no surprise that when Steven, then 16, met Alan at Horwich Sports Centre, he encouraged Steven and his friends to play basketball.

“We’d been playing a bit at Rivington and Blackrod High School where we were students, but Alan really got us interested,” recalls Steven, now 21 who also lives in Horwich. At the time, rugby claimed more of his sporting attention, but he and his pals started training regularly with Alan and the interest grew.

Fast forward to 2013 and the formation of Horwich Basketball Club’s team. They are in competition in the Manchester Area Basketball League (MABL), just missing out on promotion in the play-offs “which wasn’t a bad result at all for a new team,” said Steven.

In between those two time-frames was the growth of the American sport in Horwich and elsewhere.

It was reputed to have begun in 1891 in Massachusetts as a way to condition young athletes during the Winter and leagues grew all over the country during the 20th century.

It is now a huge industry in the US and has a strong following in the UK.

Basketball is a team sport involving five players a side, although substitutes can be made.

The aim is to get the most balls through a hoop that stands 10 feet off the ground. The ball is moved by passing or dribbling; the team with the ball is called the offense and the one without it, the defense.

Matches last about an hour, played in four quarters of 10 minutes a quarter with five minutes for half-time and three minutes between each quarter. “It’s a very fast, challenging game,” explains Steven. “It’s not meant to be physical but it is sometimes and you need to be quick and keep your concentration.”

While we may have got used to seeing extremely tall men like Alan Bannister playing the sport in televised US matches, not everyone who plays is of that height.

“Steven is 6 ft but Dave Howard, who is our player/coach, is about 5ft 9in. He’s just very fast!” adds Steven.

The Horwich club has benefitted from grants from Horwich Town Council and from Bolton Wanderers Community Trust.

It now plays its fixtures at St Joseph Sports College in Horwich. There are open training sessions there on Sunday afternoons (2-4pm for over 14s and 4-5pm for juniors).

There is team play on Wednesday evenings and another open session until the end of August at Smithills Sports Centre from 6.30pm to 8.30pm on Thursdays.

The Horwich team plays in Division II of the MABL and Steven also plays in the off-season for a team at the John Amaechi Centre in Manchester. Players pay £3 each week and £5 for matches to cover court and referee costs at the Horwich club, and travel to MABL matches as far afield as Congleton, Fleetwood and Clitheroe.

“Basketball is also a very sociable sport,” says Steven. “I’ve made some good friends there, although we’re all very competitive and there for the basketball.”

As a winter sport, basketball fixtures start in September. The Horwich team has added a few new members this year. “We’ve got one or two tall players now which is helpful”, states Steven.

“It’s a great sport that anyone can play, really,” he adds. “You need to train and practise, learn the footwork and understand the moves.

“But we’re hoping for promotion this next season – that’s the plan, anyway.”

- To find out more about Horwich Basketball Club call 07850 596739 or email him at stevenbush 939@ hotmail.com