Since first getting involved in the sport 10 years ago, Austin Kentebe has coached over a thousand people, run hundreds of wheelchair basketball sessions and has helped set-up and develop clubs across London.
It’s a legacy the Brixton Ballers Head Coach hopes will only continue to get bigger.
Kentebe – also known as “Coach K” – moved to London from his home city of Manchester to study at London Guildhall University in 1990.
Remaining in the Capital ever since, it’s a route that has taken Kentebe via jobs in IT in The City and The London Stock Exchange, chauffeuring celebrities, including Rihanna and Amy Winehouse, around the capital’s streets, and to Italy and France, working with the Armani and Versace brands for a children’s clothes shop he owned.
But it’s on the basketball courts of London where he now feels most at home.
Rediscovering his passion
Kentebe, who has played basketball recreationally since age 11, did become out of touch with the sport during his time working in finance and IT. “Life started to take over and basketball wasn’t part of my everyday life anymore,” Kentebe says.
But one question from his son would change that. “Will you come to my school to teach us basketball?”
“When I went to coach at my son’s school that’s when I realised how much I missed it. My love for the sport came back,” Kentebe says. “I realised how much I enjoyed teaching people. That feeling when you teach the kids how to shoot and they score, I think I’m happier than they are! The feeling that I had missed so much had come back.”
Medal successes at local school tournaments followed before Kentebe was asked by Paul McKenzie, Head Coach of London Spartans Basketball Club, whether he would join the East London club as a coach. It was through The Spartans where Kentebe would discover wheelchair basketball; a sport he didn’t know anything about until 10 years ago.
“I did my first coaching course in wheelchair basketball, and I loved it, I thought this is amazing,” Kentebe says. “That was the first time I had even heard of wheelchair basketball and I was like ‘why have I never heard about this, it’s amazing.
“The first time I went to a wheelchair basketball tournament I was like ‘wow, this is big, and I’ve never heard of it, so what’s going on.”
Working with Lambeth School Sport Programme, the local council and BWB’s London Development Officer Ruth Eytle, he set-up Brixton Ballers in 2013, a wheelchair basketball club still based at Brixton Recreation Centre.
“We’re more than just a wheelchair basketball club,” Kentebe says. “First and foremost, we’re a family. Our doors are always open, that’s what I promised when I set-up the club, and they always will because we’re all here for each other and you never know who’s going to pass by.
“I wanted to put this sport into places where it hasn’t been. Give people a chance to discover the sport, to get involved and to just enjoy it because it’s a great sport. It allows you to feel part of something, no matter how good or bad you are, you’re part of a family, and that’s important.”
Making a difference
“I love being able to show people things they think they can’t do,” Kentebe adds. “I never give up on people. If you say you can’t do it, I will show you a way that you can. That’s my philosophy. If you’re willing to try, I’m willing to coach and I will do all I can to help you achieve what you want to achieve.”
Kentebe’s involvement in wheelchair basketball goes beyond founding and coaching at Brixton Ballers. A key figure in wheelchair basketball in London and beyond, Kentebe has coached medal winning teams at School Games, London Youth Games and Inclusive Zone Basketball (IZB) National Finals.
Alongside his work on court, Kentebe also lectures at Brunel University, teaching Occupational Therapy students about the benefits of wheelchair basketball and how the sport can be used when they go out into the field.
Winner of the Canary Wharf Sports Personality of the Year Voluntary Sports Commitment Award in 2016, along with assistant coach Percy Hutchful, the ‘London All-Stars’, a junior and development club he set-up with Ruth Eytle, also earned recognition in the same year, winning Community Sports Club of the Year at the Lord’s Taverners Sporting Chance Awards.
Kentebe isn’t, however, involved in the sport for the awards. The current BWB tutor and former BWB board member is committed to helping others and making a positive difference. It’s a philosophy which he believes stems from when he was first playing basketball while at school in Manchester.
“I was the only black kid in the school basketball team, and I got a lot of pressure put on me, being black ‘I must be good at basketball’,” Kentebe recalls. “There was this wicked baller on the team, he was older than me, and went on to play professionally. In my very first game the coach said ‘right Kentebe you’re getting his shirt, don’t embarrass us”. And that was it. I was 11.
“He put me into the game, I played terrible and he then made a public show of me after the game. That moment has stuck with me. After that, I didn’t like playing in competition, I didn’t like playing for the school.
“I will never forget that coach and I think that’s been a big thing for me in being a coach and teaching others,” Kentebe adds. “I would never make a child feel like that. I truly believe I could have been a good player, but nobody cared to deal with the issue that I had. I want to make a positive difference and ensure every person has the chance to be who they want to be.”
Committed to ensuring there are opportunities for all, Kentebe continues to push for change and ensure there is a pathway for ethnically diverse communities in the sport.
“When I went to my first wheelchair basketball tournament, I was the only black person there, apart from cleaners,” Kentebe says. “It’s why I started Brixton Ballers and London All-Stars to take the sport into places where it hasn’t been before and to give people that opportunity.
“It’s still an issue in the sport today and more needs to be done, we’re a multi-cultural country. But if something’s going to change, people need to be willing to listen. It’s a problem I have faced throughout my time in the sport, even when I was on the BWB board, people don’t seem willing to discuss it. If you just ignore it, nothing’s going to change, but’s things have to.”