A HERO’S job, they call it. To inspire the next generation of Team Scotland stars. Fraser Malcolm lives and breathes its toil, night and day. An international basketballer, with a knowledge of the importance that role models can play. And a teacher too, his vocation driving him to sculpt young minds and steer them towards a life well-lived, a cup filled to the brim with possibilities.
This dual purpose, he well knows, comes with responsibilities attached.
“I think it’s huge,” the Glasgow Rocks forward, whose mornings are spent teaching at Gryffe High in Renfrewshire, explained. “And obviously it’s come on over the last two years with having lockdowns, delayed Olympics, and sporting events cancelled and all that type of stuff.
“It’s more important now than ever to have positive sporting role models in young people’s lives. Covid recovery, everyone says, is really just emphasising sport and showcasing it within the country.
“And I think having the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where there isn’t the time difference that we had in Australia in 2018, will mean more people are able to watch. It’s going to be great for the next generation of athletes.”
Malcolm, now 26, was once one of those aspiring, wide-eyed hopefuls as a prodigy at his local club, Falkirk Fury, watching its graduates head to the 2006 Games in Melbourne and its stellar pupil, Kieron Achara, eventually take the stage at the London 2012 Olympics.
Almost a generation apart, he would join his boyhood idol in Gold Coast four years ago, returning from college in the United States to form part of a Scotland men’s team that fulfilled its own ambitions by finishing fourth behind the global powers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand while relishing the treat of knocking England off en route.
“The best experience I’ve ever had,” Malcolm insisted. “It was kind of a goal that I set when I was younger. And when we talk about goal-setting in class, I’ll maybe talk about it, using myself to give an example whenever we’re talking about long-range goals, or specific goals, or manageable goals.
“I set that one a long time before I went to Australia. And I will speak about it very positively.”
Scotland’s run to within touching distance of a podium finish four years ago was conducted in the traditional five-on-five version of a sport invented in 1891 – by the son of emigrants from Angus. Birmingham 2022 has opted to include the newer 3×3 variant of basketball that has emerged from the playgrounds to earn itself a global circuit and Olympic status.
Scotland’s men and women – plus the women’s wheelchair squad – all secured their berths in the springtime on home turf in Largs. For Malcolm, it brought a rapid learning curve. Quicker action, adapted rules, a single basket – and rosters of four, not 12.
“This game is fast paced,” he said. “It’s really an offensive game. It’s more physical and enjoyable to play. Watching back the qualification tournament, it was enjoyable to watch as well just because there is so much scoring and there aren’t a lot of time-outs. And there are no real breaks in play.”
Breaking into a laugh, Malcom added: “So there’s nowhere to hide!
“There’s no such thing as a deep team. Everyone’s going to play, everyone’s going to have to contribute to winning. We’re not too sure how we compare to other teams. But if we go in and if we shoot the ball well and if we defend well, then I feel like we’ve got a good chance.”
Ditto for the women, with a home-based contingent drawn from Women’s British Basketball League side, Caledonia Pride, but with a golden nugget in the shape of Kennedy Leonard, Colorado-born but with a Dundonian mother, who led London Lions to a clean sweep of all four domestic trophies last season – without suffering a single loss along the way.
As a sign of just how ambitious the Scottish women are, consider Leonard’s blunt declaration of intent, as she insisted: “It wasn’t really enough to qualify for the Commonwealths. We want to go there and pick up a medal. We want to go there and win.”
That goes for their male counterparts too, Malcolm affirms. But there is a motivation on top. Gareth Murray, set to make a little history as the first basketballer to feature at three Commonwealth Games, is expected to retire following his stint as player-coach in Birmingham.
“We don’t know his plans are for sure,” his Rocks’ club charge confirms. “But Gareth’s 37 now and he’s suggested it is going to be his last stand. It will be his last Commonwealth Games. It’s near the end for his basketball career. So if we can send him out on a high, we want that for him, considering how much he’s given to the to the game and Scottish basketball.”
When they’re done with Birmingham, there’ll be the kids awaiting Mr. Malcolm back at school. He’s got used to it now, the attention and the occasional brutal analysis from when the Rocks have been on the TV or attracted pupils along to watch the master at work.
That’s what sport should be about, he believes. About competing for the top marks available but also passing along the lessons learnt.
Big stages like the Commonwealths offer a grand opportunity to educate – and to illuminate the pathways on offer for those with ability and application.
“A lot of the kids who watched Olympics were asking me about 3×3. They were saying they wouldn’t normally watch it or go search for it online. Because it was on TV, they were talking about it. Same with the BMX in Tokyo as well.
“Just having these massive multi-nation events, the kids will watch it. Whenever they speak about Birmingham, I can give my experience of it first-hand. And if we can showcase our talent and our skillset on that level, it’d be great to be able to get some new fans or players who have been inspired or notice us through the Commonwealth Games.”
Article by Mark Woods