Tokyo Time has teamed up with Swish productions and respected sports journalist Mo Stewart, to bring you an exclusive interview with London City Royals star Ashley Hamilton ahead of the Play-Off Finals on Sunday the 19th May.
After a stellar college career and a decade making a name for himself across Mainland Europe, Ashley Hamilton has certainly enjoyed returning to his South London roots. The London City Royals Forward made the All-British and All-defensive teams in his first year in the BBL, and is a contender for the League MVP award. The Royals already have one piece of glassware in the cabinet, having taken down local rivals London Lions to win the BBL Trophy in March, with Hamilton named Final MVP.
This Sunday they do battle with 2-time defending champions Leicester Riders in the BBL Playoff final at the O2 Arena. I caught up with him at the end of a long day, but I could sense his determination to go on and do the double.
Swish: You made your name playing Basketball all around the world, and yet this year is the first chance you have had to play where it started; not just in England but right back in Crystal Palace where you started as a kid. So first, what’s it like playing back in the UK?
AH: It's amazing, yeah like you said, this is where I discovered basketball, this where I first saw people play basketball at a level that made me think, “wow, these guys are amazing, I wish I could play like that.” To be able to come back now the story has almost come full circle is amazing. I never thought I would get the opportunity to play at home, for business reasons and other things of that nature but it’s a blessing to be here this year.
Swish: When you're out and about in Crystal Palace and you see young fans, do you feel you are inspiring them and showing that they can make a career out of Basketball at home now?
AH: Honestly, when I see young fans and I see young players around the club, I say to myself, I would love to be their age again, just so I could have been involved in the sport from such a young age. I think that is maybe one of the differences now - seeing that interaction and seeing people loving the sport as they are discovering our club and the fanbase is growing. It's nice to be part of something that gives the younger generation something to look forward to, something to aim for, you know? That’s really what gets you hooked as a player. I remember when I used to watch (London) Towers, when I first started playing, the relationship with the players there, that’s something that kind of motivates you, that’s how you start to get those first bits of advice and knowledge, how to improve and be better as a player.
Swish: Let’s concentrate more on you guys as a team. From the jump you've have been really vocal in your aims to reach this match at The O2, despite the fact it's your first season. How pleasing is it to have met that primary objective already?
AH: Definitely, it is extremely pleasing. Like you said it was one of our many goals this season, but quite honestly I think it is every team's goal on the first day of the season to be playing in the last game. If any organisation didn’t have that goal, you know there's something wrong there. I don’t think it’s a far fetched notion to be thinking that way but to have achieved the goal in the first year, we are very humbled and very grateful to be here.
Swish: It speaks a lot to your guys mindset as athletes; no matter what obstacles are in your way, you see it as your goal to make it to the final game of the season. We don’t want to shame people here but there were a fair few naysayers who said that you would struggle this season and that some of the talk wasn’t quite justified. And yet, you could end up with two trophies at the end of your first season. Have those voices fuelled the fire inside your locker-room?
AH: Um… yeah, I mean you always want to prove people wrong when there are naysayer and doubters, but quite honestly, we just set a goal and we put our heads down and tried to fight on, so to be here now in the position where we are starting to prove some people wrong..........it's nice but again it means nothing because you are just gonna go and give those critics another platform, another microphone, another soapbox to stand on if you don’t take care of business on game day.
It doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be people who say something, and see it in a negative light even though you are trying to do something positive. Another thing that was said about the club is that we are here trying to improve British Basketball, to be part of the fabric of British Basketball. I think that is something very positive, we know this. There always going to be people to say something negative. and if you are not doing anything good, then, you know, you won’t have anyone saying anything bad!
Swish: In our opinion, the London City Royals have been a breath of fresh air to the league. Not just because of the local rivalry with London Lions, but also because you have been able to bring a lot of British talent back to the league who have been playing elsewhere. How much has the idea of making a home for yourself back in England been spoken about in the dressing room?
AH: I know that was one of my motivations to come back and I think it’s the same with a lot of the other guys. I feel like the BBL and the teams in the BBL are doing a better job of creating opportunities for guys to come home. Quite honestly, the UK as a place is a very favourable destination for people to come and visit, so now to be able to come and play basketball here is even better. Just from my experiences overseas, tons of people from different nationalities and different nations would like to come and play in the UK but obviously if you are not offered the same type of health benefits, financial opportunities and prospects for the future, then why would you sacrifice something that you have a chance at in another country, just because you like the place? As a British player, to be part of a franchise and part of a league that is trying to encourage and trying to create situations that helps British players to come home, it’s amazing and you’ve got to take advantage of it when you can.
Swish: So we have mentioned that you guys are a new team but some of you have known each other for quite some time and even played together. How far back do you all go?
AH: Ah man, it's crazy….. Some of us go back over 10 years, but again it's the same situation with many of the guys from the Lions - we were playing in the same league. Basically, everyone in London either played for Towers, Brixton, Hackney or East London; we were split into those four teams. Now, the Lions and Royals are split up into guys who had something to do with each one of those teams. So the same kind of rivalries and friendships we made back in the day have remained. Some guys you might know from playing against them, and now you are playing with them, or other guys have played with them; or you were in the national team together, so you have been together for two/three weeks throughout the summer just finding out about each other. We're together in the areas you hang out or work out, but this is really the first time that a lot of us have been able to spend consistent time with each other. That has been a new learning curve for us too. We have had childhoods together, and this is just another experience, another step on the friendship ladder.
Swish: I want to talk a little bit more about that rivalry with London Lions because as you say, you have all know each other and known each other’s games. When we were at the Trophy finals there was no shortage of trash talk but you guys were all friendly and hugging after the game. How much more exciting does it make it when you know every single move they may have in their bag?
AH: As far as the trashing talking goes, some people get involved in that, but between the franchises and the league, they do a good job of creating that rivalry for the fans, for the spectators. You have that competitiveness with anyone you go up against, anyone you are competing with, but after the games when all is said and done, as long as everyone comes out of it healthy, you just respect players who have competed hard against you more than you respect those that don’t compete hard against you. When they are guys you know, you are going to hard against each other because of its bragging rights…
Swish: Can we have a word on your Coach, Jay Williams? From the outside he looks like a very calm, measured guy but to be honest, I have never met a coach who can’t tear a strip off someone when they have to. What is he like to play for?
AH: Jay is actually pretty calm, he is measured, he is calculated about a lot of stuff he says. He certainly can get riled up, but you’ve got to work hard to get him that way. He is pretty good at controlling his emotions and he preaches that with us. We learn from him a lot in that respect, things like dealing with the referees or dealing with adversity, keeping your composure. I mean, we are all still getting better at it but he does a great job at providing leadership in that aspect. Overall he is a player's coach - he was a player himself so he understands all aspect of the game. He sympathises with us in certain areas, and he is tough on us in other areas.
Swish: Finally, I want to talk about your personal season. You made the All British Team, made the All-Defensive Team, MVP in the trophy final, and you are surely going to be in the running for league MVP. We don’t have a vote but for the sake of our readers, would you be willing to make a case for yourself.
AH: Make a case for myself as MVP?!
AH: I don't know man, it's difficult. There are a lot of different types of players in the league, but I feel I am able to compete with everyone. I think I have shown that I am pretty versatile and my team is winning, which has always been the main thing. Any awards I have got throughout the season, it was never in my mind to do this or do that or XYZ. As long as my team is winning and we are giving ourselves a chance to compete at the end of the day, that is the main goal. Anything that comes out of that, is a blessing. Anyone who votes for me or considers me, I am very thankful, and you know, if not I will congratulate the guy who gets it.
Swish: One final question. We want to ask you about your opponent on Sunday, The Leicester Riders. They are the returning Champions. They are pretty much the opposite to you in so much as they are the oldest team out there, they know what it takes to get it done. What are you going to have bring in order to take that trophy home?
AH: I mean for definite we are going to have play hard, we are going to have to communicate, be locked in. They are battle-tested, I think they have been to four finals in the last five or six years. If they win this weekend that will be three straight - their history speaks for itself. They have got a great coach, amazing players.......definitely a team you can’t overlook, you have to come prepared. We have had some battles throughout the season, and Sunday is going to be another one for sure.
Mo Stewart for Swish Productions