Solent Stars - Mark Saiers - An Interview

Mark Saiers was coach to the team in the 1987 - 88 season and for part of the 1988 - 89 season. This followed a basketball playing career in England that was second to none with long spells with Crystal Palace and Solent Stars. Many people believe that Mark was the best player in the centre position to grace the 1970s and 1980s. The article that follows raises matters in Saiers' coaching time at Solent.

Who did you recruit for your first coaching post at Solent Stars?

I tried to recruit a player called Paul Scarborough from the University of New Mexico. However, he wanted to try out for the NBA. I thought at the time he might have difficulty in that. He was only 5' 11" tall and I couldn't somehow see him guarding Magic Johnson very well! With Paul unavailable, I went for two other University of New Mexico players that I had seen - Phil Smith and Johnny Brown. In fact it was Johnny Brown who I went for first as he was a complete athlete, and it was Brown who recommended Phil Smith.

So you must have been disappointed when Brown left the team after the Calderdale match in which he was disqualified?

Several things upset me about that situation. First of all, Johnny never spoke to me about any of his concerns, He certainly never spoke to me after the Calderdale game. I only became aware of the situation through comments made from the family of his girlfriend. His banker's card was still being used for some time after the event, so I thought that one day he might materialise again - but he never did.

You then had to play yourself for a few games.

This was something I had not anticipated. I played against Oldham and then it took one hour of physiotherapy after the game to relieve a back spasm! My final game was against Crystal Palace, which was quite ironic considering my basketball career in England had been with both those clubs.

You then brought in Abraham Okoradudu.

Phil Smith supported Okoradudu's signing saying that 'he had a great body for basketball'. However, as time showed he was always just a bit off the pace. He was just like a car that would suddenly slip into neutral gear. Also, his hand injury did limit his effectiveness. He did have one good game for us though, against Kingston, which showed what he might have been able to bring to the club.

You finished with a 14 - 14 record for the league season. What were your main thoughts?

Mainly that we were never able to defend well, especially on the defensive rebounds. We gave our opponents too many shooting opportunities by being able to get the ball off the board. I was encouraged by our good wins during the season, but I knew that we only had a limited pick of players. This was because our nearest clubs, Kingston, Bracknell and Portsmouth all had more money than we did to spend on players.

Your main signing over the summer was Tyrone Canino.

It wasn't quite like that! At the end of the previous season no firm plans were announced. I did not know if I would still be the coach. The club directors did all the negotiating with the existing squad - some of whom I would not have re-signed. Then they came to me with the notion of finding an American player to join Phil Smith. Jim Kelly recommended Canino to me but in the ensuing negotiations between the club and the agent, there was confusion about the amount of money to be involved. The agent informed the player of the amount he would be getting in pounds, but he used the figure he had been given in dollars. Hence the player was upset when he found out the true situation and we had a problem on our hands from day one.

Were there any other problems?

The main one was that we had no pre-season training at all. By the time the directors had assembled the squad, approached me and done the deal with Canino, the opening games were almost upon us. We were plagued by injuries early on in the season to both Phil Smith and Canino. On top of that, our top English signing, Paul Stimpson, decided that he could not attend weeknight training sessions since he had to commute from London.

Your coaching career ended suddenly in mid-season.

Once again, it was ironic that my last game in charge was against Crystal Palace at Fleming Park. It was quite a dramatic match with two disqualifications, but I guess there must have been an element of frustration all around. I was told after the match that my services were no longer required because, in part, there was a financial crisis that could be partly alleviated by appointing a player coach - Phil Smith. One thing I know - it's a lot more fun playing than it is coaching!!

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