Nate proud to call Sheffield ‘home’

Honorary Sheffielder: Nate Reinking, Great Britain and Sheffield Sharks
Honorary Sheffielder: Nate Reinking, Great Britain and Sheffield Sharks
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‘Never say never’ is Nate Reinking’s stock answer when asked whether he’ll be playing basketball again next season.

It’s the nearest he ever gets to being indecisive.

The 38-year-old American, who is one of Sheffield Sharks’ greatest ever players, and, through naturalisation, a fixture in Great Britain’s Olympic Games squad, is how you want a sports star to be.

Polite, courteous, athletically in top shape, smart and, most importantly, someone who never lets down his team or their fans.

And he’s now one of us. Steel City to the core.

In the transient career of a top sportsman, that has seen Reinking move from the United States, to England, to Europe and back to Blighty, he has no doubt in calling Sheffield his home.

“I would definitely say that,” he claims in his deliberate Ohio drawl, that has lost none of its small-town American warmness.

“When I first came here I’d never have thought that I’d be back later in my career. I’ve bought a home here and I’m pretty well established. I know a lot of people around the city and I’m very comfortable here.”

Reinking first arrived in Sheffield with the Sharks in 1999 after impressing for rival BBL teams Leicester and Derby.

Under the leadership of Chris Finch – now head coach of Great Britain – Reinking flourished for six seasons during a golden era for the club.

When Finch moved on to Belgium one of the first things he wanted to do was take Reinking with him. The two have formed a prolific partnership, with the sharp-shooting Reinking being Finch’s on-court voice for more than a decade.

But it wasn’t only Finch’s presence and methods that endeared Sheffield to the boy from the small town of Galion in Ohio – population 10,000.

“As big as Sheffield is compared to Galion it has that feeling of being small and welcoming. It has its villages and it’s just special,” he said.

And having met partner Nikki in the city seven years ago he’s as close to putting down roots as any professional sportsman can be.

Many newcomers to the city are here to study. It’s a route that Reinking is also taking at Sheffield Hallam University as he considers the inevitable end to his basketball career.

When that will be, well, he won’t say.

But before then he has the little matter of the Olympic Games in London this summer.

Basketball is a must-see team event at any Games – regardless of the popularity of the sport in the host country prior to the tournament.

Reinking says it is a great opportunity: “I can never understand why basketball isn’t more high profile here.

“Across the world, even in places like Belgium where I played, it’s much more popular. When it happens (the surge in recognition) it’ll be how it should be. It’s a great sport.

“I haven’t experienced the Olympics before, apart from watching some events in Atlanta (1996) when me and my college room-mates jumped in the car and drove down there.

“Just to be in that atmosphere was amazing so to be a part of it as a participant… well, I can’t imagine what that would feel like.”

Don’t be thinking that Great Britain will be cannon fodder for the established nations such as Spain, Argentina and the USA.

Reinking and his team-mates, who include Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng, have had to jump through numerous (excuse the pun) hoops to be considered worthy enough to dine at the sport’s top table.

Anything is possible, says the usually cautious Reinking:

“In a tournament such as this, when you’re on home soil, with a couple of wins and some momentum, the home fans getting behind you, you never know.

“If we get our talent together and have great preparation, something could happen.

“We’ve been competitive with some of the top teams.

“If you make it through the group rounds to the quarters, who knows? Standing on that medal platform would be a great thing for the sport.”

Medals of a different nature will be presented by Reinking this Sunday.

The best university players in the country will be competing for the British Universities and Colleges Championship at the English Institute of Sport.

Reinking will be guest of honour as he presents the trophies to the winning teams.

Usually he’s the one on the receiving end of the medal-giving process and even as he approaches the end of his fourth decade and recovers from a knee injury there’s no sign of him slowing down just yet.

Carrying on with the Sharks?

Being a match winner at the Olympics?

Becoming a top coach when he finally does call it a day?

With Nate Reinking, never say never.

GB man Nate wants the Americans - more than once

As a proud American Nate Reinking had one or two doubts about pulling on the vest of his adopted home country.

But such has been the strength of the Great Britain team spirit ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games he now can’t wait to hear the national anthem, particularly before a warm-up match against the USA in Manchester on July 19.

He said: “When I first played it was for an England team. I kind of felt bad because I was taking the place of a guy who was born here. And I never really had that ‘patriotic’ feeling.

“Since we became GB though, and got the team around us, there’s a real feeling of togetherness and being part of something.

“I’ve told Chris Finch that even if he wants to cut me from the Olympic squad he has to play me in the warm-up against the USA!

“I used to watch guys like LeBron James when he was playing high school in Akron, Ohio. As old as I am now I can’t wait to step on the floor against guys like him.

“It’s always your goal as a sportsman to play at the highest level you can.

“The NBA is the pinnacle of the sport, but it’s such a fine line whether you make it or not.

“It’d be great to draw the USA in the group stages in London too.”

Nate masters the next challenge

Smart players of any sport plan their next move in advance. Smart people plan their careers with the future in mind.

Nate Reinking has taken his on-court philosophy into what will be his next life – after basketball.

Returning to the Sharks wasn’t just a hoops related decision. He explained: “I’d heard that Sheffield Hallam was a great university and the masters was a good course.

“I wanted to gain some knowledge behind what I already enjoyed doing, so it’s helping me in every aspect of my game and in my future career.”

“A big reason I came back was to do the masters in sport and exercise science at Sheffield Hallam. It was a great opportunity because I’m looking at the end of my career pretty soon, possibly after the Olympics.

“So it’s a great opportunity as I look towards another career. Ideally I’d like to work in universities in the United States and coach basketball.

“I think the masters will expand my horizons and help me do that.”

“Coming to Sheffield Hallam and just being round the atmosphere of the university is really enjoyable. And I’d like to help out here with the basketball programme if I can, and help to broaden the enthusiasm around sport here at the university.

“It would be nice to see programmes here in the UK grow and grow.”