April 6, 2010
By Liz Murray, Patriot League Intern
Paul Cummins spends each day balancing class, basketball practice, weightlifting sessions and extra shooting practice. He and his teammates travel to Dave Matthews Band concerts in their time off. And while this may all sound like completely normal activity for a basketball player, Cummins' story is anything but.
Cummins happens to be playing while getting his MBA in one year. And the Lafayette graduate and native of Kildare, Ireland is doing it all in his home country.
This year, Cummins is a member of a joint venture between the Patriot League and USNI Sport Graduate Development program that allows Patriot League athletes to continue both their education and athletic career on a sport scholarship in Northern Ireland. Paul is getting his MBA from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. He graduated with honors from Lafayette College in 2008 as a major in both psychology and music.
Cummins stepped in to his new team as a leader, following the advice of friend and former Lafayette teammate Matt Betley, who also went through the program. "He said when you come in here, you need to be a leader; the team needs a leader," Cummins said. "I think that's probably the best advice I received."
Despite a slow start for the team, Cummins led the Elks to a strong finish with a 5-12 record and fourth place in the North Conference of the Nivea for Men's SuperLeague, just one spot out of a playoff berth. Cummins finished in the top 10 in the league in assists, and second in three-pointers made.
"It wasn't a great record," he admitted. "But we made a great run in the second half of the season. We're a good, solid team, but it's still a young program,"
In his opinion, the program can significantly improve if more Patriot League athletes make the cross-Atlantic journey. "The program is such a great opportunity because it needs more players to come over, get their masters and contribute to the team."
The influx of American talent can also serve to strengthen the bond between Irish and U.S. basketball, which turned into somewhat of a personal mission for Cummins ever since he was a freshman at Lafayette.
From 2005-2008, Paul spent each school year as a member of the Lafayette men's basketball team and his summers running Hoops Clinic, a basketball camp for children in Ireland.
"I love to facilitate young, talented payers in Ireland," Cummins says. His goal is to help Irish basketball players be seen by American coaches and to help them gain similar opportunities to that which he received at Lafayette.
This year, besides earning his MBA and playing at Ulster, Cummins is expanding his camps to increase awareness abroad about basketball in Ireland. In addition to the two younger age-divided groups within the camp, he is working to bring on an advanced group that will have the opportunity to be seen by American coaches, even putting highlights on the camp's Web site to further enable scouting of Irish players.
Bridging the gap is no small task given the different basketball regulations in the U.S. and Europe. In Ireland, a shorter shot clock forces Cummins to change his game, and transition to a more offensive mindset. He says he dedicated the year to working on his offensive skills and transitions.
"The one thing that players need to realize when they come over to a league like the Irish League is that they need to be more versatile; they have to be more than one-dimensional," he said. "You're going to have to take it to the basket. You have to shoot from inside. You have to rebound."
Cummins enjoys the opportunity to play in his home country. "Personally, I prefer the game over here because there's more freedom to play," he said. "I think my game is more suited to fast-paced transitions and looking for that early shot."
Still, the time that he spent playing for Lafayette and in the Patriot League will always resonate.
"I think playing for Lafayette and the Patriot League prepared me for playing anywhere in the world," Cummins said. "Being a student-athlete at Lafayette really taught me how to balance my time more effectively so now it's sort of second nature," he said.
In March, Cummins rooted for his alma mater in the postseason, watching the Patriot League Championship game from across the Atlantic. "It's too bad they couldn't win the whole thing," he said. "But it was shown on national TV here, which was pretty cool because I got to see all the guys and give a shout out to the team."
"Overall playing for Lafayette and the Patriot League was the biggest dream of mine since I was a child and it is still one of my proudest accomplishments," Cummins said. "It has prepared me excellently for wherever I go afterward."
And with an MBA in hand through the graduate program and a year of playing in Ireland, Cummins is sure to be a success wherever he goes next.