Joe Hart "I feel very invested in this place.”

Joe Hart "I feel very invested in this place.”

There are few guys on the Plymouth City Patriots roster that provide consistent production on and off the court week after week, yet slip somewhat under the radar and quietly go about their business. In fact, such occurrences have earned this particular player the worthy nickname “The Silent Assassin.”

Joe Hart, part of the original Patriots lineup and sharp shooting guard is not one for the limelight, and generally keeps himself busy focusing on his own development, as well as the development of his youth players at the Torbridge Academy. However, when you get Joe in a room to talk basketball, he's in his element.

Season 1 - Joe Hart Vs Glasgow Rocks 

“I sometimes look back to my time in Newcastle, 2015/16, and where the league was compared to where it is now and it's night and day,” Joe began, considering how far the British Basketball League has come since he turned professional. He continued, “Leicester was the only team with their own arena, and now there's at least four teams... It's definitely a step in the right direction.”

Joe Hart - Newcastle Eagles 2015/2016

Joe's knowledge of basketball, both where it's been and where it needs to go, is exceptional. Never being one to self promote per say, he has been featured on highlight reels in the past two seasons for various made shots. This season however, he really gets a sense that things have taken off. “I went to watch my girlfriend play in Essex, and I'm from Essex so we stayed with family and I had four or five people come up to me at her game and say ‘Joe, that one legged shot you made the other day was awesome! It was crazy.’ Now I've made shots like that before over the last two seasons and no one would bat an eyelid, but to have five different people come up, the reach of the league is getting crazy.”

In the Patriots first season, Joe Hart averaged one of the highest usage rate averaging over 30 minutes Per game and proving himself to be a high level three and D player, making him invaluable to the team. “That first year, up until Christmas was tough,” said Joe, looking back to where it all began in Plymouth. He continued “PJ in my experience with him has one guy. He'll find a guy, like Atwood this year, last year it was Elvisi, that he just doesn't want to take off the floor. For the first three months, I happened to be that player.” Joe recalled the first grueling weekend for the original Patriots lineup, which only consisted of around eight players. The team traveled to Bristol in the British Basketball League Cup to face the Flyers, before heading to London the following afternoon. Joe played 37 minutes plus in the first fixture, and following an injury to both Elvisi Dusha and Kingsley Okoro, Joe then played the full 40 minutes in the nation's capital, against the Lions. “I just remember the fourth quarter, running from baseline to baseline thinking ‘please don't pass me the ball, I'm just trying to survive here.’”

The first season with the Patriots

Despite the trials and tribulations of the initial four months of the first season, Joe has fond memories. “That first year was fun! Even in the struggle. I think as a player you always want to be involved, and that first year I was involved a lot in everything that we did which was like a new role for me,” he reflected. Traditionally Joe has had an impact on teams as a role player, playing solid minutes and providing his teams with excellent defence and a lethal outside shooting ability. Averaging over 30 minutes a game for that first season gave him a real sense that he belonged in the British Basketball League.

From day one, Elvisi Dusha and Joe Hart.

As we all know, the second half of that season was a complete contrast to what remained. Joe remembers it as the “most fun I've ever had playing basketball”, with a complete change of fortune and a run at the playoffs. “Things started to change when Rowell Graham-Bell came in,” Joe recalled. That 46-point game he had against Manchester is one of the best offensive performances I think I've ever seen.” Looking back at some of the past games, Joe still had opinions on what the team should have done in certain situations, perhaps testament to his potential as a coach, but more than likely showing his very competitive nature, something that drives professional athletes in their respective sports. He's no different in that respect to a large proportion of top level athletes. Remembering and still being frustrated at specific instances that occured years ago, often using those experiences to either learn and adjust or simply to fire up the passion required to be a professional athlete in general.

“In so many games that season, we would be down double figures, but I don't think we ever believed we'd fold, especially the first two months [after Christmas]. We just felt like we were winning.” That summed up the Patriots season to that point. After the tough start and being unable to offer visas for overseas talent, to the turn of the new year and the introduction of Troy Simons, Rashad Hassan and Antonio Williams. And the Patriots continued to win. “We did it away in Bristol, away in Newcastle, away in London and people were making plays and big shots and the mentality that Antonio was gonna drag us over the line. We're not losing.”

It certainly looked like Joe and the Patriots still had far too much ground to cover and that the playoffs were just out of sight. All of the pundits and critics had written them off, “it ended up coming down to that last game, which was quite a night! And to take down the big dogs was awesome,” said Joe referring to the final showdown against Newcastle, which secured the Patriots first ever playoff spot in their first season.

Joe is fan favourite here in Plymouth. 

Joe recalled the team coming close to knocking off the number one seed later in the playoffs, the Leicester Riders and the way they erased a 17-point deficit in their second leg away from home. It was the end of a triumphant first season for the team that had zero expectations, other than to bring basketball back to Plymouth.

There has been a large amount of ground covered since the end of that first season and the start of the 2023-24 campaign. During that time Joe suffered a series of setbacks after a painful ACL knee injury prior to the start of the 2022-23 season. Joe's professionalism, something he prides himself on, although you wouldn't perhaps realise it due to his humble and work like attitude, was incredible. Many players in the same situation would and have disappeared into the background and perhaps vanished altogether, but not Joe. He immersed himself into Plymouth basketball, running academies and university squads as well as being Paul James assistant coach for the entirety of last season. All this as well as his own rehab.

It was a long road ahead for the Patriots star.

“It was a bit challenging,” started Joe, looking back at last season's trials and tribulations. He continued “the injury happened two days before we came in for pre-season. We were supposed to come in the week before, so I always play with PJ saying it's his fault, you know, if I'd been here, it never would have happened, but obviously I'm just kidding. If there's a weakness in the knee, it was always going to happen.”

Joe found himself in a situation where his drive to be involved with basketball and the Patriots came from a want and necessity to do it. Being a professional athlete and requiring surgery as soon as possible wasn't cheap, plus the recovery time after such an injury would set him back considerably. “All this time is valuable and this process is going to take a long time,” said Joe, who's acceptance of the situation was perhaps key to his recovery.

Road to recovery.

In Plymouth, Joe had everything he needed to aid his recovery, including access to Marjons sports therapy students and equipment. The club, realising just how important Joe is to them in terms of hard work, dedication and having someone that brings with them a professional culture, we're happy to keep him on the books and honour all contractual agreements, effectively keeping Joe in Plymouth for the entirety of the season. He dived into his new coaching roles, spreading himself across the city leading daily coaching sessions and assisting PJ with the Patriots both at practice and ok game day.

“It was nice because it kind of kept me occupied. It was also miserable at times, just from the sheer amount I was doing, schedule wise and at times it made questions my focus. Was it my body and my recovery? Was it conducive to recovery, me doing a coaching session with the uni guys on a Monday at seven in the morning for two hours, then doing rehab, then taking a BBL practice, then doing three hours of coaching again in the evening? Was it conducive? Potentially not, but it was the situation I found myself in,” Joe reflected. He also remembered that this was the exact period that confirmed his interest in one day becoming a head coach. “I've always thought that I'd like to be a coach at some point, never decided on it although it's maybe always been in tje background of my mind, so it was cool to be able to have the opportunity to coach.”

Of all of his coaching roles during his rehab season, the one that was the toughest for Joe was the BBL team coaching. Having been a key player the season prior to his injury, in the squad that had made the playoffs showing championship form to reach the postseason, he was looking forward to once again being an integral part of the team and with the return of some familiar faces from the previous year, the Patriots looked set to excel.

Coach Joe Hart.

It’s evident from the way he talks about coaching the future generations of British basketballers, that this is becoming Joe’s passion. “This year I have my academy that I coach with five days a week,which is full on, but seeing the improvement they’ve made from September when we started to now is so rewarding.I love the competitiveness and the joy you get is unrivaled, when you draw up a playing a game and it works out perfectly! Honestly, you get this feeling of ‘I’m the smartest man alive,’ and that is really cool.”

Joe does have aspirations of “dipping his toe into the waters of professional coaching” but fully understands the level of work required and the instability of such a profession in the British League. Should something similar happen to Joe that happened up in Scotland to Gareth Murray, when the Caledonia Gladiators gave him the reins, Joe would seriously consider the

opportunity, despite wanting to play for a good few more seasons. Joe and Elvisi both enjoyed the opportunity to coach the first team when PJ was sent to the stands earlier this season.

If the discipline Joe showed through his injury rehab is anything to go by, coaching would be the ideal next step for him once he hangs up the basketball boots. The dedication he showed to rehabilitating his knee injury meant that when he finally hit the court, over 300 days after his initial injury, it looked like he had never been away. “I had to battle with the initial reactions. Thinking the world hates me, why me and so forth and I felt very much like I didn’t want to do anything until I’d had my surgery. But I think it’s always been my attitude, I think I’ve always been a hard worker and quite disciplined and professional. Something instilled from my parents from when I was young and watching them in their work and the things that they did.” Joe showed his professionalism and dedication by literally jumping through hoops, at least he would have, if his physio and sports therapists had ensured him it would lead to a quicker recovery. Despite some setbacks early in the process and an often overwhelming feeling that the pain he suffered in the initial weeks would be something he would always have to live with, Joe worked incredibly hard and turned the situation around, getting himself in the best possible shape across each stage of his recovery. The lack of mobility and even the fact that getting in the car or using the bathroom gave Joe some real psychological battles, but thanks to the team of students available at Marjons University, including physiotherapists, nutritionists and sport psychologists he was able to punch on and get himself ready for the following season. He did have one setback prior to the season starting, and after he felt a twang in his knee he faced the very real fear that his rehab would take much longer. “I started working with a couple of guys that used to work at Barking Abbey, and they put me through my paces, giving me confidence, strength and ability,” recalled Joe, after being told he was somewhat off the pace regarding his final rehab stages.

“I'm not a religious man, perhaps there is a higher power, I have no idea how that first shot went in,” said Joe, referring of course to his first moments back on the floor at Pavilions in front of a sold out crowd. He nailed his very first three point attempt from the corner and the entire arena erupted in a euphoria celebration that Joe Hart was back! All the solitary workouts and focussed strength sessions had paid off. The countless upper body workouts whilst his knee injury forced him to rest his lower body and the pain wouldn't allow him to exert for the most part had molded Joe into a disciplined machine, and gave him focus on the ultimate goal of not just returning to the roster, but coming back stronger and fitter than before.

“I had my girlfriend here, my parents and her parents had come down as well and I stepped on the floor and with my first touch of the ball I shot a three from the corner...” said Joe, recalling the moment that will be encapsulated by every Patriots fan in the building. “Let me tell you, I thought it was hitting the side of the blackboard... It goes in and obviously the crowd went wild. That's something that's going to stick with me forever.”

Back with a bang.

The journey wasn't entirely complete and Joe didn't feel totally himself yet. The full cycle from injury to recovery wasn't yet concluded and Joe felt a little like a fraud, being not yet ready to fulfill the role he once had on the team. No doubt the confidence and psychology of the situation

would take some time and getting back to a stable mental state was just as important as the physical side of things.

Finally now however, after a long and arduous journey filled with fraught, doubt and more than a modicum of discipline, Joe has well and truly emerged from the other side victorious, feeling more like himself with every game. Looking back at the Patriots successes this season, the core of Joe Hart and Elvisi Dusha have been at the heart of everything positive the club has managed. The consistency and determination has made them indispensable to the club and the veteran experience they bring is something that could continue to be a positive I'm years to come.

One final question remained for Joe Hart, the Silent Assassin. Can he see himself playing anywhere else? “I definitely feel like this place is my home at the moment. I feel so comfortable here, even just in terms of getting around and getting to know the place. Even seeing people in the streets. It would be very difficult to see myself playing somewhere else, because I see such a future here, especially with the academy.” Joe concluded his thoughts on just how long he might stick around by adding “I would love to finish my career here and be a part of it. I've been a part of the ups and now perhaps downs. I would love to be a part of that change where we finish seventh, the next year fifth and people saying they've turned it around. It would be so cool to be a part of those things, when you've been around for a longer period of time... I feel very invested in this place. I care.” 

Listing to the full full interview audio HERE

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