Queeley on steep learning curve with Burgos
To encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if the roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.
BURGOS (Spain) - An age-old debate in sports goes: How does a player develop better - playing with lesser-level players or predominantly practicing with and against the best in the game. The epitome of this is Kareem Queeley who finds himself struggling to get playing time but at the same time on a steep learning curve while watching the veterans of Hereda San Pablos Burgos.
Queeley is one of the biggest talents to come out of Great Britain in many years. All that talent is not yet quite enough for the 19-year-old to get only to the court regularly for the reigning Basketball Champions League and refreshly-crowned FIBA Intercontinental Cup champions Burgos.
That's not to say that Queeley does not have the talent to succeed. But look at the group of guards who are ahead of him on head coach Joan Penarroya's depth chart: Thad McFadden, Vitor Benite, Alex Renfroe and Omar Cook.
"They teach me a lot. I speak a lot with Omar. He's a 20-year vet. He's been playing professional basketball for 20 years. He just turned 39," Queeley said. "It's tough not playing, but I feel I am learning a lot from these guys. I go at them in practice. I just stay ready. I gotta be ready for anything that may happen - just make sure that when my number is called on the bench that I am ready for 100 percent and do it at the best of my capacity."
First BCL points and ACB debut
The 6ft 4in (1.92m) playmaker has heard his number called in three Basketball Champions League games thus far this season, compiling 2 points and 1 assist in 8 combined minutes. Queeley's Spanish league debut came earlier this season when he scored his first points as a professional as well - ending with 6 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes in a 99-78 loss to Fuenlabrada.
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"That was a tough game. We had guys who had just come back from Covid-19. We lost so it was a tough game," said Queeley, who has appeared in three ACB games and averaged 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds.
Queeley actually made his BCL debut on January 29, 2020, playing 1:21 minutes at Hapoel Jerusalem.
"I was very excited to get on the court - a little nervous, but excited," he remembered about his only game with Burgos' pro team last season.
Queeley spent the 2019-20 campaign practicing with Burgos' professional team and playing with its fourth division EBA team.
"It was a big learning experience and very eventful. I would practice with the first team and play games with the second team. Practicing with the first team I definitely leveled up my game. I could take a lot of good things from that season," said Queeley, who collected 13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks for the EBA team.
Leaving Caribbean island St. Kitts for England
Joining Burgos in the 2019 off-season was a big step for Queeley, for whom the move meant leaving what was basically his second family. His departure from Real Madrid for Burgos was the third major move in Queeley's life. He grew up on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts in the West Indies - a small place of about 35,000 people, who pretty much knew everyone else.
"St. Kitts is a very laid back, chilled little small island. Most people know each other being such a small country, such a small island. If not personally, you know mutual friends or family," he described.
A young Queeley grew up playing outdoor sports such as football, tennis, a little bit of basketball and athletics, running the 60, 100 and 200 meter races. His mother played a little bit of non-professional basketball while Kareem's 9-year older sister ran some track and his father was a fan of cricket - a major sport in the country given its status in the British Commonwealth.
"I'm not a fan of cricket. At a young age I did play a little bit because it was something to do. I still do enjoy playing though I don't know too much about it," he admitted.
Queeley's sister wanted to study at a university in England, the homeland of Queeley's maternal grandmother, and the mother moved there with the two children in 2010, when Kareem was 10 years old. Queeley started playing football in England before going to a multi-sports camp.
"There was football, basketball, badminton et cetera, but also days of just basketball. It was something fun to do and get out of the house. From there one of the guys who organized the camp wanted me to keep practicing and stay with basketball. I did both football and basketball for a while before I had to pick and I picked basketball," he remembered.
Tryout with Real Madrid at 13
Queeley quickly dominated at the youth levels in England and in February 2015 was brought to Spain for a tryout with Real Madrid. He ended up winning the MVP of the Spanish MiniCopa at just 13 years of age.
"It was a great experience, new and very different. I feel the guys on that team brought me in with open arms and treated me very well, and it was just overall a very nice time. We had a lot of laughs. I learned a lot," Queeley said.
Then in September 2015, Queeley came back to the Spanish capital on a multi-year junior contract with Real Madrid.
"I sat down and spoke to my mom, dad and coaches at the time and they all said it was a great opportunity: an opportunity to meet new people, get better at basketball, learn a new language. The main thing was they didn't want me to look back and say I should have gone. That was the conclusion we came to. It was too much of a great opportunity to pass up and not look back in the future and say I really should have gone to Madrid," he said.
Disappointment with national team
Before the joy of signing with Real Madrid, Queeley went through a bit of an up-and-down time playing for the England national team at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015. He had only turned 14 years old a couple of months before the tournament in Lithuania where England lost six of nine games and finished 14th and was relegated to Division B.
"It was tough. We weren't on the winning side much. But for me being so young I felt like I learned so much from the other guys even though I didn't play so much. Just being with older guys who had played longer than me it was a great learning curve," said Queeley, who averaged 3.5 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals.
He played the next summer with the U16 national team as well at the Division B tournament. England reached the Quarter-Finals and were trailing Russia by 13 points in the fourth quarter before making a major comeback and losing by just one point. The team ended up taking fifth place but they missed the chance to get England back to the Division A.
"It was devastating not having won that game because we had a chance to put England back in Division A. It was a great learning curve for me though," said Queeley, who averaged 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals in the tournament.
NBA 2K with Doncic, ANGT title with Real Madrid
Before and after the second U16 tournament, Queeley went at it with the best talents in the Real Madrid system, including fellow Basketball Champions League youngsters Amar Sylla and Mario Nakic, both with Filou Oostende.
"There was a lot of young talent, great players, and I went up against those guys in practice and we made each other better," he said about growing up in the Real ranks. "Just being around the Real Madrid senior squad, just looking at them and seeing what it's like to be a professional basketball player. Just kind of taking notes and keeping it and better myself day in and day out."
Queeley played two seasons with the cadets before moving to the juniors in 2017 and playing there two more seasons. His group of teammates won a lot of hardware including U16 and U18 domestic titles. They also captured the trophy from the pan-European club competition Adidas Next Generation Tournament in 2019.
"That was just so much fun. It was a great experience. I feel we had such great team chemistry, a great bond among us. We all got along. We went at it every day at practice," said Queeley, who had 6 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in the title game against Mega Belgrade. "It was a great ride to that title. We always mentioned it at practice, always talked about winning it."
Queeley also had a lot of interaction with Madrid's senior team. One player, in particular, was Luka Doncic, who is only two years older than Queeley.
"Luka was in the residence for the younger guys and we would play NBA 2K on the PlayStation," said Queeley, who also mentioned a bond with Trey Thompkins. "I have a good relationship with him. He gave me some advice on a couple of occasions."
Success yet dissatisfaction with GB
Queeley went into the 2018-19 season that ended with the ANGT title with a bit more motivation after playing the previous summer for Great Britain at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018. The team beat Montenegro in the group stage and then knocked off Finland in the Round of 16 to reach the Quarter-Finals - the best-ever performance for the country at a youth event.
But Great Britain ended up losing to hosts Latvia in the Quarters before eventually defeating Montenegro again to finish seventh.
"We had a strong team, and it was also a big learning curve for us. We were very ambitious. Even though that was the country's best finish at the youth level, we weren't happy. Having lost in the Quarters, we all felt that with that team we could do more and finish even higher," said Queeley, who averaged 12.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 blocks in the tournament.
Queeley moved to the next level the following summer and collected 12.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists as Great Britain finished eighth at the FIBA U20 European Championship 2019.
And then last November, Queeley was called into the Great Britain senior national team for the national team window. While he did not get into either of the games against France or Montenegro, Queeley did take away a lot from the trip.
"There are guys on that team who have played all over Europe. They have a lot of experience. I learned from those guys. It's good that GB Basketball brought me into that camp being so young. I look forward to being with the senior national team more and having an impact on that team," he said.
Leaving Madrid for next step
But to get there, Queeley needed to take the next step in his development, and he decided to move onto Burgos. The decision to make the move from the capital to northern Spain was not easy.
"It was definitely tough leaving Madrid. I was in Madrid for four years. That's a pretty long time. Moving to Burgos, I was definitely excited about the opportunity," he said.
Sure, getting playing time over four veteran leaders in their 30s will not be easy. But that just helps Queeley and his steep learning curve.