ACROSS the road from Celtic Park, Duncan Smillie sits in his office in the Emirates Arena and talks openly of buying half of a basketball franchise when he knew as much about the sport as a day-tripper from the Arctic.

As a hard-headed businessman he now seeks fun rather than a financial dividend, but he insists the Glasgow Rocks must not only take their place at the top of British basketball but remain at the heart of their community.

It may seem all a bit soft, idealistic. It is, but there remains more than a shard of the successful businessman in the heart of Smillie. He has not shied away from big decisions, with Sterling Davis, the coach of 10 years, leaving to be replaced by Tony Garbelotto.

The wind of change at the Rocks may largely be invigorating but it has also swept away links with a recent past. “The aim is to win. Absolutely,” says Smillie. “I have not come here to lose. It’s good fun but it’s hard to have fun when you are losing.

‘‘I want to finish top four in the championship and go win the play-offs and win one of the other two trophies that are available to us.

“The coach knows that, the players know that and the fans know that.”

It is a statement of intent made by a man who has only been in post since April. But it is backed by a drive that has marked Smillie’s business career.

A 46-year-old Scot brought up in Whitburn, he left for England in his early 20s and worked as a commercial director and managing director in a series of companies.

“I was part of a management buyout from my last company and I did okay out of it and I wanted to move back to Scotland,” he says.

“Basically, I wanted to live in Glasgow. I was in the fortunate position that I did not have to do big CEO jobs or MD roles, because they can be exhausting. I wanted to do stuff that was fun.”

He applied unsuccessfully for jobs in football and rugby and was contemplating his next move when he met the wife of David Low, businessman and integral part of the rescue of Celtic from financial oblivion in 1994.

“I knew David only by name from his part in the Fergus McCann era at Celtic, but I had a meeting with him and he told me he owned half of the Rocks and that the other partner might be interested in selling up if the right person could be found.

“I told him that there was no way I wanted to be involved in a basketball team but I came along for a game expecting some boys cutting about a gym hall in the east end of Glasgow. I was blown away by the whole experience, how the court looked, how the arena was dressed – it was great fun.”

The deal to buy from Ian Reid was done quickly. “Ian did a great job here but was at a time of life when he wanted to move on and he was very determined to get the right person to continue to do the work in the community,” says Smilie. “He wanted someone who would buy into that. I was happy to look him in the eye and tell him that would continue.”

THIS is the core of the Rocks. The new co-owner has faith in Garbelotto to end a culture at the club where nine finals have been scarred by nine losses.

“I have been impressed by the way he works. He has won this league, he has coached abroad, he has led the Vietnam national team. He wanted to come back to the UK. It was a no-brainer for me. He has since been appointed Team GB and Scotland coach. That puts us up at the top of the food chain when it comes to basketball.” He adds: “We have a few players who want to be in front of him. Nothing but good can come of this.”

With targets set for this season, Smillie also has a vision for the future. “In five years I want us to be playing in our own arena and in some form of European basketball,” he says. “That is achievable. We need to do that. That is a stated goal.”

“I have not invested in this for the money. If I make money out of this, it will be more by luck than judgment.”

“But this is my job now. I pay myself a salary. I have come here to work with professional sports people, all of the cool stuff. But I am working to make it work.”

He believes basketball is on an “upward trajectory” and this assertion is backed by 5000 fans attending the first game of the season on Sunday, which ended in a narrow defeat to Sheffield.

But he is also convinced that the sport has a significant role to play, particularly in the deprived areas of the east end of Glasgow.

“The community work at the Rocks is a massive part and it is what attracts me,” he says. “Through our charity partners –Scottish Sports Futures – our players will deliver community work every single week.”

The players are contracted to do a minimum of six hours a week in such work, mostly in front of children. More than 10,000 primary schoolchildren were addressed by Rocks players last season on matters of health and fitness.

“When we scout a player, they have to sign up to the community work. It is not an option. It is mandatory,” he says.

“We have walked away from a couple of players who were not prepared to do so and we will not walk away front those core values. They are entrenched in the DNA of the organisation.”

“We just have to keep doing that and have success on court as well.”

That is the win-win of hoop dreams. It is a reality within the reach of the Rocks and Smillie.



Best sporting arena: Celtic Park, below. I have had some great times there with my friends and family and I am very proud to take somebody there who supports another team. There is something that makes the air stand at the back of my neck when I am there. It is my Disneyland.

Inspiration: My mum and my dad. My dad is the most straight, honest, genuine guy I have ever met. I got my moral compass form him. He is heavily into politics, an ex-SNP councillor.

Politics: I was living down south at the referendum so couldn’t vote. But if it comes again I will vote yes. I am a positive person.

Favourite book: Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. You can read it in 45 minutes. I don’t like business books but I love this one.

It is how people deal with change.

Favourite music: I love music and I have been at more than 20 U2 concerts (frontman Bono pictured below). I am an indie fan, too.

Favourite place: San Diego. It is one of the few places you visit and say: ‘I could live here’. It’s a cool city, lovely beach, modern but with a Mexican old town.