Tributes to 'true gentleman' Rick Wooldridge, who gave decades of service to basketball in Torbay

Rick Wooldridge, basketball coach and former Churston Ferrers teacher

Rick Wooldridge, basketball coach and former Churston Ferrers teacher - Credit: Submitted

Tributes have been paid to basketball stalwart Rick Wooldridge, who passed away on November 1 at home with his family in Paignton.

Rick was the basketball coach that brought the joy of the sport to many within the England set-up, South West, Torbay Tigers and Churston Ferrers Grammar School - he was renowned in basketball circles, was always approachable and willing to impart his vast basketball knowledge into your game, in whatever sphere that was.

His influence in the game was immense, and the game of basketball that he brought to many will live on in his legacy for many years to come.

A spokesperson for Exeter and District Basketball said: "Our thought are with Rick's wife Maria, his family and his many friends and colleagues within the basketball community. It is with great sadness that we heard that Rick Wooldridge has passed."

A true guardian of the game who drove opportunities for young people in basketball - particularly in the South West - Rick coached international teams for 25 years across several age groups, starting in 1976 as assistant coach to the England under-17s men.

In his tenure, as assistant or head coach, he supported English and GB squads in 218 games, winning over 50 per cent of contests.

Achievements include several Home Countries Championships, taking an England squad to a first-ever European final and winning an under-18s invitational tournament in Manchester against Luxembourg in 2010, alongside BE’s head of talent and development Steve Bucknall.  

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After completing his teacher training at Loughborough University and taking up a post at Churston Ferrers Grammar School, where he taught for 50 years, Rick, who was born in 1945, formed the Torbay Tigers basketball club with Norman Waldron in 1973 and helped them to win two national championships.

So immeasurable is Rick’s contribution to the development of basketball in the UK, he influenced several players who went on to have professional and international careers, such as NBA All-Star Luol Deng and former LA Lakers player Bucknall.

He also shared his wisdom and experience with national team coaches, mentoring former GB assistant coach Tim Lewis and current up-and-coming coaches such as Troy Culley and Ben Roper. 

Troy Culley, assistant coach at Myerscough College and GB’s Under-16 boys' head coach, said: "It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to a true gentleman and someone who I owe so much to.

"Rick's impact stretched way past the confines of a basketball court and is somewhat immeasurable, as he influenced and inspired countless individuals throughout his decades of service.  

“Everyone will be able to recall so many stories of their encounters with Rick, whether it be the quick wit, the poor jokes, or how selfless he was during his tenure. His commitment to growing the game and passion for helping others will certainly be remembered." 

Brian Aldred, Basketball England’s coaching delivery manager, called Rick a ‘true gentleman' and 'the epitome of a great coach': "Rick mentored many coaches and a large number of players who would go onto to compete at national and international level. He would always carry a smile and a joke while developing young players to achieve their goals. 

"His service to basketball in England has been immense.”

At the 2019 Volunteer Awards in Manchester, Rick was awarded the Services to Basketball award, recognising his long and distinguished service to the game. 

There has been an outpouring of messages of remembrance for Rick.

Former national team coach Karen Burton said: "I wish you peace and comfort my friend and I take the time to smile and remember how privilege I was to receive your advice you guidance and your friendship."

Former GB assistant Tim Lewis added: "Words cannot express how sad I am to hear the news about Rick. He has been a mentor, a friend and a father figure at times. Truly an exceptional person who always brightened up the room with his sense of humour."