A global education provider run by a Turkish billionaire has bought one of Britain’s top basketball teams with a plan to take it to the pinnacle of the sport.
MLA College, a growing education provider which has recently moved into the newly refurbished The Merchant office block in Plymouth city centre, has taken a controlling stake in Plymouth Raiders, which plays in the British Basketball League (BBL).
MLA, which sees being involved with Raiders as a way to support its work with students, is part of the worldwide education powerhouse BAU Global, whose wealthy Turkish president Enver Yücel, reportedly a billionaire, is a huge basketball fan.
Mr Yücel, who will now becopme Raiders’ new president, and BAU already own one of Turkey’s top Super League basketball teams, Bahcesehir College.
The team is only three years old but has this season has reached the quarter finals of the Euro Cup, the second highest tournament on the continent, where it is due to clash with Latvian side Ventspils.
The new partnership with MLA College is expected to provide the Raiders with significant additional resources and investment, the company said.
This will help it compete with the very best teams in the UK on the court, and also develop the business, forging close ties with Bahcesehir College, which could see the Raiders working hand-in-hand with the Turkish side to develop stars of the future.
Raiders’ former owners Richard Mollard and Ross Mackenzie, who are selling a majority shareholding to MLA College, will remain on the board and very much involved with the club.
Mr Mackenzie, who like Mr Mollard is a former Raiders player, said the involvement of MLA, BAU and Mr Yücel will provide the resources to take the club to “new heights”.
He said: “This gives us the ability to go in with the big boys, to compete at the highest level. Richard and I, since taking over in 2017, have always wanted for the team to be in this position. It’s a really big deal for us.”
John Chudley, rector of MLA College, said the deal could mean games being played between the two teams, and even players and coaches from the Turkish side coming to help Raiders.
“We’d like to bring the Turkish team to Plymouth or vice versa,” he said. “And there is the possibility of player exchanges.”
He added: “We are looking forward to supporting and investing in the club to make it the best team in the country.”
Plymouth Raiders v Bahçeşehir Koleji SK
League: British Basketball League
Stadium: Plymouth Pavilions
Coach: Paul James
Colours: Green and white
Bahçeşehir Koleji SK
League: Basketbol Super Ligi (Turkey) and FIBA Europe Cup
Stadium: Akatlar Arena, Istanbul
Coach: Zafer Aktaş
Colours: Red, navy blue and white
Nickname: Red Dragons
Raiders is currently in tenth place, out of 12, in the BBL, but has won its two most recent games.
Mr Yücel, along with delegates from MLA College and BAU Global, will fly in from Turkey to be at Raiders’ sold-out game against Leicester Riders on Sunday, February 16.
There will also be a smaller contingent to cheer on the team away at Worcester Wolves on Friday night, February 14.
Mr Yücel said, “We are delighted to be involved with Plymouth in general and with the Raiders in particular. Through this partnership we will help to encourage participation in sport for all ages and abilities, promote basketball as a great participation activity and also as a family friendly event to attend.
“We are particularly enthusiastic to encourage the linking of sport and education and of course we want to develop the Raiders into a BBL winning team.”
The day-to-day operation of the club will largely remain unchanged under the new regime, but Mr Mollard and Mr Mackenzie will be joined on the board by the senior members of MLA College and BAU Global: Dr Basak Akdemir, Coskun Ince, and Paul James, also commercial director of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology, and who has the same name as the current Raiders coach.
Mr Mollard said: “This is a truly historic moment in the history of the Plymouth Raiders club, and one that every fan should be incredibly excited by.
“Ross and I always knew that to grow this club to where we wanted it to be it would always require additional inward investment, and in our wildest dreams we could not have imagined a better partner to bring on board than BAU Global, or a more dedicated basketball fan than Mr Yücel.
“Like the Raiders, BAU Global are a family run business, who are passionate about education, madly passionate about basketball and totally committed to using both together in developing the youth of today into the achievers of tomorrow, and we’ve been humbled in their desire to come on board.”
MLA College was awarded the Times Higher Education award for Outstanding Employer Engagement in 2014 and also offers technology-enhanced education and training to large organisations within and outside the marine and maritime sectors nationally and internationally.
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Prof Chudley said the college is planning to expand in Plymouth and take over a second floor in the seven storey The Merchant block, which is now near the end of a £4million, three-year refurbishment.
The BAU Global network, one of the largest providers of education in Europe, has six universities, three language schools and 16 liaison offices worldwide.
Mr Yücel has won many awards for his educational work, including the Contribution to Global Education at the UNCA Awards hosted by the United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon in 2014.
Mr Yücel, the first Turkish person to receive this award, received the honour from Ban Ki-moon himself.