For Nate Reinking (left) studying for a Masters while playing basketball is a win-win situation / Corbis


Olympic competitors come in all sorts of guises but there won't be many wearing British vests in London this summer who are also in the middle of a Masters programme. That's just the position in which Nate Reinking hopes to be. Aged 38, he's in the second term of an MSc in sport and exercise science at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). It's a full-time course that he's completing at the same time as maintaining his position at the top of the British basketball scene.

A native of Ohio in the USA, Reinking has been playing professional basketball while based in the UK since the mid 1990s, playing in several different countries, including spells in England, Belgium and, most recently, in Turkey.

Since gaining British citizenship a few years ago, he has become eligible to play for Team GB. In fact, he's one of the most frequently capped current British players, having worn the vest more than 60 times, and is now playing for the Sheffield Sharks in the British Basketball League.

It was playing in the city that led him onto his Masters course. "About seven years ago, I played for Sheffield and got to know the city, so when the Sharks approached me this season they also said that the university did a sports science Masters course," he explains. "I knew that SHU had a great reputation, so I thought it was a win-win situation."

He is one of around 30 students on the course: men and women from all sorts of sporting backgrounds, including rugby, water-polo and netball players and swimmers. The core of the course involves the science of biomechanics, muscle function, high-intensity performance and motor skills. Each student also chooses a specialism; Reinking's is strength and conditioning, which he hopes to put into effect when he becomes a basketball coach.

The course involves lectures in class on Mondays and Tuesdays, with the rest of the week largely free for background reading and individual research. However, Reinking's last real academic activity was when he finished his first degree, in exercise science, at Kent State University in Ohio in 1996, so getting back into the learning groove hasn't been easy.

"It's taken a while to get back into studying again, when for the past 15 years I've spent all my time training," he explains. "For the first few months it was a real challenge but the faculty have been great and I've got great classmates, who have been my crutches helping me through it."

At the same time, he's had to keep up training with the Sheffield Sharks. "Doing a full-time Masters as well as being a full-time basketball player has, I think, made me stronger, and it's refreshing getting the brain back working again. I've looked on it as a preparation for future life," says Reinking.

A sports science Masters tends to send people into all sorts of different career directions he adds: "Some people, like me, hope to go into coaching; some work in laboratories and others go into sports engineering, producing sports equipment."

The only concession he's making to the fact that it's an Olympic year is that he's delaying doing his dissertation until after the Games. Although he's not yet guaranteed a place in the Team GB squad, observers of the sport are assuming he'll be picked.

"As far as I know, and as long as I can stay healthy, I'm praying that I'll be part of the team, which would be the pinnacle of my career," he says.