SHOEBURY'S Joe Hart will fly out to the prestigious Blair Academy in New Jersey, USA, on September 5 with a proud boast.

For he is just back from captaining England under-16 men’s team in the European B Division Championships. They finished third to collect a bronze medal — the best ever performance by an England team as they’d never previously won a medal in a European basketball competition.

On their way to the semi-finals, England posted impressive wins over Hungary (80-72), the Slovak Republic (96-62), Holland (88-69) and Sweden (81-80).

Their last qualifying game was against Slovenia and, with their semi place booked, this was a dead rubber and key players were rested resulting in a 72-56 defeat.

Unfortunately, in the semi-final with Denmark, England lost 82-56.

This put England into a third and fourth place play-off with Slovenia and a very tough game played at great pace saw them home 78-63.

Hart top-scored for the second time in the tournament with 21 points.

The preparation of the under-16 team had been the best of any previous England team.

Despite the disappointment of not finishing in the top two — that feat would have seen them win promotion to the A Championship — it was an outstanding performance by England, with Hart playing a major part.

He proved to be one of the top players of the tournament and considerable interest was shown by many European clubs who were eager to sign him.

He started playing basketball at Alleyn Court Prep School, Thorpe Bay, and continued while at St Thomas More High, Southend.

However, it was as a member of the Southend Swifts Club, since he was eight years old and under the expert guidance of head coach Steven Pearl, that his love, passion and ability for the sport flourished.

In America, Hart has gained a scholarship to continue his basketball career and studies.