UK-based Sporting Life recently posted an couple of articles regarding the odd state of the national program and which insinuate FIBA’s greater concern with basketball in the country.
On Monday, the ‘paper presented a long interview with FIBA secretary-general/International Olympic Committee inspector Patrick Baumann. Among other issues, Baumann spoke at length about what he and the organization fear could be the transitory nature of hoops development there; Great Britain basketball “needs long-term support,” he says.
Team Great Britain faces quite an interesting problem heading into the country’s hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games. Whilst a host nation would typically automatically be granted a bid for their national basketball team, FIBA and IOC have essentially created a prerequisite for Britain before that bid is given, i.e. the team must put in some sort of respectable showing in a major international tournament this summer or next.
This in turn would imply that the British national program has been given an ultimatum: Perform in EuroBasket 2011 or else.
The British national team has only appeared in the Olympic Games once – in 1948! – and the most memorable game the recently-resurrected squad has played in recent memory was a loss: the 2009 Eurobasket game which had Spain more than a bit nervous well into the fourth quarter with the Brits leading 73-69.
That 2009 team was more noted internationally for its absences than for its roster, with Luol Deng and Ben Gordon not suiting up for the tournament. But whoa, was the patchwork bunch a brilliant group to watch, with Jarrett Hart, Robert Archibald, Joel Freeland and BallinEurope fave Pops Mensah-Bonsu.
Baumann asserts that “it would be a great waste of money” were Britain “not to continue that support [after the 2012 Olympic Games].” He went on to state that “I think that basketball will show the country that it can perform in 2012 and it deserves the investment.”
FIBA is treating Great British basketball as a developing sport, with Baumann saying, “It is important that the funding stays in place. What we do not want is for the Olympic Games to finish on Sunday and for on Monday there to be a great split for basketball and for Britain not to be able to play strongly on a European basis. … For Britain to be able to host netball championships and not basketball, that would be just silly.”
Finally, on what is missing in Great Britain’s basketball, Baumann opines that “There is not the mechanism that brings those kids to the clubs and raises them in to the national squad.”
The day following Baumann’s printed assessment, British Basketball performance director Chris Spice came forth to state essentially that, yes, there is a plan and there is a future for the sport in Britain.
Stating that he hopes “an event such as the high-profile Eurobasket come to the United Kingdom,” Spice goes on to emphasize that “Many people think that our only priority is 2012, and whilst it is a key focus, the real challenge is for British Basketball to secure a lasting legacy from the 2012 Games.
“We aim to maximise our London Olympic performances so that they lay the foundation for regular world and Olympic participation, increasing the profile of our sport, hosting major basketball events, and further develop the standard of our national leagues and development programmes.
“We plan to be in high-performance basketball for the long term and this was a major consideration in our original pitch for funding from UK Sport.”
Funding. Right. Meanwhile, certainly another important step in making British national basketball high-profile (or at least higher-profile) would be to get some club recognition on the European level. Great Britain hasn’t sent a club to any Continental tournament for two seasons, with the last appearance from the BBL resulting in the Guildford Heat’s appalling 0-10 season of 2007-08.
As it stands on that front, the Newcastle Eagles have applied for entry into the FIBA Eurochallenge competition for 2010-11 and are given “even odds” to be granted a spot.
Ever (pessimistic) realistic, Eagles player/coach Fab Flournoy notes that competing in Eurochallenge could be disastrous: “If [playing in Eurochallenge] happens, it will be huge,” he told the Chronicle. “It will be like the club is born again and it will change everything.
“But it is a huge risk. Every club that has tried to do it in the past from this country has gone out of business.”
Guildford Heat managing director Paul Blake has promised to concentrate more on developing homegrown talent as well, citing Lee Goldsbrough (Manchester Magic) and Liam Potter (Sacred Heart Pioneers) as specific examples of coveted players, should Guildford be playing Eurochallenge ball in 2010-11.
Spice addressed youth basketball a bit in his response to Baumann/FIBA, stating that British Basketball will be employing a “T16 strategy,” which the goal of getting both men’s and women’s British teams to qualify by right for the 2016 Olympics.
Said Spice: “We have no illusions about the hill we are about to climb but we have everyone pulling in the same direction and committed to the 2016 cause. It is indeed a very exciting time to be involved with basketball in Great Britain.”
Pip pip tally ho, eh lads?
(And just for the heck of it, here’s the Spain-centric highlight clip from that 2009 game between Team España and Great Britain. BiE believes that “¡threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” should be the new “¡Góóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóóal!”)