While basketball continues to grow all over the Continent, reaching the popularity level of no. 1 or 2 sport in nearly every country from Portugal to Russia, the countries of the British Isles have notoriously lagged behind in hoops enthusiasm. Maybe it’s simply the overwhelming lure of traditional pastimes like soccer, rugby, cricket and Gaelic games, but a general lack of convincing participation at international levels has dampened the perception of the British, Scottish and Irish games so much that the England Olympic Committee finds itself in the bizarre position of hosting an Olympic Games and not receiving an automatic bid for its basketball team.
Hoping to change that status a bit are Newcastle Eagles and coach Paul Blake. Claiming a “responsibility” to some players, Blake is lobbying FIBA for entrance into the organization’s EuroChallenge tournament in 2010.
“This club has never been as close to entering European competition. We are very serious about trying to make this work,” Blake told Chronicle Live. “We are just drilling down the figures at the moment but we have put the calls into FIBA, they are aware of our interest.”
The aforementioned responsibility is due to guys like player/coach Fab Flournoy, who’s been playing in the British Basketball League since 1996, jumping over straight from McNeese State; the well-traveled Charles Smith; and even more well-traveled Lynard Stewart. These players deserve to play against higher-level competition after becoming “British basketball’s dominant force,” runs the argument.
Though Newcastle (27-5) is currently in second place on the BBL table at one win behind the Sheffield Sharks (28-5), this club surely has the best claim to representing Britannia, should FIBA consider putting a British team in Eurochallenge: Since 2004, the team has taken the BBL four times, the BBL Trophy three times (including this year’s), and the BBL Cup once. They’ve also registered the last triple crown in BBL history, taking all three league awards in the 2005-06 season. In 2007-08, Flournoy and the boys went a whopping 29-4 in the regular season, only to lose in the final four stage of the league tourney.
Newcastle’s quest is surely part of the greater scheme of BBL officials – together with Ben Bradshaw, Great Britain’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and sport minister Gerry Sutcliffe – to increase the game’s visibility in the country.
“If I had to put a figure on it, I’d say we were about 50/50 on being in [Eurochallenge] next season,” figured Blake. “There are a whole set of issues that have to be looked at but there is a huge personal motivation for me, too.”
Best of luck to Newcastle, then, and here’s to hoping that someday we’ll be seeing the Glasgow Rocks in international club competition as well…