The last couple of weeks on BallinEurope have been a touch Ireland-centric. The elephant in the room when discussing basketball on the island is the lack of a national team. Ireland took a small step back there today, writes Emmet Ryan.
Last year BallinEurope exclusively reported plans for the Irish senior national teams to return in 2015. That, barring something shocking, isn’t going to happen following news today. Instead it will be 2016 at the earliest before senior teams suit up in the green jersey. The upside is that a real step towards fielding national sides for the first time since 2010 has happened with news that an Irish All Stars team, consisting of Irish players in the domestic league, will fly to China in July for the Sino-European men’s basketball Championship. The other participants are legitimate national teams including China, Slovenia, and Italy.
The All Stars will be selected at the end of the season and it has been welcomed by players. In a statement issued by Basketball Ireland, UCD Marian’s Conor Meany said “It’s great to have that an added incentive for players to push on with such an amazing reward for the 2015 All-Stars. It’s also fantastic to see another step towards Men’s International basketball for players to aspire to.”
Meany’s view was shared by former Ireland international and current Templeogue big man Jason Killeen. “Whichever players make the cut and whatever jersey they wear, it’s all about doing what you can to represent the high standard of basketball we have here,” he said. “The 2015 All-Stars will show how far this country has come.”
The All Stars will be voted on by all players and coaches in the top two flights of Irish basketball and it’s naturally great that there’s something for them to aspire to beyond home shores. It’s the latest step after a pair of games with selections from the British Basketball League in 2013 and 2014 and one against a Welsh selection in 2013. It is not however a national team and that is what Irish basketball needs above all else.
The barrier to getting a national team is chiefly caution. It’s no secret that Irish basketball had financial woes and has taken great strides to make the steps back but not slapping the flat-out label of Ireland on this team stops short of this being something that is actually marketable to the public. Nothing sells like the national jersey and that’s been seen with Ireland’s youth teams and 3×3 teams getting attention purely because they could say they were Ireland and not Some Irish Thing.
Relaunching the national programme also presents the opportunity to tap into passport holders, players who have Irish citizenship with no current link to Irish basketball because of that absence of an outlet. The latest to hit the radar is a serious talent that would be an instant upgrade for an international line-up: Mike Hall.
Hall attained citizenship in September, shortly after the FIBA World Cup, and has a resumé that would make him a prized asset for the programme. Having played NBA ball with the Wizards and reached the finals of Serie A with Olimpia Milano during his career, he would bring instant talent and I’ll freaking crowdfund the money to fly to Argentina or wherever in the world he’s playing to convince him the day a national senior programme is confirmed (or, y’know, drop him an email).
He’s not the only one out there and we have seen that a blend of home-grown players and those with Irish blood overseas can make for a competent national side. Right now it’s a medium that is better than nothing but still a long way from the real thing.