- This year has been dominated by the ongoing saga of central funding for the Great Britain elite basketball teams.
- After government intervention, it was confirmed in November that Sport England would continue to support the sport for another two years, but with tough new targets being set for both the Men’s and Women’s team, and administrators.
- Great Britain’s men team failed in their efforts to qualify for EuroBasket 2015, with four defeats from four games in a qualification campaign overshadowed by funding restrictions.
- But the Great Britain Women’s team enjoyed more success, with four wins from six seeing them secure qualification for the EuroBasket 2015 Women’s team.
- Worcester Wolves won the British Basketball League playoffs with a thrilling victory at Wembley Arena over the Newcastle Eagles, who had finished top of the regular league.
- Worcester also lifted the BBL Trophy, while it was the Leicester Riders who won the BBL Cup, with Newcastle Eagles again the unlucky team in the final.
2014 has proved to be a challenging year for British Basketball with the issue of funding dominating the agenda.
Sport England Funding:
The issue of funding for British Basketball has been at the top of the agenda throughout 2014, with a settlement only finally being reached in November to ensure the future of the elite game in the UK.
The issue stems from the London 2012 Olympic Games, where as hosts, the British Basketball teams were awarded automatic qualification. However the tournament was far from successful with the men’s team seeing defeats to Russia, Brazil, Spain, and Australia, only mitigated with a victory over an already eliminated Chinese side in their final game, whilst the women lost every match.
This left the sport at the mercy of the Sport England funding model which is built around the philosophy that they will only provide funds for sports where the team has a realistic chance of a medal in the next two Olympic Games.
It was therefore not a huge surprise when, in February of this year, it was announced that the £7 million funding provided for elite British Basketball was being scrapped.
The likely impact of this on the sport was huge. Men’s star player, Luol Deng, of the Miami Heat, warned that the elite teams were close to folding, while player Kieron Achara said that squad members were living off £15 a day, and were having to sleep in beds which were too short, and take early morning flights on budget airlines to save money.
GB Basketball continued to make the case for the sport to receive central funding, to both Sport England, and the Sports Minister Helen Grant. They highlighted that in Britain, basketball is the second biggest team sport amongst 14-16 year olds, and is played by nearly a quarter of a million people every week. Its grassroots appeal and ability to bring together people from diverse communities were also highlighted.
But in August, the failure of the Men’s team to qualify for the 2015 EuroBasket Championships undermined some of this work, although it was claimed that the funding cut earlier in the year had affected preparations.
The Women’s team did manage to qualify, but with funding still unresolved, it was unclear whether they would actually be able to participate in the event in Hungary.
Then finally, after almost a year of uncertainty, November brought a resolution. The Government intervened with Sport England on behalf of GB Basketball and they agreed to provide £1.2 million of funding over the next two and a half years.
The money will be used to fund the men’s and women’s elite teams as well as the Under 20’s sides. In addition, GB Basketball has also agreed to invest almost £600,000 of its own money, and UK Sport will provide additional commercial and technical expertise to help the sport to grow.
The targets that have been set for the elite teams during this period of funding are a top-12 finish at the EuroBasket Women’s 2015 Championships, and qualification for the Men’s team for EuroBasket 2017, as well as stronger targets around the governance of the game and efforts to address the underperformance of recent years.
Commenting on the agreement, Sports Minister Helen Grant said: “The sport has a huge potential to grow and I want there to be a route for young people taking up basketball in this country to get to the top. British Basketball understands that with this funding and support it has to step up, but I am confident that the sport will do that.”
GB Basketball Chairman, Roger Moreland noted that the investment provided ‘a vital platform on which to take the sport forward on and off the court.’ The challenge for all those involved in British Basketball, is to make those improvements before funding is being reassessed again.
Great Britain Men’s Basketball Team
Under the shadow of the ongoing funding saga, 2014 proved to be an extremely challenging year for the Men’s elite team.
With significant financial restrictions on the team, preparations for the key EuroBasket 2015 qualifiers in August were hampered. Training camps were cancelled, schedules were changed to save money, including taking cheaper early morning flights after late night games, which impacted on player recovery times.
Most significantly, an inability to pay for insurance, meant the team were unable to select some of their biggest and best players for the qualifying campaign. NBA players Luol Deng of the Miami Heat and Joel Freeland of the Portland Trail Blazers
Shorn of this talent, qualification always looked to be a big challenge, and the warm up games didn’t offer much in the way of a confidence boost.
Back-to-back defeats at home to Latvia at the University of Worcester Arena were swiftly followed by consecutive defeats to Belgium in Antwerp and Ostend, and then Belarus and Georgia in two games played in Tblisi.
It was only in the final warm up game, again played in Tblisi against Moldova, that the team finally had something to smile about. No fewer than six GB players reached double figures, with Devon Van Oostrum top scoring with 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, as Britain ran out very comfortable 92-43 winners.
Having qualified for EuroBasket 2013 through participation at London 2013, Britain had found themselves entering qualification for EuroBasket2015 at the second round stage, where 26 teams were drawn into five groups of four teams, and two groups of three teams. Britain found themselves in a three team group with home and away fixtures to contest with Iceland and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Their opening fixture was against Iceland in Reykjavik, and their opponents proved to be energetic and challenging hosts. Having given away an early 16 point deficit, Great Britain clawed their way back, and even took a 7 point lead at one stage in the third quarter, but Iceland came on strong again in the fourth quarter, and despite Dan Clark top scoring with 20 points and 8 rebounds, the hosts eventually prevailed 83-70.
It was then back to the Copper Box, the former London 2012 venue in Queen Elizabeth Park, London for the home game with Bosnia. And it was a touch of NBA class from Bosnia and Brooklyn Nets forward Mirza Teletovic which made the difference. He scored 25 points, including some astonishing shots, to see Bosnia race out of the blocks and establish an early lead. Once again Great Britain fought back valiantly, but could never quite close the gap as Teletovic kept them at arm’s reach. The final score was 80-67, and the result left Great Britain needing a big victory in their home game with Iceland.
Sadly, once again it wasn’t to be for Great Britain at the Copper Box. Icelandic legend Jon Stefansson, who had missed the first game between these two sides, proved the difference this time round. Great Britain had controlled much of the game, and held a double digits lead at one stage in the third quarter. But Stefansson’s 23 points helped Iceland scrape to a narrow 71-69 victory. It was the biggest result in their basketball history, but sadly for Great Britain, it confirmed their failure to qualify for EuroBasket 2015.
With nothing more than pride to play for in the away game against Bosnia in Sarajevo, Great Britain played some impressive basketball, with Ben Mockford in particular impressing with his 19 points including five three-pointers. Again though it was Teletovic who made the difference, scoring 25 and leading his team from the front as they overcame a few scares to eventually prevail 74-68.
So despite a few positive notes, and encouraging passages of play, the qualification campaign finished with four defeats from four games, and with the team facing an uncertain future.
The new funding agreement should make efforts to qualify for EuroBasket 2017 a smoother affair, and with the big names returning, and a more settled period of preparation, there is a core group of players in the Great Britain ranks who have the potential to achieve their target of qualification. The 2015 now needs to be a year of work and refinement, as the whole of GB Basketball works towards the future.
Great Britain Women’s Basketball Team
Despite being affected by the same funding upheaval as the Men’s team, it proved to be a more positive year results-wise for the Great Britain Women’s team.
Their EuroBasket Women 2015 qualification round took place in June, and so it was mid-May when the team made its way to Rome for back-to-back games with Italy. And they returned with two confidence-boosting victories, with the Italians being overcome 59-51 and 60-48.
At home next against Germany in Worcester, they were pushed a lot harder over two games, coming out of the first with s strong 64-42 victory, but losing the second, 54-56.
They then travelled to Moscow for their final warm up games, but things didn’t quite go to plan as the Russians inflicted two heavy defeats, 48-75 and 47-60.
Their opening fixture, against Belgium hinged on a strong team defensive display and an impressive performance from Rachel Vanderwal. Both teams started well and the game swung back and forth throughout. In the end it was Vanderwal who capped her 17 point performance, with a three pointer with just ninety seconds remaining, as Great Britain prevailed 56-49.
They then faced three consecutive games on the road, but this didn’t prove to be a daunting prospect.
The team first found themselves in Macedonia, where Steph Gandy was the stand-out performer as they raced into a double digits lead, and then held firm to complete a 78-53 win.
Then it was onto Lithuania, where Temi Fagbenle’s 16 points could help Great Britain overcome a strong opposition, with the hosts winning 81-61.
The return game with Belgium in Antwerp however saw the team back to winning ways. It was a dogged and courageous performance as well, with Fagbenle again the standout performer, as her 26 points and 11 rebounds, saw Great Britain recover from a 13 point second half deficit to eventually claim victory 74-70.
So with two wins out of three on the road, Great Britain returned to Worcester knowing that their qualification fate was now firmly in their own hands. Macedonia were once again brushed aside with relative ease, with a 71-60 victory leaving the final home game with Lithuania as crucial.
But as it transpired, that game turned into something of a celebration, as results elsewhere meant that the team went into the tip-off with qualification already assured. Their opponents Lithuania had also already confirmed their place in Hungary, and they once again proved to be too strong for Great Britain. A 63-70 defeat saw Great Britain finish second in the group, but they will be more than satisfied having secured qualification for the EuroBasket Women 2015 event for the third successive tournament.
British Basketball League 2013/14 Season
2014 also saw the conclusion of an exciting 2013/14 season in the British Basketball League. This season saw 12 teams competing, as East London Royals, Mersey Tigers, and Essex Leopards all withdrawing for financial reasons, but newcomers, the Birmingham Knights were added to the roster. It proved to be an extremely challenging first season for the debutants, with many other sides long established in the league, and they failed to secure a victory in their first season, losing all 33 games.
The other end of the table saw the Newcastle Eagles crowned as Champions for the sixth time in their history with a record of 28 wins from their 33 games.
The BBL cup was won by Leicester Riders, who beat the Eagles at the National Indoor Arena for the second year in a row. Leicester won by 72-69 with Jay Cousinard, top scoring for the victors with 18, while Charles Smith managed 27 points for Newcastle.
Worcester Wolves won the BBL Trophy, with a hard-fought 83-76 win over Glasgow Rocks at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, the end of season playoffs proved to be highly dramatic. Newcastle Eagles and Leicester Riders once again met in the semi-finals, with the Eagles prevailing this time by just one point, with a 162-161 aggregate victory after an overtime 83-71 win in the second leg.
They then faced the Worcester Wolves in the final at Wembley Arena, and against the odds, it was the Wolves who won their second piece of silverware of the season, with a 90-78 victory. Zaire Taylor of the Wolves was named as the Most Valuable Player.
The BBL also signed a new broadcasting deal with British Eurosport, which saw games being shown on the satellite channel in addition to the newly established online BBL TV platform.
British Basketball League 2014/15 Season
After their dismal showing in their debut season, it was little surprise that the Birmingham Knights didn’t return for the following BBL Season. But new teams, Bristol Flyers and Leeds Force have joined the 13 team league. With the new season now underway, Bristol have made an extremely positive start to their debut season, which has seen their coach, Andreas Kapoulas named Coach of the Month in October.
At the top of the table, it is once again Newcastle Eagles, Leicester Riders, Worcester Wolves, and Sheffield Sharks who are setting the pace. The league looks likely once again to reach a thrilling climax in 2015.
- For full details of the Great Britain Men’s and Women’s elite teams, including fixtures for 2015, you can visit the British Basketball website.
- To see how the Great Britain Women’s team fare at the EuroBasket 2015 tournament, take a look at the official tournament website.
- To follow results or find out more about the British Basketball League, head on over to their official website.