Saturday, 3 September 2011
Great Britain's Basketball vision is 20-12.
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
This last week has seen the World Championship Athletics held in the sensational city of Seoul, South Korea be the perfect precursor to next years 2012 Olympic Games, but just a fortnight prior, next years host nation Great Britain held an invitational Basketball tournament as part of the 'London Prepares' series. Luol Deng and has squad may have come only second to China's last place, but they played valiantly and along with neighbours France, Australia, Serbia and Croatia helped stimulate hoop heads thoughts about next year. Held in the Olympic Village and the lemon meringue looking Basketball stadium the developing future of Basketball in Britain is looking different, but good.
The English basketball league too is improving by the year and the recent, repeat champions the Mersey Tigers (formerly under the same umbrella as the football team Everton, but now showing signs of unity by bringing together all of the city of Liverpool) even made it into American basketball magazine 'SLAM' a couple of seasons back. The big focus in the U.K. however is the national side 'Team GB' with less than a year to go to sports biggest stage. The team is looking very strong right now with a decent pool of talent. This team has come a long way from the days when their most famous player was John Amaechi, who over recent years has become more infamous for his 'coming out' book rather than the talents he had as a player. Thankfully these days the reason British basketball is getting exposure is due to what is happening on court, not what the tabloids get caught up on. Amaechi's coming out was a brave statement of solidarity with similar athletes living in fear of discrimination but too many media outlets put a negative spin on a barrier-breaking, change-making decision and declaration. This G.B. legend however gave his inspiration and now he's paving the way for future idols.
The talent is leaving fans drooling at the mouth more than Beethoven (the dog from the movies, not the composer, but everything is being conducted well and sounds so good) and Glen Davis combined. The anticipation is so big that the team’s official webpage is named www.gameongb.com. The reason that this anticipation is so high could have something to do with the fact that the team features two prominent NBA stars who have declared that they will play for both club and country, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon.
These are two guys that are not only former teammates (with the Chicago Bulls) and players experienced in winning big games, they are also real, developed talent. They are guys that Team GB doesn’t have to wait on; they are already big time contributors. Gone are the days where British fans would hang on to the little British ties stars had like Steve Nash's family roots or the fact that Ray Allen spent time in Ipswich. British basketball finally has its cover stars.
Luol Deng was born in Wau, Sudan, but is of British nationality after emigrating to Brixton. Luol has been the 'new' poster boy of British basketball for some time now. He has climbed up the Chicago Bulls ranks past players who at first where seen as guys who would leave this dynamic forward languishing on the bench. He has spent year after year in the NBA whilst withstanding consuming injury and international duty to craft himself as one of the top tier talents in this league in scoring and all round play. He even spearheaded the NBA Europe Live exhibition game featuring his then victorious Chicago Bulls against the Utah Jazz held in London in 2009. In this game he displayed his talents and leadership for not only his team but his country. He did this in front of his hometown fans from Brixton and other corners of London and the whole world watching on national and international television.
Ben Gordon, who was born in Britain and has dual citizenship with the U.S. may no longer be playing alongside Luol in Chicago but the experience he garnered doing this will pay off in dividends for him and his former running mate and more importantly his national side. Ben was a big time player in the Chi. He was and still is quick, clutch and savvy. Alongside Deng, Gordon was one of the Bulls premier go to guys leading the stampede. His charges included making dangerously deep shots and forceful aggression at the basket, both leading to points made and proved. Even in his rookie year Gordon was so hot that Chicago was almost declaring that there was a new Benny the Bull in town. Ben's college experience with the University of Connecticut’s NCAA Championship team gave him veteran confidence in his first year. We all remember his teardrop against the Knicks. These days Ben has been given the responsibility as one if the main Pistons motoring forward the new, rebuilt Detroit franchise. The location may have changed but the game hasn't. Ben Gordon is still one of the freshest, developing talents in the league.
So in this Team GB set Luol will be the 'franchise' guy leading the way on the court and in the team’s heart. Ben will be more than 'the other guy' or 'the co-pilot'. He'll be the big time scorer and more importantly the clutch player, which in international competition against talented teams such as Spain and Argentina could be decisive. Team GB's talents don't just begin and end with Deng and Gordon however. The talent derived from the national basketball organisations of England, Scotland and Wales is full of young, hungry ballers. Ballers like Tottenham born, former Toronto Raptors, versatile forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu and swingman/team captain Andrew Sullivan's anchoring talents and leadership. Head Coach Chris Finch and his assistants Tony Garbelotto, Tim Lewis and Nick Nurse also steady the ship and have their sights set on a new beginning for a team who only ever made the Olympics once in 1948.
The interesting thing about this team is that even as the host nation for the 2012 Olympics their place wasn't guaranteed. That was until they showed and proved their improvement and competitiveness to FIBA, the international basketball federation. From the looks of things this team looks ready to get even better and better. Lead by two NBA go to guys with renewed focus and motivation behind them this team looks ready to give the next year and their final destination of the Olympic Games everything they have. Which, by the looks of it appears to be a lot more than most people think.