So, I’m already looking ahead. Ahead to the London Olympics next month, where another national team, this one representing the whole of Great Britain, will suit up and attempt to shock the world.
The Great Britain men’s basketball team play their first game on July 29th, and will face the likes of Spain, Brazil and Australia in the tournament. G.B. are a heavy underdog, of course, but the team has players with NBA experience, and they will be playing in front of a raucous home crowd. The anticipation back home is building.
I recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of Sam Neter, founder of hoopsfix.com—the number 1 resource for all things British Basketball—and an expert on the game in the U.K.
BALLnROLL: First up, I’ve got to ask, is Luol Deng good to go for next month?
SN: Good question! There is no doubt he is up for it and will give his all regardless of how much his wrist is hurting. No one outside of the team/team officials has seen him in action since his season ended with the Bulls (GB training camp opened in Houston last week). It’s being reported that he will sit out GB’s 5 warm-ups this month (against Nigeria, Lithuania, and Russia) as a precautionary measure, before suiting up in July for the team’s 7 final exhibition games to tune up for the Olympics. I think he’ll be good to go.
The sports scene in G.B. is dominated by football, and to a lesser extent, cricket and rugby. How did you get involved in basketball?
I don’t even really know. We had hoops at school of course, and I had some friends who played a bit so I ended up getting involved. My dad built a hoop in my garden and then I was hooked from there! I stopped playing competitively after I graduated from university and launched the website, Hoopsfix.com, shortly after.
How have you seen the sport progress at a grass-roots level over the years, and what needs to be done to build up the sport in the U.K.?
At a grass-roots level the sport has progressed very little in the years I have been involved, and some may even go as far as to say it has taken steps backwards. Young players face the same issues today as they did 10 years ago. I don’t think there is one individual factor that would be the magic cure to solving the problem, instead a holistic approach is needed – basketball in the UK needs funding, it needs facilities, needs coaches, access, competition structure, development pathways and more – everything goes hand in hand. I think everyone involved with the game here can identify the problems, however, coming up with viable solutions, especially when it isn’t one of the “big three” sports, is not easy.
The G.B. men’s team is full of guys who play, or have played in the NBA (Deng, Mensah-Bonsu, Gordon, Archibald etc) Given this level of talent, what are the expectation levels like for this group in next month’s Olympics?
Depends who you ask! The rest of the world’s expectations aren’t high, I get the impression we’re expected to go winless and get bounced in the preliminary round. However, I know the players themselves feel entirely different – I think being an underdog will play in our favour. Anything less than the quarterfinals would be a disappointment, from there 1 win and you’re in with a chance of a medal. We got a good draw and I hope we can cause a few upsets. If there is one wild card team in the Olympics that could go on a fairy tale run, it’s GB.
For those of us not familiar with the European basketball scene, who is the potential breakout star on this G.B. team?
If you’re talking about more of an unknown in the US, the young British guy everyone is talking about is Devon van Oostrum. He plays his club basketball in Spain and will became the youngest player to ever suit up for the GB senior side a couple of years ago aged just 17. He’s a point guard who will make you go “wow” at least once a game.
And lastly, will we finally see Ben Gordon suit up for Great Britain this summer?
I sincerely hope so. Him not being present at the opening of training camp on Thursday is not a good sign. The fans are definitely getting tired of waiting for him. Every year there is something that crops up, but the difference he could make is monumental. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I still believe he’ll suit up!