With 2012 fast approaching, Nerve continues its coverage of the Olympic build up, this month focusing on Team GB’s basketball campaign and the team’s chances next summer.
For British Basketball, London 2012 holds massive importance. Team GB were granted automatic host participation by governing body FIBA back in March, making it their first Olympic appearance since 1948, an achievement that hopes to boost the popularity of the sport nationwide. According to James Tombs, the Head of Commercial and Business Operations for the British Basketball Association, its significance for basketball in the UK is huge.
“The fact that all sessions have been sold out during the first rounds of ticket sales means that there will be an awful lot of people that will experience world class basketball for the first time and in doing so realise that GB have great men’s and women’s teams. Hopefully many of them will become fans after.”
Talking about the knock on effects for British Basketball, James highlighted the impact of media coverage and increased live spectators in giving the sport a profile in the UK that has never existed before.
“The Olympics will give a lot of people the chance to experience world class basketball for the first time“
“It would be fantastic if this could generate greater interest at the grassroots level of the sport which in time can deliver a more sustainable sport and begin to produce greater commercial investment allowing further development in all aspects of the game, both amateur and the professional league.”
Yet whilst the sport will certainly benefit from the Olympic inclusion, highlighted by the long campaign by the BBA to secure it, the expectations of the team must stay realistic. Team GB has mentioned a medal as a ‘realistic target’, yet the combined ranking for the men and women’s team is way down at 86, and with teams like Spain and Lithuania dominating at this year’s Euro Basket, mixed with the seemingly unstoppable force that is the USA, who have won 6 of the last 7 gold’s, a medal is a massive goal to push for. Although confident, Tombs maintained the main goal was for the team to just leave everything out on the court and with the home support; see what happens from there.
“We may spring some surprises, particularly with a partisan crowd.“
“It generally provides a bonus for any team playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. We would hope that the home support, as we experienced during the test event will help the guys and girls to go that extra step.”
It is this confidence that has helped Team GB push forward and develop massively over the past few years. The men’s team picked up their first ever finals wins at this years Eurobasket against Portugal and Poland, and with the inclusion of NBA star Luol Deng into the squad, who helped the Chicago Bulls clinch the Eastern Conference and reach the conference playoff final, the position of British Basketball is better than ever.
As for the team, both the men and women’s squad have seen some great performances in the summer. The experience of the likes of 65 time capped Nate Reinking, who Tombs describes as a “consummate professional that always delivers when you need him to”, is pivotal, as well as many younger players beginning to take more responsibility in the achievement of the team. Constantly improving forwards Dan Clarke and Joel Freeland have been stand out players of the last year, cementing their place in squad for their versatility and intelligence.
Coach Chris Finish has applauded his players for their development over the last few years, expressing how the strong performances in this year’s Eurobasket will have a knock on effect for 2012. Whilst Finch has admitted that the team is still learning, and mistakes have to be ironed out before the summer, the basis for a successful campaign is there.
Yet whilst it remains to be seen whether Team GB can truly push forward and challenge the top ions of international basketball, with a lot of work still to be done to topple the likes of Australia and Spain, let alone the mighty USA, its inclusion is a massive step forward. It gives British Basketball the publicity that has never really existed before, and a chance to prove themselves on the world stage in front of the vibrant home crowd. So come 2012, Team GB will step out onto the court looking for medals, and never has there been a better time to secure one.
Just in case you weren’t up to scratch, check out what GB’s Luol Deng gets up to regularly in the NBA.
By Toby Gray