Retired NBA star John Amaechi believes the state of British basketball from a developmental level needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, as the gap between Britain and the rest of the world widens.
While interest in the NBA is as vast as ever in the UK, Team GB’s failings during the Olympic Games left a feeling of concern regarding the state of the domestic game. Amaechi, perhaps Britain’s most famous former-basketball star, believes the British game is at an all time low, marred by a lack of professional coaches, impossible gaps between semi professional and professional level, and a disregard for the game at a grassroots level.
Despite the sport once again proving to be a hit with British sports fans during pre-Olympic and Olympic matches, the grim realities of the disparaging domestic game will soon sink in again, now that the funfair of the Games has left. “Its some of the worst basketball in Europe,” Amaechi said. “There is a lot of frustrated talent. People love the game, clearly, they want to be a part of it but at the same time, they look around and they try to find an affordable place to play, and there are none, or not enough.
“They try to find clubs, and coaches, the latter of which there is certainly not enough. Their aspirations are frustrated, that’s the problem.”
Every level is littered with problems, it seems. Keen youngsters wanting to break away from the typicality of the national football obsession are unable to find adequate coaches and facilities. Beyond this initial stage, things are as equally disregarded.
“For what passes as a professional league here [the UK] is really a semi-professional one, at best. The infrastructure here creates a scenario where being a professional basketballer is not a career, its just a job,” the former Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz star continued.
“And it’s hard to develop a sport when you know that you work just as hard to be a basketballer as if you wanted to be a footballer, and the rewards at the end are so disappointingly disproportionate.”
Out of Great Britain’s 12-man roster for London 2012, just two play their club basketball in the UK, with Andrew Sullivan representing the Leicester Riders, Nathan Reiking of Sheffield Sharks. With the exception of Joel Freeland and Luol Deng of NBA sides Portland Trail Blazers and Chicago Bulls respectively, the rest of the Team GB contingent have sought to pursue their careers across the continent.
This trend can be traced back down to the inadequacies of the domestic leagues, from a developmental level to a professional one, Amaechi believes. “The interest in the sport is great, but it will only work if there are rungs in the ladder between where we are now, and where the NBA is.
“At the minute, the gap is so huge, that there is too much space in-between the different levels. There needs to be more focus on where we are now at a grassroots level, to what stands for semi-professional level in this country. Then there is the gap from semi-pro, to what stands for professional standard. Only when improvements are made at these stages will we see an acceleration in Team GB’s fortunes. There has to be a lot more in-between from where we are now, and where we want to be. There must be more.”
Currently, Great Britain are ranked 43rd in the world. When looking out across the other European nations who have profited so well by the international basketball obsession, it can be disheartening. Spain’s sporting dominance is evident again, ranked 2nd to the United States, with Greece (4th), Italy (7th) and France (12th) fine examples of the seamless adoption of the game across the continent.
“The difference between GB and nations across Europe is fairly simple,” Amaechi continued. “There are sporting clubs that have embraced basketball, and in turn those basketball clubs have embraced the cities, and from there they have gone to do what the NBA has done, gone out and built a fan base. That’s what you need to do. They have a product to sell. There’s a huge difference in club basketball, where average crowds in Spain for example reach up to 10,000. Some GB teams are playing in a sports hall, for example.”
While the latest incarnation of United States 1992 Dream Team somewhat predictably dazzled the rest of the world en route to winning gold, Team GB suffered the indignity of being eliminated by Australia, the recipients of a 106-75 hammering to finish second bottom of their group. But from a grander view, the problems at the heart of British basketball are in urgent need of repair.