EUROBASKET 2022: A NADIR FOR BRITISH BASKETBALL | MVP247.com
“It’s very frustrating for everybody involved,” Myles Hesson declared of EuroBasket 2022.
“I’ll say just disappointment,” Gabe Olaseni asserted.
Etched on their faces. Reverberating in the tone of their words. Of all the Great Britain men’s team following a winless tournament, a winless month, a new nadir in the painful emasculation of our national teams, a torpedo effect that left British basketball sinking helplessly to the bottom – witnesses in Milan and from home rubbernecked at this grim spectacle, a disaster unfolding in real time.
Not wholly unexpected alas, not from listening to the jungle drums beating quietly in the days before the Euros began and through GB’s Italian stay. Or from studying body language or those words spoken out loud.
Zero wins, five losses, a first round exit without any real redemption.
Hard to take. But, as those involved underlined, it felt a natural and unavoidable outcome: cause leading to effect.
“We already knew the situation,” Dan Clark underlined. “But the fact we come to a global stage like this and it’s highlighted throughout the world: the disaster that is our federation, that is our home nations, is the British Basketball Federation.
“Now the fact that it has to be highlighted at this stage for someone to take notice of it is disappointing: that they can’t listen to us in the first place.”
‘They’ being those in charge – although, in the case of the BBF – identifying them is tougher than seeking out the few positives from the performances of early-autumn. The anonymous accountables, men and women of few words and no apparent appetite to take responsibility for the sorry state of affairs.
Basketball England and Scotland too (Wales can take a pass). Key stakeholders, engaged in decisions with dire consequences.
Doubtless, they claim to be at arm’s length, that their hands are not grubby when their pawprints are all over the mess. Not least in the home nations’ inability to unearth and develop NBA-level talent over the past 15 years. One of their chief obligations, now a failure of regimes which have been there long enough to be assessed and judged.
Yet, as ever, it is the internal politics that grates, and the accusations of self-interest which attract the most noise.
That curious spectacle: that those who seem intent on sucking the life out of the Great Britain sides are also tasked with carrying the defibrillator.
A “dismantling” of the federation, by stealth, accused ex-GB women’s coach and performance lead Mark Clark.
Without structure, history has taught us, inevitably arrives chaos.
Case in point, the savage lack of funds that saw Nate Reinking’s team gather barely 48 hours before a World Cup qualifier against Belgium on August 25, play a second game in Newcastle with Latvia three days later, and then open EuroBasket on September 1 with only three meaningful practices amid the travel in between.
Support, and how necessary it was, was facilitated by London Lions’ GM Brett Burman and by the Eagles. Those whose remit it is to allow foundations to be put in place? AWOL, when needed most.
“Do the people in charge love basketball as much as the players do?” Olaseni asked. “As much as the people who cover it, as much as the coaching staff, the training staff, do?
“Because we sacrifice a lot. We could easily be doing other things.
“Like I remember, the weeks leading up to it, we’re in group chats going when are we starting? Hopefully in three days before we play Belgium. Hopefully in a week before. And we will be happy with a week prep.”
Nor even that. That cause and effect thing again. “It’s like when you give so much to something, when you thought about this moment for two years, and then it’s over within a couple of games, it’s just disappointing.
“Because I feel as though if the people in charge cared half as much as DC (Clark), half as much as Nate, half as much as Ovie (Soko), Myles, all the guys that have helped us get us here, we’d be in a much better position.”
Of course, the Federation is not simply there to write cheques without abandon. Budgets, bottom lines, all part of their fiduciary duties. It hardly helps that the composition of the BBF board has turned over regularly. Chair after chair, and repeat. Directors on a merry-go-round.
UK Sport has inflicted its own bruises by holding much-needed funds back. Why though? Because of a lack of trust, from their own frustrations at the posturing and squabbling inside this troubled family.
I confess to finding myself in a minority of one in offering some defence of the past-BBF chairman Toni Minichiello’s understanding of the strategic role of the federation. Someone must advocate for the roles for which the federation was created: oversight and empowerment. Here, he hit the mark.
Beneath the surface at an operational level within the GB set-up, and it has been impossible to find a positive reflection on the former athletics coach’s involvement. “The worst mistake they ever made,” said one staff member. “Thoroughly toxic,” asserted team manager Chris Morris.
Being on a sporting board is thankless. Been there, got that t-shirt which says ‘you’re at fault.’ As one ex-international told me this week, “when you’re a player, you have tunnel vision. And not every player properly understands how the sport works, or who actually does what.”
Accept a directorial role however, accept the brickbats. The one BBF member who is praised for rolling up his sleeves is former referee Eddie McKinley. The others? Invisible in the extreme.
With governance comes the obligation of accountability. That void is gaping. Offered the chance for a representative of the board to put their view to MVP on the string of current complaints, no response was even forthcoming.
In Milan, not a single representative from the BBF was on site. That did not pass unnoticed. Major events are places to network and show face. “Why is no-one here?” someone from FIBA asked me. The players asked too. Terrible optics all around.
I spent time in the company of senior figures within basketball’s governing body in Italy, and with officials from other nations. The questions put were of a common theme. ‘Why? Why is it like this in Britain?’
The inquisition is no longer unexpected, or new. The shock value from GB’s plight evaporated long ago. The query no longer anticipates a revelatory response. The teams’ reputation precedes them.
They just pity us now.
That, regretfully, is what it has come to.
But even though small pockets in Scottish and English circles are known to be pushing for the BBF to be dissolved and home country membership restored within FIBA, any petition would immediately be given short shrift, I’m told.
Current FIBA secretary-general Andreas Zagklis, in his prior role as its legal eagle, helped draw up the post-2012 unity agreement. Save for the arrival of an independent Scotland, it will be GB, and nothing but GB, in the international sphere.
So what now for British Basketball?
UK Sport has a responsibility – to ensure Lottery cash is not flittered away. It has also given sports fair warning that they must raise their own money on top. From sponsorship. From broadcast. Two areas of chronic failure for the BBF.
It has been pointed out elsewhere that GB was the lone participant at EuroBasket without a jersey sponsor and the UK the sole country with no TV deal.
The latter, down to FIBA, who held discussions with the BBC and with the production company behind the BBL’s coverage on Sky Sports, but saw no value in a deal in a market where no value has been created by those at the helm. The former, just a systematic failure. Over and over, for most of the decade past.
Trying denying now the impact it generated on the court.
MVP has learnt that China offered GB the opportunity to travel to Malaga last month to play at least one friendly – with priceless training time on top – and with flight expenses thrown in.
Reinking and his staff were ready to jump at it. They were told to rein their interest in by the BBF’s performance sub-committee. “Not the build-up I’d anticipated,” Reinking regretfully conceded.
Legs kicked away from underneath, Olaseni signalled.
“I won’t say we’d be 5-0 if we would have had a month training camp, but I think the games would be more competitive, the guys would have been in better shape,” he said.
“And if you just understand basketball, you understand that all those things lead to victories and competitive games. I think the people in charge, maybe they think; ‘we gave them two days during the window in November and February. And they’ve won games, they’ve qualified for certain things.’
“But none of them they understand that, during that time, we’re part of a season, we’re part of a structure, we’re in shape. And we understand the plays. So I think there’s just a lot to fit in, in the three days that we had.
“We had three practices – other teams had three weeks. And just the amount of stuff we had to fit in while also trying to get in shape playing five-on-five while also trying to not get injured, not playing as much five on five.
“So I think it’s just the overall feeling from this … I can’t even say camp because it’s two weeks, this half-a-month … has just been disappointment.”
Asked if there would be a formal apology from the board, the BBF again declined to respond. Some variant should come, and quickly. Nothing less is deserved.
Yet those backroom bunfights cannot mask a harsh truth – GB were awful at EuroBasket 2022.
Brief moments of promise aside (and Hesson should be the lone true exemption from criticism), it was as poor a tournament as the team has played in its modern incarnation. “We just haven’t put it together,” summed up the head coach.
“It’s been a bit of anti-climax to the effort that we put in to get to this point and to come here and get this type of performance,” Hesson reflected. “It is not a great representation of the work that we put in to get to this point. So it’s a bit sad.”
Not a happy camp, either. Reinking, according to one observer close to the team, was too much about tactics and less about feeling and emotion – and it bled through.
Normally potent performers, like Olaseni and Soko, seemed to be squares asked to fit inside circles. No Plan B, no consistency of thought, particularly in how the backcourt was deployed.
Reinking’s distinguished spell as a player and his CV as a coach bought him equity. No-one should question his commitment to this cause.
Nevertheless, by the conclusion, “he was on a very short leash” with his charges, one source noted. Unusually curt, too. There was a real sense that the magic-of-sorts formula conjured up by Marc Steutel had been tossed aside and the replacement act brought a botched trick.
Asked by a foreign journalist after the humiliating loss to Estonia if he intended carry on, Reinking said: “I would like to continue as long as possible. It’s been part of my life since 2006. So as far as I can continue to contribute to the programme in any way, I will do it.”
Nate Reinking and Myles Hesson react to GB’s loss to Estonia pic.twitter.com/j5tkfR9Yb8
— Mark Woods (@markbritball) September 6, 2022
The notion that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ assistant could dip in and out amid his NBA commitments always seemed far-fetched. The workings of a long-distance relationship were complex and results patched over the cracks.
The players will not give him a favourable review either. It seemed inevitable following the capitulation at the hands of Italy that he had coached his last game, with Steutel fully deserving of an opportunity to now make the role his own.
Ahead of the next round of World Cup qualifiers in November, there is another existential threat looming too. Of a mass exodus born of disillusionment.
Clark – now the record cap holder – pledged to carry on, but with some weariness. Others are to consider their future. One said: “They say playing for GB is a privilege – but there is no privilege in this.”
“There are,” Hesson sighed, “a lot of things in the way of you coming to represent your country, which we shouldn’t be there.
“A lot of obstacles that we have to step over just to come and play. I can’t talk for anyone else. But as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be playing regardless of the situation.”
Olaseni openly acknowledged he will take time to reflect. “100%,” the Turkey-based centre admitted. “I mean, I remember the first Deng Camp, watching those guys play. I think I’ve told you the story before: just watching them, just the amount of knowledge they had. The amount of confidence they played with.
“Before I wanted to be a professional, I wanted to play for GB. But now this has definitely left a bad stain in some guys’ mouths. Over the years, why have guys stopped playing at 28 or 30? Why are they not playing anymore? And I think it’s just a combination of what it’s been since I’ve been here.
“I think I came during the qualifiers for the EuroBasket 2017. And it was a great experience. Even though we didn’t have everything, we had enough to become a team and qualify. But this time, it just seems like we’re fighting an uphill battle.
“We’re not asking for what Team USA has, we’re not asking for what Spain has. We’re not asking for the best facilities. We’re just asking for time. We’re not asking to be paid exorbitantly, we’re not asking for expenses. We just want time together.
“It’s just disappointing because we’re not asking for more. We’re asking for what everyone else has, even smaller countries in terms of the amount of people in the country. We’re just asking for similar to them.
“And it’s disappointing when you see other countries that we played against over the years – I don’t want to name any countries but countries we’ve beaten in qualification rounds – they’re moving on to the next round.
“It’s just disappointing.”
For him. For British basketball.
For anyone who simply wants the best for the sport and feels let down – again.
Images: Mansoor Ahmed/Ahmedphotos