Fresh off a British Basketball League championship in just their second season as a franchise in 2007, the Guildford Heat announced their intention to test the ULEB Cup waters despite an obvious lack of financial backing.
Regardless of the risks that came with entering the ULEB Cup (now re-named the Eurocup), Guildford were ambitious and determined to put the BBL in a positive light, as for years it was considered an amateur league due to games being played in gyms only big enough to hold 500-900 people, little to zero media recognition and players virtually paid cash in hand instead of the traditional pay cheques an employer would usually hand you.
But Guildford took the risk and led by a fairly strong roster, fronted by talented American, Brian Dux – considered by many to be the best guard in the BBL at the time – the cult following that the league had were tingling with anticipation at the thought of having Guildford Heat in the ULEB Cup.
Their first game came away from Surrey at Bosnian side KK Bosna. After a slow start where the Heat trailed 29-11 after the first quarter, they managed to get into their groove and narrowed the gap at the half to 47-37. Unfortunately, Guildford lost 84-68 but despite the double-digit defeat, gained a lot of praise from outsiders with Dux, whose 15 points, five assists plus his overall team leadership in 38 minutes on court was given particular admiration from KK Bosna’s players and ahead of their meeting with the tournament favourites, Joventut Badalona, who boasted talent such as Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Pau Ribas, the British basketball public were eager to see the Heat in European action against top European opposition.
Then in the early hours of Sunday morning, two days before the Heat faced Joventut, the basketball community was stunned when Dux, was involved in a near-tragic car crash near Bagshot, a town 20km from Guildford as he lost control of his car on a quiet duel carriageway and was left to die for nearly two hours before a passing lorry driver witnessed the wreckage.
All of a sudden, the British basketball fraternity put the landmark game to the side and all the attention was placed on Dux, a leader and widely regarded as one of the franchise players in the BBL; now fighting for his life.
And when it came to game night at the Guildford Spectrum, the atmosphere that was supposed to be one of great enthusiasm on an historic night against one of the Liga Endesa’s most gifted sides was now subdued, the 2,000-strong inside the Spectrum mainly wore Brian Dux jerseys. The players and dancers had headbands and armbands with “#6” stitched in, which they all wore out of respect.
The game itself was a non-event; Joventut simply overpowered a helpless Guildford side, clearly with minds elsewhere, eventually easing to a 98-61 win. From there on, the Heat would go on to lose all ten of their group games, suffer majorly from their appearance in the ULEB Cup, with financial struggles and the club changing owners more times than you would change clothes. But the respect for Dux continued. ALBA Berlin’s fans unveiled a Brian Dux banner, when the Heat visited the German capital for their group game, supporting basketball’s fallen brother as he continued to fight for his life.
As the months wore on, Guildford’s European adventure over, Dux’s physical condition began to slowly improve. The Buffalo, New York native suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of his horrific crash and was left to do the basics on his own.
Moving his fingers, his legs, talking – it was all a new challenge for Dux, but he was getting there.
Since then, Dux has gone from strength to strength. He has recently started to walk without the use of a walking stick and is looking at life beyond basketball. On Sunday morning, Dux sent the fans of the Guildford Heat (now Surrey Scorchers) a video message that the club have uploaded onto their YouTube account. For Dux, the road is far from over, but the recovery he has made from a crash that most might have lost their lives as a result … is nothing short of incredible and courageous.