Great Britain’s junior ballers paving the way to future success

After failing to qualify for the quarter-finals of London 2012, falling short of UK Sport’s target and ultimately losing their funding, British Basketball was in a state of dismay and the team struggled to rebuild a senior roster that had seen stars like Luol Deng, Joel Freeland, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Joel Freeland all fade into the distance. Great Britain needed to reach out to its rising crop of young talent fully aware that the process would take time.

Five years on and Great Britain’s international basketball scene has been re-born. With the new FIBA window, it is highly unlikely that GB will will see the aforementioned players again, Pops has retired anyway. And Ben Gordon’s cameo appearance in last year’s Eurobasket qualifiers was a way of using the national side as a bargaining tool to get a contract, which he did in the NBA G-League. Once there, Gordon has seemingly dismissed GB by failing to show up for training camp.

Mansoor Ahmed

Ben Gordon played for GB last summer, but since getting a contract in the NBA G-League has not reported for duty this summer, leading to his predicted cut for the final 12. Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

But the loyal and knowledgable Great Britain support were aware of Gordon’s tactics and predicted on chat forums that he wouldn’t come back and didn’t care anyway. The young lions of GB are looking to invade the senior roster and  they’re putting their names out there, year-by-year.

This summer has seen a resurgence of Great Britain basketball, through its numerous junior teams. Starting with the under-20’s, who gained promotion to European Championships Division A this summer via Division B by beating Russia 81-65 in the bronze medal game.

“It’s a great feeling to gain promotion and to play in Division A where I feel we belong. It was our target from the first day at camp,” said GB under-20s coach Andreas Kapoulas. “And it comes down to the hard work and perseverance to each of the players and our staff and I am so proud of that.

“We had challenges along the way like you always will have, we were put in difficult situations but the character of the players was fantastic and they showed their true professionalism when faced with adversity, and that is what makes a terrific basketball player.”

Among GB U20s wins was a thrilling 71-69 quarter-final win against Poland. Photo: FIBA

The professionalism to the face of adversity was evident in the bronze medal game. A win or stay in Division B scenario put the pressure on , but the under-20s passed with flying colours for their second win against the Russians. And it wasn’t GB’s first win against them either. After a loss in their opening group game against the Netherlands, Kapoulas and the Brits needed to bounce back in their second game against Russia. And bounce back they did – sealing a 64-57 win – a result that Kapoulas admits was desperately needed at that time.

“We needed that result against Russia,” he said. “We lost our first game and when you train as hard as they did only to lose your first game, the confidence gets knocked out of you, but they would not be denied. They beat Russia and it was a small step towards other positive results and ultimately promotion.”

Andreas Kapoulas coached the under-20’s to promotion this summer. Photo: Hoopsfix

From there, Great Britain have secured two promotions with the under-18 side also gaining Division A status and two fourth-placed finishes this summer. The competitive nature is there for both the men’s and women’s programmes and it bodes well for the future.

“It was like we paved the way for British success,” Kapoulas joked. “But for sure, it was great to see the success of the under-18’s and for all age groups, both men and women, they have been competitive and are putting Great Britain on the map. These kids are telling the basketball world that has doubted this country that we have a future and we are not a nation that just wanted to be competitive before the London 2012 Olympics and finish at that. We want to stay amongst the world’s elite.”

One of Kapoulas’ players that hopped on to the senior roster is Carl Wheatle who impressed at the under-20 Division B tournament with a number of terrific outings including  triple-double outing against Azerbaijan.

“Carl Wheatle is a tremendous talent and I am so happy that he is with the senior side and learning from the veterans like Kieron Achara, Dan Clark and Andrew Lawrence,” Kapoulas said. Along with Luke Nelson, who starred with us as well, it’s great to see the youngsters on the team and coach [Joe] Prunty is preparing them for a future with the senior programme.”