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GB must think away from Rio to succeed

A total of £7,039,840 (€8,257,169) will be resting in British Basketball’s bank account over the next three years, funded by UK Sport as the country looks forward to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The money will be given to British Basketball on a one-year conditional basis with the following three years funding released only if GB fulfill the agency’s wish of following ‘strict performance criteria’.

This money must be used wisely, a saying that has been used frequently but on this occasion, means more now than ever before.

Why? Because as passionate and as loyal as the Great Britain supporters are and how dedicated and honoured the players are to representing their country – we can’t hide away from the fact that the chances of them even qualifying for Rio are very, very slim.

It’s by no means impossible, nothing is impossible, well unless you’re a fan of the San Marino national football team and you want to live long enough to see the tiny 30,000-strong republic reach a World Cup finals – but for the Brits to be in South America in three years time, the likelihood is near to impossible.

Instead, let’s think of what happens before the Rio Games and hope that GB Basketball is in a better position whether they qualify for the Olympics or not.

I’m a British citizen, I’ve followed, documented and covered Great Britain basketball since 2008, I was there for Luol Deng’s debut game at home against Ireland at the compact K2 Arena in Crawley on the English south coast of West Sussex and when the news broke that the Chicago Bulls forward was likely to sit-out this summer’s Eurobasket finals in Slovenia, it unfortunately made the goal of Rio that little bit more difficult.

It’s one of the more easier groups that GB find themselves housed in, France and Germany will start as favourites to finish first and second respectively in Group A. The nation though should fancy themselves for the third and final spot, but will, of course fight it out with a strong Ukraine side, Eurobasket veterans Israel and Belgium.

Even qualification from Group A would mean heading to the second round, which would feature teams such as Lithuania, Serbia, Montenegro, Latvia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. All of which are capable of reaching the round of 16.

Finishing third in the group would be a fantastic achievement in itself for Great Britain and, who knows, a possible second round elimination could be enough for a wildcard spot at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. If they were to finish third, there is a possibility that they would have a 0-2 record or a 1-1 record going in. Beating France or Germany in the first round would be fantastic but while the latter of the two teams to beat is possible, the French would be a little harder to crack.

For qualification to the Games via the World Cup, it’s win it all or nothing. With the USA, Spain, Argentina involved, that most probably won’t happen. So it all rests on the 2015 Eurobasket in the Ukraine, and we could be looking at a new-look and youthful Great Britain by then. Fail to get past the second round this year, and the Brits would have to advance via the qualification round robin.

The Great Britain Women’s side are also involved. Before the men head to the mountainous nation of Slovenia in September, the women will be in France for Eurobasket Women. Their task is getting out of the tournament’s ‘group of death’ which involves hosts France, Latvia and Serbia with the latter being the side’s first opponents.

And like Deng looks to sit out this summer for the men, GB Women’s ace, Jo Leedham could miss the event due to training camp with her new WNBA side the Connecticut Sun, as per the terms of her rookie contract. That news admittedly isn’t set in stone yet and could change. There are also slight doubts over the availability of Julie Page and Natalie Stafford. Again though, not definite no-no’s.

As for Olympic qualification, it’s the same criteria for the women, but they have the much more difficult group then their male counterparts.

Both teams have no coach, or team contractors as the Federation wisely awaits the conditions that UK Sport gives them. But for GB to be successful, it needs to hire basketball-orientated staff, or figures that have a basketball background of sort to take Great Britain basketball to the next level. Chris Spice took us a few steps, there’s no denying that, but at the big hurdle; the Olympics, he failed. Taking the role of schoolboy living his dream of being involved at the Olympics than doing his job.

Now GB have another shot at starting afresh. A chance to employ staff that know the sport and hire coaches with the same vision and passion as the now departed Chris Finch and Tom Maher. All is not lost, but talk of Rio, in my view is far fetched. Talk of building GB Basketball and using the £7million to focus on the long-term status of the sport in the country is a better plan. If Rio happens, then GB are truly one of international basketball’s greatest stories ever. But even though the money is intended for the 2016 Games, securing a future, along with solid performances at the next two international events is the true way forward.

Make no mistake about it, the mission starts in Slovenia but fail to advance from the first round, the repercussions would be disastrous.

The thrill of Great Britain fans seeing their nation competing in the Olympics was something they’ll never forget. Olympic qualification isn’t like Eurobasket qualification though. And while I would love, love to be proved wrong; I just don’t see either team advancing to Brazil.

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