Why British basketball is now at a crossroads - with no easy route on offer.
Intrigue, deals in backrooms, battles for power, British basketball has rarely been short of its own brand of politics.
But with structural failures seemingly to blame for the mothballing of GB’s Under-20 teams, and no resolution seemingly around the corner in the latest in a line of stand-offs between those bodies entrusted with nurturing the sport, we asked interim BBF chair Toni Minichiello for his view on how things stand.
We talk to Oaklands Wolves player-coach Lauren Milligan about being the youngest in her role in the WBBL and her determination to produce a new generation of talents.
We hear of another injury setback for one of our brightest and best - and of the first apparent sign of 777’s investment in the BBL.
And we reveal the best gift options this Christmas for the hoops head in your life. Or just for yourself.
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“It never has been the most harmonious relationship”
Ten days ago, there was an outcry when it was announced that Great Britain’s Under-20 teams are being shelved due to a lack of money.
That followed The Post Up’s revelation that UK Sport are freezing British Basketball’s funding until the BBF and the three home nations of Basketball England, Scotland and Wales resolve their differences and sign up to a Collaboration Agreement in the hopes of stabilising the sport.
Internal politics are nothing new, of course. But there is no disguising at this point that the impact is visible outside the boardroom doors.
So why did we arrive here and where does it go next? I spoke to the interim BBF chair Toni Minichiello for his thoughts on the current state of play.
Let's start with where British Basketball is at – there's been some shift in the funding strategy at UK Sport towards society and impacts but they still want success. So where does that leave you in this slightly more favourable climate with the £1.3 million in Progression funding that's been confirmed up to Paris 2024?
TM: Medals at the Olympic Games is still the main target for UK Sport they have set for basketball. This also includes 3x3. But again, I don't think people understand what the infrastructure is needed to get a 3x3 team to qualify for the Olympic Games. To get into the European qualifying tournament, you need 10 million ranking points. We've gone from 65,000 to about 300,000. So, with Basketball England support we entered GB teams.
It's not just about the GB team playing and qualifying: it's way bigger than that. It's about the participation levels in your nation. That's what qualifies the nation It's about having FIBA ranking competitions and teams on the Tour that you have British representation in ... but not necessarily a GB team. Fundamentally, it's a different sport.
If you like, it's a bit like rugby sevens and rugby or beach volleyball and volleyball. Very different sets of players. So it's very difficult from that point of view. So the amount of progression funding for the sport has to go a lot further.
This may link unfairly into broaching the subject about cutting the Under-20 team that's drawn so much fire. But is there any trade off – when or if you get your funding - that's going to have to come between three-on-three and five-on-five?
TM: That's a really good question. Is a bird in the hand with two in the bush? It's something, unfortunately, until we finally get to the point of having our funding, then we can't really sit down and make those decisions.
Controlling controllables, we have a men's team that are going to EuroBasket 2022; we have a women's team that's trying to qualify for EuroBasket 2023 - those things are real. Then on the 3x3, we need to complete a debrief with the home countries as to how we move forward from the GB teams point of view of, what we enter, and what we can afford to enter.
We can't control or fund FIBA tournaments. We don't control and fund the registration of players to be on the system to score ranking points by playing in FIBA tournaments. So, there's a whole infrastructure piece that we don't really control. It's very difficult in that sense. We can with our Home Country and BBL/WBBL partners encourage people to register on the FIBA system and it's free.
It's no longer as simple as entering a team, winning games and then qualifying. As a nation we need more people playing 3x3 and playing in organised tournaments. So the work that Julius Joseph did is brilliant. We don't have money to give to Julius Joseph to do more, but we'd like him to do more. we need more 3x3 infrastructure, not just domestically. There's some conversations to be had ... 3x3 is more about influencing people to put on tournaments.
So in short it's about choices: does BBF not enter the men's team and not pay for them to get to EuroBasket?, and spend the money on a 3x3 tournament in Britain? Clearly No. Sadly. You'd like to do everything. But clearly £1.3 million doesn't get the job done. And that's 1.3 over four years. That's only 300k a year.
Is that sort of the crux of where British Basketball is at in its biggest sense at the minute - that there's impossible choices when it comes to something like the Under-20s? And that's where it's inevitably going to be for the foreseeable.
TM: I've seen the emotional outpouring about the Under-20s. I've seen the stuff that you've written and the comments made by people, and I can't disagree with what they're saying.
But there's a finite pot, and decisions have to be made. Some people will have sat in a room and have to had make the very, very tough decision, based on the facts at the time, as to what we can or can't do. And unfortunately, that's is where the line was drawn now.
There isn't enough money to enter six teams. Then people say "you've got to find the money."' Well, that's easier said than done, when you look at it. We as BBF, have to thank the home countries for the work they've done in terms of pulling that together, and finding the money to send the four teams.
The BBF don't have any money for age-group teams. None of the £1.3 million (from UK Sport) is allowed to be spent on age-group teams. The specifics are the money is for senior teams, 3x3, there's an element of staff, a performance director, an administrator, actually have a governing body that functions.
Trust me, we put in a bid for Lottery funding that was closer to 5 million. That's what it cost us to just do the things we thought we wanted to do. And they were all based around senior teams, and age-groups. We've ended up where we've ended up: at Progression level, which is understandable, progression is capped at £1.3 million. There's not enough money.
This is a big picture question. If this was a governing body that had sponsors, or if it had a way to monetise a lot of this in the way that governing bodies generally do, then would there be the extra cash to run a U20 programme? Because that's how it works in places like Spain and France where the governing bodies are closer to being self-sustaining.
TM: That's a leading question, but yes more money enables you to make more decisions. But as we've already pointed out, you've got 3x3, senior teams. Yes, you've got Under-20s, you've got all age groups. Suddenly you start to look at it and you have to make a decision as to what the priority is - and different people's priorities are different.
The nice thing for the general public is that their priority can shift. Unfortunately, as a governing body, you don't have that luxury. You have to stick your flag in the ground and go: 'that's what we're doing.'
At the same time you've got to have an eye on the 2024-2028 cycle and trying to lay a foundation so that you can even apply for UK Sport funding and of qualification for potentially the 2028 Olympics. Medals, remember, is still the reason for funding - that's not changed.
People will argue the Under-20s a part of that. How many 22-year-old's will be in the men's team? Is that actually going to be the case? More so, will a 22-year-old in the women's team have enough international experience if we only play two games a year that we have to win to qualify for EuroBasket 2023? It's tough. You have to look at what you've got and who those core players are. None of it is simple, unfortunately.
If you look at it, basketball fundamentally needs about £10 million in a four-year Olympic cycle. At that point, it'd still be tight, but you could probably deliver what it is that you'd want to do, which would be the senior teams playing regularly, The 3x3 and the age-groups. But you would still need some support from home countries.
Now in order to be awarded a £10 million lottery grant - the reality is you don't get £10 million, you get £8.5 - the BBF has to find 15% itself. Let's call it 1.6. Because the math is easier. The sport still has to find £400,000 pounds a year through funding of some kind that is consistent.
People always talk about sponsorship. Sponsorship is not guaranteed income. It's not regular money. It's not foundation money. It's money that comes for a period of time. You need to be building on a solid, regular income, which would probably be through licencing which, as you pointed out, is how it works in France and Spain. That's how you build the Federation on a solid platform of that nature.
Basketball needs to stop going cap in hand to government or "white knights" to pay its bills. It's part of the answer and very welcome but you can't build a solid structure with that approach.
UK Sport want BBF and the home nations to sign up to a Collaboration Agreement and agree on a joint working pathway before they hand over any money ... what people should appreciate about the current situation?
TM: Our current situation is that we're still in the midst of this review that has stalled somewhat - and as a consequence of that, our lottery funding isn't being released. So we have questions as to how we continue to function. We've had a release of some. We have to thank UK Sport for that. But it's on the proviso that the review is complete.
But let's be honest, and frank, between the home countries and the BBF, sadly it never has been the most harmonious relationship. And that's something we need to we need to broach as part of the review.
I'm an interim chair - the idea of interim is that you're temporary in that role. I was brought in to give advice and support on the performance side. The late Maurice Watkins came in to try and find a path forward and his passing was a massive loss to the sport. BBF was awarded lottery funding with the proviso that there was a review. That review was supposed to be completed by the end of June. Then that review was supposed to be completed by the end of November. We're nowhere near that, I'm afraid.
And I think what's important is that the home countries and ourselves have to come together - and with the BBL/WBBL - and discuss the elephants in the room. For me, quite frankly, it's not governance. The elephant in the room is what we want to do, and the cost of it. Basketball needs to make some tough decisions.
This goes back to a solid foundation of a guaranteed income as opposed to sponsorship. We've just had two events. Paul Blake's put on a fantastic event in Newcastle … and God bless Paul Blake, and the work he does there and supporting and putting those events on: they're brilliant.
Anyone would recognise that we need to have more games and to be in large arenas. So we have more ticket sales and generate more revenue, more often, with sponsors and TV coverage. But to do that costs. More games cost more money, but without more games you can't generate more money to have more games...and on it goes. Oh and by the way, you've got to be winning.
To be on the BBC Red Button was a massive achievement. Granted, you've got to take three clicks to get to it. But we're not behind the paywall. It's free to view. So the most critical thing for basketball is that it becomes visible and successful. That's when it's viable and, you've got a chance for sponsors to come on board.
Basketball is one of the best-kept secrets. People say it's got this potential growth but potential is just that unless you can tap into it. There's only 40,000 people registered with the three home countries, but I’m told there's half a million people play the game.
So how do we engage better with the other 460,000? People tell me there's a 7 million following the NBA in Britain: how do we engage with the 6,960,000 - and get them to watch the GB or the BBL? How do we engage with that size of audience if we don't know who they are?
Let's be honest, a seven-million audience is going to be very appealing to a sponsor, And also, gives you the foundation potentially. If every one of those seven million people all paid a pound. I'm pretty close to my 10 million over four years. Imagine if they did that on a yearly basis.
Is the real question not 'how do we engage?' But how do you have a federation with the capacity to do that? And the nous?
TM: Fundamentally that is the conundrum of basketball: to be honest, that's what needs to be worked on.
The impending investment in the BBL, is very exciting. Certainly from my point of view, we're working closely with the BBL, having regular meetings, and regular dialogue.
How do we help each other? How do we make this better? What can we do to support you? The conversations I've had with (BBL chair) Sir Rodney Walker are really good. There's a pathway outlined with the relationship between BBF and BBL. Hopefully there'll be more to be said about that in the future.
There are certain steps that they need to go through and we're ready and waiting, and we can move on to do some more exciting stuff. So the future looks bright, if we help the future get to where it gets to.
But without the review meeting, it makes taking those steps into the future difficult. They won't be smooth because we need staff. We need an executive, BBF needs a performance director in place.
Because everybody on the BBF board recognises that board members should not be doing executive functions. But the lottery money is what gives us the executive to be able to do those functions, but I can't get the money from lottery because we're still in the midst of this review.
Basketball England's Steve Bucknall is proposing junior tournaments involving the home nations and possibly English regions of the kind spelled out in plans years ago when we moves towards having GB national teams. Does that not begin to create a proper pyramid in the way that the sport has been crying out for?
TM: This was part of historical reviews, it's a great idea, a great opportunity. What's really important as far as age-groups are concerned, it's about identity. It's about carrots, if you like. Opportunities for young players.
If you pull on the Scotland or Wales shirt, that means a big deal. and for England. 'We had a lad of our school played for England. That was big, it inspires.’ That's what you need at the age-group level. So I think it's a fantastic idea.
I've said this a lot in meetings and said this should happen. It should be an automatic. This is a no-brainer. Every year, that should happen. There should be age-groups, whatever they decide is appropriate. There should be a 3x3 version of it during the summer.
You'd think that idea should be core budget for the home countries - not the BBF - in creating a feeder towards the GB teams but also still retaining the home nation path that Scotland, in particular, still value…
TM: It would be an opportunity to look at what would be, say, 60 kids per age group: to assess who the best 12 or 14 are to be part of the GB age-groups teams. The players would have the opportunity to prove themselves ... not just as statistics on a sheet of paper.
Team selection is tough, because there is a bit of 'my type of player' and there's a bit of subjectivity to it. But actually, that kind of playing a tournament just adds objectivity to any selection process, which is what you desperately need.
There has been progression in international results for the men and women over the last few years. But going back to the funding, I don't think it's ever been about the achievement. Because I look at when the men's team had a decent profile because they had NBA players ... no-one was queuing up to throw extra cash. If you go back to 2013, when the funding got cut, legitimately, then you could say, 'actually, we've got one of the best squads in Europe.'
TM: The problem with funding of sports is that funding works for the truly amateur sports. Once you get into the pro-amateur or professional arena of sport, then the concept of Lottery funding struggles. It struggles in the sense that they don't know how to support professional sport. Basketball sits in that professional space that UK Sport can't fully understand.
So when you have independent millionaires in athletics, they struggle to control them and additionally they are means-tested out, like Dina Asher-Smith, and they go and get their own service. Professionals can make their own choices. Too many NGBs try and control athletes or players, when what you should be doing is supporting them.
Too often UK Sport try and control, not support. We have professional players, some earning well into six figures. You've got to encourage somebody of that level to come and play for GB. In addition, if we have professional players who are playing in the NBA, we have a huge bill which is insurance. Also, as we've just witnessed, all the top flight players can’t always get released for the windows, and GB teams results, as you've seen when players are missing, could be even better.
So we could be better, but we need more money to pay games, NBA players, of which there are a couple out there that could play for Great Britain. But we can't bring them into the team because we couldn't insure them. But GB needs success to generate more money to have more games.... On and on it goes.
Who are they? Name names.
TM: I can't say but there are a couple that have got British passports, that I’m informed are naturalised. But that's a conundrum that you then have, in terms of getting players released, and so on, and so forth. That's very expensive. But it's engagement, supporting and encouraging.
What Nate (Reinking) has done with the men's team, and what Chema (Buceta) has done for the women, is develop a culture around those teams that people want to be part of. They want to be involved, they want to be part of it and see the bigger picture to it.
Whereas UK Sport know if it's cycling, rowing and these sort of things, you've got no alternative to earn a living from unless it's Tour de France stuff, which doesn't relate much to the Olympic programme. Look at tennis, golf. Those guys decide to play in the Olympics or don't.
Again, it's the programme thing. It's how you engage with people and encourage them to play. It's not straightforward. In basketball, you've got an NBA player or somebody that comes off the back of the massive season ... and GB ask 'fancy playing another five or 10 games for GB?'
So it's not an easy fit for the Lottery funding model. And that's probably why UK Sport looked at it and has gone: 'I don't know what to do with this.' Because I don't think they do team sports very well either.
I'd argue that's not as much of an issue because every country is in a similar boat to us. Obviously, if you're China or Japan, maybe it's a bit different. But I think it's more that you can field the same team all the time. And have a core of players who have played together and come through the system together.
There's an ownership. And so therefore those players feel that's it's their team. And if you talk to the guys in France and Spain and places like that, they all talk about the fact that they've come through the system. So they have that stake in it. So therefore, when you're asked them to play those extra ten games at the end of the season, they go yeah.... unless it's a contract year, and that's a different matter. But the default is they play because that's part of their DNA, and they're playing with their mates.
Because I remember talking to Pau Gasol about this. And he said, the great thing, the one thing I love most about this is, is that playing with friends thing. That's part of the appeal.
TM: But that structure needs to be in place permanently. We don't have that in Britain. Because as you see, we can't afford the Under-20s. This year, we don't have a World Student Games. Or a summer camp, two to three weeks for all the senior players to come back, with the focus maybe on a competition that they're going to play or tournaments that they're going to play at the summer.
Look at the Spanish women, who have not made the next World Cup. They'll still get together and they'll still play games in the summer, World Student Games is part of their plan. You will come back for a programme that's consistently there, whether it's around a tournament or not.
In Britain, we can't afford that cost. This is where you have to look at things. If you consistently had a million pounds a year per senior team, you could do that, You'd have this infrastructure that's sat all the time. And you would develop that. But if you haven't got it, you can't develop it.
The answers for basketball don't lie in Governance and board rooms. Granted you can argue there's a connection. But the answers are about putting players regularly on the floor.
Lauren, throwing herself to the Wolves
When the offer came last summer, Lauren Milligan hesitated briefly and then counted herself in.
To become the youngest head coach in the Women’s British Basketball League, aged a mere 26.
To step up from helming Oaklands Wolves in the junior WEABL to the senior side, pitting herself against old hands and professionals each weekend.
Fresh challenge, new ground. Why not, she told herself.
“When something so big is presented to you, you've got to think about the pros and cons to everything,” she confirms.
“I've got a lot of mentors around me that I had conversations with. And obviously, when I first told people, they were shocked, like, 'wow, you really know what you're going to get into?’ And broke things down to me.
“But I just felt if I didn't give this opportunity a try, then I'd be no worse off. This opportunity is not going to come around often. So I just felt if I didn't take it and see where it took me, then that'd be silly.
“The fact that I was trusted and even asked to do the role was just amazing within itself. So I think it was just out of respect for the people around me that I should take it. So yeah, it just made sense. And it all fell into place.”
Milligan, as a player-coach who still has ample to offer on the first part of that double duty, has not been shoved out onto the floor and left to sink or swim.
Lee Ryan, her predecessor, remains at close hand at the Hertfordshire-based programme at the helm of their adjoining men’s team. As is the experienced Michael Ball, who runs the Academy as director of basketball and brings vast knowledge from national teams and elsewhere.
Their protégé is also enrolled in Basketball England's leadership and performance programme. The initiative offers a fine support network, she underlines, with Drew Spinks of Hemel Storm serving as her mentor and insights available from (virtually) meeting wise heads.
“Talking to people with different philosophies, just opening my mind up to new things was super cool,” she revealed. “We got to speak to the Australian national team head coach, Sandy Brondello, which I would never have got the chance to do if I was just here by myself. Chats with Canadian national team coaches, things like that, which opened my eyes up to also building connections for myself.”
It's the daily connections that matter most. Rosters in the WBBL and WEABL which overlap but offer differing ages and intentions. A core group of seniors, a bunch of talented teens with GB caps at Under-16 and 18 levels.
Once their colleague at the senior level, now there is a separation of sorts which shifts the dynamic.
“There has to be times and places where I hold them accountable, which I wouldn't have done when I was a player,” she acknowledges. “But we all sat down before the season and spoke.
“’Look, we're going to be friends at the end of the day. Everything I'm doing for you guys is as coach Lauren and it's not because I don't like you. It's not because of this.’ And we all figured it out.”
Watching Oaklands play in person last weekend, and they mirrored Milligan herself.
Smarts, resilience, effort. Even though they will inevitably spend the season hovering closer to the bottom on the WBBL than at the top, there is open admiration of how the Wolves show themselves with young guns like Daisy Porter and Miriam Menendez showing ample poise.
That is, she hopes, a good reflection on Oaklands academy set-up.
“We want to develop younger players in England,” she underlines. “And we feel it's a space that's been massively overlooked recently, over the past few years. And obviously, we want to develop them in going into senior squads.
“This previous year that we did have some younger girls called up to GB squad to play, which is awesome. And we want to just be the start of that. Putting them in that professional performance environment from a young age. So they're not just chucked at it when they're 18-20 years old, and shocked. They're ready from 16 years old.
“Obviously, it can be overwhelming at times, but we do want to push them out of their comfort zones. Because obviously, ultimately, the next stage - if you want to go professional or play at a high level basketball - you have to be ready to do that.
“So that's what we're trying to do at Oaklands. It's a very family-based environment. We're very close, the girls obviously have to trust you as a coach to be pushed. But that's ultimately the goal. We want our players to come to us and leave us better.
“Daisy Porter in particular last year, the steps that she's made is absolutely unreal. To watch her play in the WBBL out now, and in her own age group, she's just killing it. And that's the things that makes me proud and makes me keep wanting to do this.”
The Oaklands mantra is obvious, but simple, she adds.
“You have to compete. And that's the first thing that we teach our kids. Obviously, in individuals, that's when we do fundamentals and skills. But again, if you don't have the mindset, if you're not ready to compete and work hard for every single thing, every single play, then I don't even want to coach you anyway.
“If we're not the ones diving on the floor first. If you're not screaming for your teammates, when they get an and-one, or that type of things that comes with that performance environment. I think that's key to create an a kid that's going come out on top.”
Or a coach, perhaps? Time on her side, early days, Milligan – with collegiate experience in the USA under her belt as well – will keep accepting the opportunities.
To grow, to hop above her comfort level, to look for the pros over the cons.
“You see like the big time coaches out there and obviously everyone can dream of that,” she offers. “And why not dream? Why not say that I want to be the next Geno or the next Coach K and make millions?
“Obviously it's a dream for every coach, but I'm so young. I have the time to do it.”
Listen to an extended interview with Lauren Milligan on this week’s episode of the MVP Cast. Subscribe via your preferred podcast provider.
Dollars on sense
First evidence, perhaps, of 777 Partners investment into the British Basketball League: the hiring of a prominent PR agency to try to drum up some much-needed mainstream media coverage.
London-based firm The PHA Group, whose sporting clients include the International Tennis Federation and West Ham United, plus Instagram, have been engaged to generate more profile for the BBL.
It will attempt to address one of the league’s huge deficits, with Mike Tuck of Sheffield Sharks recently appearing on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch in a rare personality placement on network TV.
Andrew scorched by injury, again
As Christmas season nears, throw any spare good will and fortune in the direction of Andrew Lawrence, who is now facing a third season spent mainly on the sidelines.
He signed an initial one-month contract at Surrey Scorchers after sitting out last term in Plymouth due to a combination of a torn hamstring sustained in pre-season, followed by an ankle issue.
That of course came in the wake of a campaign with London City Royals that left him and others marooned without contracts when the club folded abruptly.
Now the London 2012 Olympian has undergone surgery to repair a torn Achilles sustained a few weeks ago in Surrey’s opening league game with Newcastle.
31 years young, the Great Britain guard had high hopes of proving his fitness and landing a move back into mainland Europe. In just five appearances, he had begun to resemble his best.
Uncertainty now remains instead. And you feel for him.
Upbeat and already looking forward, Lawrence will go through the rehab process again but in an interview with The Post Up last year, he admitted to pondering a future off the court.
“I think being a general manager would be interesting to me,” he said. “I think that sort of behind the scenes role does definitely appeal.”
A bright and engaged young man, he would surely fit that well. But you hope that, at some point, Lawrence catches a break and gets the return to the court he desires.
Gift ideas for the Hoop Head this Christmas
Want some suggestions of what to buy the basketball fan this Christmas - or even what to hint for from Santa?
Here’s our top picks for the holiday season.
Our very favourite basketball – the Molten matchball which feels good, lasts well and has to our knowledge never tried to any smart Apps which wins a few extra points in our book. Molten BG4500 Basketball
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s story reads like something out of a Disney fable. From selling trinkets with his brothers as an immigrant family on the streets of Athens to becoming a NBA champion and MVP with more money than he could possibly use. In Giannis, Mirin Fader appraises the man with the Milwaukee Bucks superstar and explores what made him and will continue to drive him on. Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA Champion
Scottie Pippen will forever be known as Michael Jordan’s sidekick in the golden era of the Chicago Bulls. He would rather you understand him in his own right. In Unguarded, an unvarnished and fascinating appraisal of his career, his life – and his illustrious team-mates, Pippen is as he was on the court: holding little back. Unguarded
The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA for the better part of a decade. Since the arrival of owner Joe Lacob, they won more championships and sold more merchandise than any other franchise in the sport. The Victory Machine, Ethan Sherwood Strauss's clear-eyed exposé, reveals the team's culture, its financial ambitions and struggles, and the price that its players and managers have paid for all their winning within a business that salutes success but is driven by dollars. The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty
Chris Bosh had his playing days cut short at their prime by a freak medical condition. But in Letters to a Young Athlete, he uses his experience as a NBA champion to reflect on all he learned from a long list of basketball legends, from LeBron and Kobe to Pat Riley and Coach K, giving us a fascinating view from the inside of what greatness feels like and what it takes, formulated as a series of letters to younger people coming up and to all wisdom seekers. Letters to a Young Athlete
At MVP, we’re a big fan of Always Ballin’s range of UK-centric clothing that has some nifty niche British ranges and some cool and clever item that works on and off the basketball court.
How about the Don't Cheat The Grind V2 Performance Black T-Shirt, inspired by Plymouth City Patriots guard Elvisi Dusha?
Or this Ballin Always Pullover Hoodie which, we dare to say, has a touch of the Seattle Sonics / Storm about.
As a special bonus, you can also get 10 per cent off all Always Ballin’ gear by using the discount code: MVP10.
No Christmas would be complete without some NBA goodies in Santa’s sack. There is so much to choose from simple uniforms and fan gear to items that are perfect for the holiday season.
How about this LA Lakers Christmas Jumper (other teams available) that will jolly up turkey dinner at Grans?
Or even these Steph Curry socks? We don’t promise they’ll make you shoot any better but they’re a cut above the usual M&S ones from your Mum.
Powers need to apply pressure, not zone out
So where, we might ask, does British Basketball – or British basketball, if you prefer – go now after the tidal wave of criticism that followed the mothballing of the Great Britain Under-20 teams?
Not enough money, BBF chair Toni Minichiello argues above.
A structural flaw that has left a gaping trench: the home nations in charge of development and the federation overseeing the senior squads. And neither willing or able, depending the version of events you hear, to pour in the concrete to fill the gap and create a bridge that can survive the next storm to blow through.
Cause and effect of the sub-optimal way in that basketball is governed in Britain which – if we stand back – is also a symptom of the way the UK is constructed: in a manner you would never possibly invent if starting from scratch.
But there have been rumblings in recent days of one senior figure within the home country associations trying to distance himself by email from the fallout, and whispers of votes of no-confidence and coups that wind back the clock three years.
How to avoid another vicious circle in which the more that the appointed leaders cry for change, the more things threaten to stay the same?
And when we say same, we mean not very good.
A million miles from our good friends across the Channel who benefit from one omnipotent governing body (“Four, you say? Sacre bleu!) and where, despite regional or sectoral politics, there is a singular strategy which is about as far from our domestic disfunction as you can find.
They receive government money too, benefitting from the largest pot in the EU (fattened, no doubt, by the looming Paris 2024 Olympics).
But in return, they win trophies. Produce NBA and WNBA players. Gain sponsors and get on TV – for cash. A model a million miles from ours.
Is it a coincidence that they, their teams, and their system’s products, are so successful? Surely not.
But, in reading all this, you may feel like you’ve read it before. Did I, you wonder, copy and paste past columns from 2013, 2018 or any randomly-chosen year in recent times?
Have no fear. This one is especially for you and fresh out of the box.
So how does the sport finally avoid its inevitable hurtle towards a Groundhog Day?
The latest in a long line of independent reviews, by itself, won’t be worth the stack of paper it is printed on, especially when it resembles the preceding ones, as will surely be the case.
So, although the talks are ongoing with one party “optimistic that progress can be made”, if the various B-bodies cannot bash out a Collaboration Agreement against which everyone can then hold each other accountable, then who can wield a hammer?
Two suggestions: UK Sport and FIBA.
The former can withhold its money. One arrow in its quiver. But it might actually stand up and be counted for once rather than passing the buck.
And while it cannot explicitly order Sport England and Sportscotland to tap the NGBs on the shoulder and demand that they get with the programme, it could use its considerable political influence to nudge them into action.
Ultimately, FIBA may have the most pivotal card to play. The world governing body was forceful ahead of London 2012 in ushering three to become one in terms of membership and international status but has tired since of involvement in British affairs.
‘They only bring us problems,’ sums up one conversation I had with a senior FIBA official earlier this year. The latest one may soon command their attention.
A well-placed source suggests that Geneva is following the ongoing stand-off and has a weapon primed that would fly over the BBF and potentially explode in the backyard of the home nations.
The Commonwealth Games falls next summer. England, as was confirmed last week, get men’s and women’s places as hosts in Birmingham.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will duel for a single extra spot in Paisley on December 28. Funding and prestige come as its bonus prize.
But the 3x3 event comes under FIBA’s jurisdiction. And they might consider stripping away spots in the competition as either a carrot or a stick if collaboration cannot be promptly achieved.
Beyond that, of course, lies the nuclear option of what previously happened to Japan and the Philippines: a spell on the naughty step in the international wilderness with a demand that the existing structure is demolished and rebuilt from scratch.
A last resort, given that freezing GB out into the cold would endanger what little funding exists, not to mention London Lions ambitions for continental competition and 777’s grand plans for the BBL.
But those are the stakes. Real ones.
Food for thought as everyone stands in their corner and ponders a strategy for the upcoming round of a fight in which there is a risk that basketball will emerge as the punch-drunk loser.
No coach in the BBL is more acutely away of the impact of travel and double-headers than Gareth Murray.
The Glasgow Rocks boss has frequently pulled his starters on night one to prioritise night two when the situation seems prudent.
Something to ponder with an away-home-away series with Manchester Giants approaching with the latter two dates as the semi-finals of the BBL Cup.
If Friday’s televised league game was to begin to run away, there is a good chance he would trade result for rest ahead of Sunday’s Cup opener at the Emirates Arena.
I like Glasgow this season and consider them favourites to reach the final. But looking at Manchester at -12 on the Friday points spread might make good sense.
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