Racism lurks on the streets

And how playing for GB isn’t always an allure

Welcome to the fourth edition of MVP’s regular newsletter, which we’re re-naming The Post Up.

In this issue, we hear from Julius van Sauers on racism in Glasgow, learn why a Great Britain men’s regular has opted out and consider who might opt in for the women. And we assess a legal ruling that is set to impact British basketball and beyond.

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Racists catch JVS off guard

During his collegiate stint at Long Island University in New York, Julius van Sauers could readily sense the racial tensions bubbling beneath the surface of America, the temperature of the melting pot reverberating between hot and cold with the divisions illuminated by the Trump presidency providing enough fuel to regularly stoking the fires.

He had sensed it before while growing up in Amsterdam, a multi-cultural hub too but with its own issues when it came to matters of skin colour.

The son of a famous Dutch comedian and TV producer, he was insulated, though not completely.

“Things have happened in the past, I would say as a kid,” he confirms. “But, you know, way younger, I guess you experienced these type of things a little bit differently. 

“But I lived in New York, in Brooklyn, where there is more tension between whites and blacks. 

“And historically the United States has got crazy out there with BLM, and everything. The protest is very broad.

“But it's not a broad topic. It's actually a very good topic. But that's in the United States. 

“So for me to come here, that's the last thing I would expect it to happen.”

That is the racist assaults directed at van Sauers and his team-mates Marc Kwedi and David Mpondo following their arrival to play for the Rocks.

Flat sharing in the Barmulloch area of the city, the trio went public with details of an alleged witch hunt from local residents which involved their shared car’s windscreen being smashed and tyres slashed, verbal abuse, and hoax calls to the police claiming they had prostitutes inside.

Police Scotland are currently investigating the matter. The Rocks have moved their players to a different part of town. This was not what van Sauers had anticipated when he moved north last summer following a rookie season with the Worcester Wolves.

“Obviously, I'm a guest here,” he said. “I've been to the UK before last year, but I'd never been to Scotland. And I've actually loved it here. I've been to the Highlands. I've been to Edinburgh. 

“I'm actually having a great time here. Same for Marc and David. So I was very surprised and just disappointed with the situation. 

“We just came here to play basketball. We try to be nice to our neighbours. We just did not expect anything like this to happen. And we had no idea that it would escalate in this sort of way. 

“We had no idea that this was a hate crime or anything.”

Since the grim details emerged, there has been an abundance of support from around the BBL and outwith.

A valuable spotlight too. Media coverage of the issues in Scotland and back in the Netherlands and France. 

A reminder, if one were needed, that racism is not ghettoised within the UK. There are pockets everywhere, hidden right until they emerge into view.

“In the United States, with the history of everything that has happened, there's so much tension going on,” van Sauers asserts. “And I don't think the tension is here in Scotland. 

“For us as three basketball players, as three black basketball players, we feel safe here. We came here, we’re in Europe …  you know this is different right? So this puts a little bit of a different perspective on our view. 

“But, everybody was as shocked as us. All the messages that we had from people were so disgusted and surprised about what happened.

“Because, Glasgow has a really good part as well. This was just very unfortunate. I guess we encountered a few rotten apples.”

Let the barrel be cleansed. Van Sauers insists he remains fully committed to helping the Rocks elevate themselves from their current predicament.

Presently bottom of the BBL, their season could become a futile exercise if they do not survive Sunday’s Trophy quarter-final with Cheshire Phoenix.

The Dutchman has grand goals, however. Capped by the Netherlands at B level, he wants a regular senior spot with the Oranje.

“We had a phone conversation recently,” he reveals. “They wanted to know what my ambitions are. I want to play for the national team in a EuroBasket finals.”

No flights for Con Air

Great Britain have yet to confirm their 12-man roster for next weekend’s concluding EuroBasket 2022 qualifiers against France and Germany in Podgorica.

Yet among the 24 initially named, there was a notable omission: Conner Washington of Leicester Riders.

Vanished, despite becoming a regular presence over the past two years and his impressive form in domestic competition.

“I declined,” the father of two pre-schoolers reveals. “Why? Because for the amount I play, it is not worth me leaving my family. I did it twice and I thought, even during the last time I went, that was still going to be a hard decision to make. 

“Obviously, some of that is bigger than myself. But personally, it wasn't enjoyable for me to be away and just play that much.”

On the team list for all four games in this current campaign, the 28-year-old sat unused on the bench twice and featured for three and six minutes against Germany and Montenegro, respectively.

A victim of GB’s front court depth. The door has been shut for now, but not forever, he confirms. Would he return?

“I would,” he says. “But I just spoke to the staff and they said: ‘don't think that you have to say yes, or think it's going to be a closed door type of thing.’ 

“I explained to them that I'm not willing to go there with that same role. Because that's what it was going to be - that's what they told me on the phone, you're going to have the same role when you come in. 

“I think I'm more than capable of playing with those kind of players. I wasn't enjoying it. So I just thought, I'll let someone else go who's going to enjoy it.”

It is not as if Washington has not proven he can be effective off the bench. He has made a career out of it, even in Leicester this term where he is frequently spelling one of the candidates for BBL MVP, Geno Crandall.

Riders coach Rob Paternostro, he flags, has traditionally imported his starting point from overseas. The internal competition is healthy, Washington confirms. 

“It makes me better defensively. It makes me sharper, sharpens my skills. And you know, sometimes we play together.

“A lot of the games we’ve played already this year, I've played alongside him and finished the game. So even though he is starting, I still just come in try and play my usual game: just try and facilitate, where you needed to pick it up. 

“Bring energy, knock down threes. be aggressive on defence. Be a dog.”

Of note, he adds: “Just enjoy it.”

GB Women need their NextGen

With Great Britain’s failure to make EuroBasket Women 2021 came the double whammy. 

No spot at the next FIBA World Cup in Sydney in September 2022 either.

GB are not down to play another competitive fixture for nine months at least when the qualifiers for the 2023 Euros are slated to commence.

In between, of course, is an Olympics in Tokyo from which Chema Buceta’s side was one decent two quarters away last year.

The plan, says the Spaniard, is to pursue a spot at the Paris 2024 Games. His appetite to remain at the helm is seemingly undimmed.

But as he confirmed in a recent edition of the MVP Cast, there is a need to rejuvenate a roster which still retains a core from the London 2012 Olympics.

Stef Collins has retired, her place in history long secure, becoming the seventh member of Tom Maher’s dynamic dozen to hang up their boots.

Dominique Allen is still strutting her stuff in the WBBL. Jo Leedham is about to have her first child.

Rachael Vanderwal is sitting out this season to rebound from a torn ACL. Chantelle Handy and Temi Fagbenle are the current two Olympians standing from last week’s devastating loss to Belarus.

But with a natural gap until the next cycle, is there a transition in prospect from the old guard to the new while maintaining the fabled ‘GB Way’?

“Rehab is going well so far,” says Vanderwal, who picked up an assistant coaching role with German side Gisa Lions earlier this month. Now 37, you can have no doubt she will still be the fittest flea on the floor when she regains full strength.

As yet though, she remains undecided on whether, like her long-time running mate Collins, she will her leave of the international stage without a pre-ordained farewell. 

“No rush really,” she adds, “especially with no EuroBasket.” Much may depend on her knee, and personal circumstances, even if her fiancée and fellow GB cap Eilidh Simpson has years left, if she so chooses. “It’s all up in the air right now,” Vanderwal admits.

It feels like Handy has been around forever. Still just 33, and in Spain’s top division, Consett’s finest could easily be a bench sparkplug come 2024. Fagbenle is her prime, and keeps improving. The only reason she would have for stepping aside is if she ever opts to focus on another of her considerable array of talents and interests. 

Which leaves Leedham, who has insisted that motherhood will not end her career. Given the mammoth mileage on a 33-year-old body that has required miracles and medical care to hold it together, you could hardly blame her for pondering a switch into coaching. Selfishly, we hope to see her some more.

But there are now others waiting in the wings. Buceta speaks with enthusiasm of a time soon when Savannah Wilkinson is prised free from college in Florida and is able to represent her country without constraint.

Holly Winterburn, the subject of his honest critique, might yet be Collins’ long-term successor if talent is matched by resolve. Gabby Nikitinaite is another of whom the man from Madrid speaks highly.

Georgia Gayle, almost forgotten, still has time to come good in her present abode in Italy. While Hannah Robb, with her performance in Leicester Riders’ WBBL Cup win on Friday, could be one of those quiet worker bees which every team needs.

Around a core of Fagbenle and Karlie Samuelson, there are spots up for grabs and a wish that others can assert themselves going forward. Buceta has yet to see the best of Kristine Anigwe. 

A youthful grouping of Cheridene Green, Shequila Joseph, Janice Monakana and Chantel Charles must prove they can shoulder a starter’s load. They will have opportunities going forward.

The plus for GB is that there is funding on the way for British Basketball to improve the national team set-up around the edges. What they need most are some diamonds in the rough to unveil themselves and provide a polish that ensures no more major tournaments are missed.

Hall way opens door to holiday pay

There are myriad reasons why there have been regular calls for the re-establishment of the Basketball Players Association in the UK.

By European standards, there is an evident dearth of athlete welfare and contractual certainty within the BBL (less, still, in the WBBL). 

When the game was at its height two decades ago, the BPA UK – then led by former Manchester Giants star Mark Robinson – agitated for better conditions and a place at the table when discussions of import were taking place.

Since its demise, there has been a trickle of court cases to resolve matters in dispute. Vague promises of improvements. But pushes to resurrect a trade union involving the likes of Drew Sullivan and Kieron Achara have never got over the line.

And yet, details of an Employment Appeal Tribunal hearing involving London Lions and their former forward, Will Hall, have emerged which are set to confer more concrete contractual rights upon players.

Hall, who retired from basketball in the summer of 2018 and now works in the healthcare industry, won his case against the current BBL champions “for wrongful dismissal, holiday pay and other breaches of employment law.”

In a ruling from Gavin Mansfield QC, it was upheld that the ex-England international – having quit the club in February 2018 – had suffered a “constructive wrongful dismissal, unlawful deduction from wages, a failure to provide written terms and conditions of employment; and breach of the Working Time Regulations in relation to holiday pay.”

The Lions – having asked him to accept a ten per cent pay cut, as detailed in case filings - counterclaimed against Hall upon his departure for breach of contract, a suit which was dismissed.

It was accepted by the club, according to Law in Sport,  that the “area of employment rights… was not an area [the club] had great knowledge of.”

The precedent set – other than the obvious pay-your-wages – underlines that, even under the fixed-term contracts utilised in professional sport, full holiday pay is applicable and the rights afforded by employment law do not stop at the doors of the gym.

And in the field of HR, all leagues will need to raise their collective game to avoid more technical fouls.

ICYMI

Leicester Riders roll to the WBBL Cup

L James signs a deal at Surrey Scorchers

Listen to the MVP Cast with Mike Parks Jr

Got a question for our Mailbag, a comment or want to reach out? Get us at @mvp_247 on Twitter or snail mail to mark@mvp247.com

Images: Ahmedphotos, Riders, Force