Thursday, 30 April 2009

British Basketball: A Preston Perspective

The Pride of Preston

Preston Pride u-18’s, winners of the “Junior Team Performance of the Year” award at last month’s Preston Sports Awards, owe their success to the hard work of every single coach, player and parent, according to Head Coach Joel Augustine.

The team has been recognised for their achievements while playing at u-16 level last year, where they became North West Conference champions, as well as reaching the quarter-finals of the National Cup, and Augustine is immensely proud of his players.

He said: “The guys have got exceptional talent, they shoot really well, they communicate really well and they’re prepared to work hard for each other. They’ve been prepared really well by the coaching staff, and it also helps to have the backing of each parent, that’s why we’ve been successful.”

Six years is a long time in sport, and nowhere is that more true than at Preston Pride, who in 2003 were at breaking point as they saw the sum total of their club drop to four players and no coach. Fast forward to now, and the club has over 200 players playing across three men’s teams, u-14’s, u-16’s and u-18’s boys teams.

The club also has plans to expand in setting up ladies senior and junior teams, and the club owed not just their growth, but their very existence, to the hard work of Augustine and others at the club who have worked tirelessly to enable the Pride to obtain lottery funding and Sport England accreditation.

Augustine clearly believes in the potential for basketball in Preston, saying: “All the kids we have are home-grown, they’re from Preston. Kids are finding their way here by word of mouth, there’s a real appetite for basketball and I think it’s going to get bigger.”

In 2007, Preston Pride was recognised as 'Club of the Year' at the Preston Sports Awards and 'Community Club of the Year' at the Lancashire Sports Awards 2007. This was followed up last year by Augustine winning ‘Coach of the Year’ at the 2008 Awards.

With the increased national funding being pledged towards basketball in the lead up to the Olympics, Preston Pride look well placed to continue to go from strength to strength. Augustine, who himself plays for the Pride’s senior team, is clear on what is needed for the club to continue their growth.

He stated: “Ultimately a lot of it comes down to money, but you also need people whose hearts are in the right place and who want t deliver basketball to kids in schools. We need more support of kids and better coaching.”

If there were more like Augustine then this may have happened a long time ago, but the example he sets to those he coaches in the junior setup is sure to rub off on his young players, and the Pride will be surely be looking for a number of them to be involved with the club in playing senior basketball and helping to coach younger players to success for many years to come.

The hard work seems to have paid off and the future of Preston Pride looks increasingly bright.

Full Interview with Joel Augustine

Preston Pride u-18's

British Basketball: A National Perspective

The Legacy of 2012

With preparations for the London Olympics well underway, the latest round of funding announced by UK Sport made a clear statement that basketball is well placed on their list of priorities.

Team GB Basketball seems to be increasingly important as far as London 2012 goes, and despite the requirements for them to take their place in the Games seemingly vague, nobody can doubt the vast improvements made by the team. In qualifying for this September’s Eurobasket competition in Poland, Team GB are beginning to prove that they are competitive with Europe’s elite teams.

The British squad is a team of great contrasts, with players playing domestically, across Europe and with the addition of NBA superstar Luol Deng, they now have a leader who is recognized as one of the best players in the world.

You would think team spirit may be difficult to foster between UK based players who receive a £70 per day allowance whilst on international duty and the star attraction Deng. who last year signed a six-year $71m contract with Chicago Bulls, but all the signs so far are good, with the team going from strength to strength since Deng’s arrival.

The transition to European superpower will not be without its complications as last year’s insurance cost fiasco which threatened Deng’s introduction to the squad shows, while the fears over a loss of overall funding for Team GB are sure to worry those at the top of British Basketball.

This makes the huge increase in funding from UK Sport even more impressive, and will enable the team to continue its growth. In agreeing to pay almost £250,000 in insurance costs so that Deng could play, a payment described by British Basketball performance director Chris Spice as “the best use of our funds in the circumstances", Team GB have demonstrated their absolute commitment to becoming competitive on the international stage in time for the Olympics.

With the hopeful introduction this summer of fellow Chicago Bulls superstar Ben Gordon , as well as the recent NBA success of established Team GB star Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the team looks well placed to make a real impact over the next three years. With a number of British youngsters in the American college system, there are strong hopes that Team GB will have even more players who are part of the NBA-elite come 2012.

The recent announcement that the £60m, 12,000 seat stadium would only be a temporary structure for the duration of the Games was a blow to the hopes of a lasting legacy for basketball after 2012, but the appetite for basketball in Britain is clearly growing, as evidenced by the four-team tournament that Team GB are hosting at the O2 Arena in August alongside Israel, Poland and Turkey.

As funding and interest reaches new heights, everything appears to be going to plan for Team GB basketball, which is music to the ears of those who have pushed to make this long-held dream a reality.

Luol Deng on Team GB

British Basketball: A Global Perspective

An Englishman in New York (or Chicago)

Much of the recent success of Team GB basketball must be put down to the arrival of NBA superstar Luol Deng, who instantly became a leader to a group of players who up until that point had not played with a genuine world superstar.

Deng led the team in points scoring throughout their successful campaign to qualify for this summer’s EuroBasket competition in Poland, and has proved to be worth every penny that Team GB decided to spend on his insurance.

Undoubtedly, the future success of Team GB basketball relies heavily on the number of NBA-standard players they have in their ranks, as evidence by the success of Spain at last year’s Olympics when they ran Team USA so close in the Gold Medal game.

Deng, who was born in the Sudan, but spent the majority of his childhood in the UK, has become a real talisman for Team GB basketball both on and off the court, and could have made his greatest contribution to date in convincing Chicago Bulls team-mate Ben Gordon to commit to the Team GB cause.

Gordon, who was born in Wembley before moving to America during his infancy, has been rather more hesitant than Deng in committing to the land of his birth, but after being named in Team GB’s squad for the EuroBasket finals in Poland this September, there is great hope amongst everyone connected to the team that the fans will finally get to see Gordon take to the court in a Team GB jersey.

The fact he is yet to decide where his long-term NBA future resides after this summer complicates matters, and it was this factor which prohibited Gordon from being involved with the squad last summer, but there remains a real hope that Gordon will play a part in the team’s future leading into the Olympics.

The emergence of London-born Pops Mensah-Bonsu onto the NBA stage with the Toronto Raptors is further cause for celebration, and much will be expected of the 6’10” forward who will have learnt much playing with and against the world’s greatest players in recent months.

Kelenna Azubuike is another NBA star born on these shores, although thus far he has been unable to represent Team GB due to passport complications, but should Azubuike and Gordon feature for Team GB, as well as the number of British players currently in the American college system, the talent at the disposal of Team GB Head Coach Chris Finch is greater than ever before.

These players are vitally important, not only in improving the play of Team GB, but also giving the next generation of British basketball players something to aspire to. The recent rumours circulating that Channel 5 will follow in the footsteps of Sky in cancelling their coverage of the NBA is worrying, as despite the coverage available on the internet, the absence of elite basketball from UK TV screens would be a huge blow to raising the profile of basketball in this country.

Despite this potential setback, hopes remain that their will be TV coverage of the NBA over the next three years to enable fans to see the Team GB stars facing up against the world's best players.

These high-profile British players truly have the hopes of the future of British basketball on their shoulders at a pivotal time for the future of basketball in this country, with the potential for greater growth in the sport than ever before.

Looking at the evidence so far, the future seems to be in good hands.