GB Hoops a Force to be Reckoned With?

by Sam Neter / @Hoopsfix

Everyone is well aware that here across the pond we’re a little behind when it comes to basketball. Kids still have to pay to get access to a gym, the coaching and infrastructure at a grass roots level needs a lot of work and the professional league has trouble attracting crowds that break into four figures.

But right now there is one bright spot. Team GB is currently making waves on the international scene; at the halfway point through their Eurobasket qualifying campaign, they are second in their group at 5-1.

And these games matter. FIBA President Bob Elphinston has said for Team GB to get their place at London 2012, they need to qualify for Eurobasket 2011 (basketball is the only sport in the Olympics the host nation doesn’t get an automatic spot).

The team’s campaign hasn’t been short of drama. Since the naming of the initial squad, the team has been rocked by a number of withdrawals. First Detroit Piston Ben Gordon took longer than expected to recover from surgery, Joel Freeland (2006 Portland Trail Blazers draft pick) followed suit with a lower back injury, and then Nick George, Robert Archibald, Jarrett Hart and Mike Lenzly all withdrew for various reasons. The team was left with a decimated roster.

That meant an influx of young talent and an almost completely new look team with only six returning players from the Eurobasket 2009 side. Led by the infallible Luol Deng, who is averaging 21 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists to go along with 1.7 steals per game, the team is performing beyond anyone’s expectations. Deng has come up clutch on a number of occasions, with none bigger than this three with 6.1 seconds remaining to send the game against Macedonia to OT. Right now he is arguably the best player in the tournament.

Former Toronto Raptors favorite Pops Mensah-Bonsu is doing his thing, dunking everything, while averaging a tournament-leading 12.8 rebounds to go along with 17.3 points per outing. The emergence of rising European star Dan Clark has been a huge positive, including a 23-point performance against Bosnia and Herzegovina, which saw him start the game 8-8 from the floor.

And then there’s the crowd. Known for quietly clapping as opposed to the madness you’d see in many European crowds, a fan-led campaign known as “Back British Basketball” is changing all of that, leading to complements from opposing team’s players and sound recordings that have broken 120 decibels.

A film crew has been following them for a couple of months as they have been spreading the word and released the final 15-minute edit last week which can be seen below.

Is the tide slowly turning for GB hoops? You heard it here at SLAMonline first.

Sam Neter played ball until he realized he was better off the court than on it. He now runs British basketball website (@Hoopsfix) and is one of the fans behind the Back British Basketball campaign (@backbritishball).