By Daniele Vecchi
Soccer, rugby and cricket are the true main events of the English
sports panorama, but the popularity of basketball is spreading faster
than we think. While Luol Deng (excellent story in the current SLAM on
Deng) has brought a lot of attention to UK basketball, the 2012
Olympic Games in London will shine a world spotlight on the basketball
movement in England. The British Basketball League, founded in 1987,
is trying to boost the popularity of hoops in the country.
Newcastle, in northern England, close to the Scottish border, is the
hub of British basketball in the third millennium. The Newcastle
Eagles (in black and white colors, like all the teams from that city)
have been the BBL Playoff Champions of the last three years
(2004/05-06-07), BBL Championship and BBL Cup in 2006 and they are the
largest organization in the British Basketball League. They have an
exciting wide-open attitude and work heavily with the local community
to promote basketball to youngsters, and marketing the franchise’s
image all around England and Europe.
There are twelve teams in the BBL, by far the UK’s top league,
with some very good players. Those guys include Wes Miller (Paws
London Capital) from North Carolina Tar Heels, Jeremy Hyatt (Newcastle
Eagles) from North Carolina State University, First Team of the ACC in
1998, Maurice Hampton (Samg Verve Scottish) from Austin Peay , Tony
Miller (Everton Tigers) from Marquette, Brian Dux (Poujoulat Heat
Guilford, the MVP of the 2006/07 Season) from Canisius University,
Dave Mallon (Worcester Wolves) from St. Joseph´s and Calvin Davis
(Everton Tigers) from Texas A&M. All of these players have a strong
college background and are having good careers in England.
As the 2012 Olympic games near closer, the British basketball
community is growing both in the UK and in the rest of the world.
Obviously the BBL is still far from the high levels of the other top
leagues in Europe (Spanish, Greek or Italian), but with 12 elite clubs
for the 2007-08 – including expansion franchises Birmingham Panthers,
Everton Tigers and London Capital – the BBL is deeper and more
competitive than ever. Since Deng has committed to playing with the
national team and other stars eligible to also play for Britain,
including Ben Gordon, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Kelenna Azubuike and Joel
Freeland, British hoops is aiming to conquer the world.
DANIELE VECCHI is the author of “Playground in New York.” He also
writes a column for the Italian language hoops magazine, American
Superbasket. This is his third story published in the English language.