Basketball’s problems are slam dunked

From UK Sport
The fears for British basketball’s attempt to qualify for future Olympic Games, including London 2012, have been removed, after FIBA – the sport’s International governing body – lifted its threat to ban English players from competing.

FIBA yesterday confirmed that issues concerning the future of basketball in England had been progressed sufficiently for it “as an act of good faith” to allow the participation of English players in the forthcoming matches. British Performance Basketball (BPB), in conjunction with UK Sport, welcomed the opportunity to take the first steps towards qualifying for the London Olympics.

“Today is another important milestone in the development of British basketball “said Alistair Gray, chairman of BPB. ” We have a clear mandate, a clear goal. We are not a governing body. We do not give grants. We are about performance, producing teams, who will be given the tools to be successful this summer.”

Fellow BPB board member Bill McInnes, chairman of the British Basketball Federation, added: “We welcome FIBA’s leadership. It is in everyone’s best interests that we make sure the foundations of British basketball are solid.

“In that light, it is also important to recognise the role of UK Sport in setting up BPB as a performance company. We have a refreshing purity of purpose that will enable us to move things forward. The future should be bright.”

John Steele, Chief Executive of UK Sport, added: “By setting up BPB as a temporary home for the British team, we at UK Sport are looking to secure a great future for British basketball on the world stage and, hopefully, a presence at the London Olympics in five years’ time. It is great that the players can now concentrate on the task in hand – to qualify for EuroBasket Division A – without any distractions.”

To qualify for Division A, Team GB’s men must initially emerge from a group containing Slovakia, the Netherlands, Albania and Belarus in a series stretching from August 21 to September 5. The British women’s team must overcome Estonia, Luxembourg, Bosnia and Portugal in a group which runs from September 1 to September 15.

If successful, they then face two promotion play-off matches in September to reach Division A, a place in which is a key criterion for Olympic qualification in 2012.

The GB men’s team will feature Chicago Bulls’ Luol Deng, the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award winner for season 2006-07. Two other NBA players, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, of Dallas Mavericks, and Kelenna Azubuike, of the Golden State Warriors, are in a 24-man squad selected by coach Chris Finch, although Azubuike’s nationality status remains unresolved.

A training camp in Florida gets underway at the end of this week and will be followed by two warm-up matches against Georgia, in Pau, France, and a three-game series in Croatia. Two home matches against Ireland in Crawley on August 16 and 17, set up home EuroBasket ties against Slovakia (NEC Birmingham, August 21) and Albania (Meadowbank, Edinburgh, September 1). Any promotion play off game will be staged in Sheffield on September 11 or 15.

Half-price tickets can still be bought for just £5 until Monday July 23. The inevitable focus will be on Deng’s first competitive match for Britain on home soil and the player himself cannot wait to get involved.

“I’m really motivated by the ambition of playing in 2012,” the Chicago Bulls star said this week. “Everyone understands ‘playing in the Olympics’. It is a dream. We want to show everyone how good we can be. This summer is really crucial for the team. Raising the game in the UK is something I have been trying to do. As long as GB does well it will bring more attention to the sport.”

The women’s team will play its home EuroBasket matches against Estonia (September 1) and Bosnia (September 12) at Manchester’s Amaechi Centre. The squad contains a classic blend of youth, in the form of 16-year-old guard Georgia Jones, and experience, in WNBA veteran Andrea Congreaves. Leading scorer Kirsty Lavin has just signed to play in the Spanish League.

Notes to Editors:

For more information contact: Matthew Crawcour, UK Sport at 211 5106

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