Duco van Oostrum, the father of GB U20 Devon van Oostrum, is back with his summer blog, covering the U20s and his experiences in Romania as the team looks to get that much-desired promotion to Division A.
On Friday, the Great Britain U20 men’s team start the Division B European championship in Pitesti, Romania.
Hoopsfix has already done a tremendous preview of their journey so far. What’s forgotten, though, is the journey of the followers of this team. For quite a few of the parents, it will be the final national youth team tournament after starting it all at U16 all those years ago. I’ll be going there on Thursday together with some of the other ‘summer crew.’ Just like the players, we’ll have our own adventures and we’ll report those via this travel basketball blog on Hoopsfix.
Over those past summers, I’ve been to Portugal, Macedonia, Austria, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria and this time Romania—not your usual holiday spots. Inevitably, it’s been hot, we’ve struggled with languages, taxis, wifi access, hotels, explored varieties of food and drink, and met wonderful people. Quite a few people only come in for a portion of the tournament and the entire experience can be rather surreal.
The boys are mostly sheltered in their hotel and have an established routine of eating, sleeping, team meetings, practicing, playing, with an occasional few free hours for exploration—this of course varies from year to year. For the followers, there’s plenty of free time and I’ve enjoyed exploring the various cities and countries tremendously, and, of course, there is so much basketball to watch.
Watching the games at these championships is also different from the usual home-team v away-team format. Most of the gyms are virtually empty, except for the players.
Some of the basketball will be absolute elite level, but in empty gyms–a sprinkling of parents trying to do a wave, future opposition coaches scouting, some agents and club scouts, a referee assessor, and some more people in suits from national team federations, a FIBA camera high up (and sometimes only filming half a court for some reason) and that’s about it. But when the home team plays everything changes–live TV, packed out gym and incredible atmosphere. Usually, the gym is hot (airco not existent or not turned on) and we’re looking for nearby cafés for much needed hydration. I’m pleased to report that we’ve usually done OK in those quests.
It’s also a time to catch up on all the basketball stories. All the players and parents on the team have more or less lived basketball for many years. The U20s team presents a unique spectrum of experiences and expectations. It’s easy to take that U16 1993 team in Portugal as an example and see ‘what’s left’ at U20 and what has happened to individual dreams and how varied all the experiences have been. GB appears to have abandoned it ‘Futures’ programme and for players there are now choices and decisions to make in terms of basketball and a future career.
These are the real human stories of elite basketball players in the UK, and offer more insight than any strategy document. For me, it was a bit of an eye-opener to see the England U16 play at Bristol national team camp the other day in the shirts of the U16 1990 team—those names on the back of the shirts represent amazing stories.
Inevitably at the U20 tournament there is a list of those ‘not there.’ Often these are NCAA scholarship players who stay for summer school, bagging extra credits, and working on their individual game. I sometimes wonder how many of these players later regret not having taken this opportunity of representing the country for promises of playing time at college. They don’t showcase their skills in front of the Euroscouts even though that’s probably where they want to go post-college.
It is worth focusing on who are there, year after year, committing huge chunks of summer vacation to put their game on the line for the national team. It may look like a great summer holiday, but the experience differs so much from year to year, and it’s certainly not all fun and games.
We’ll try to capture some of this year’s experience in the usual summer blog—my last one as well.
This year is different for me, though. I’ve been to Romania before on a basketball holiday trip, over 20 years ago. With 11 players from Aris Leeuwarden (of mixed ability), we went on a 6-day tour through Romania, playing University teams and a local club team. The social aspect of the trip far outweighed the basketball part; I remember we were treated so well by our Romanian hosts, stunned by the natural beauty of ski resort Predeal, and marveling at the housing conditions in Bucharest at the time. We travelled around on a Dutch city bus that had been donated to Romania, exploring the country and playing basketball, witnessing how basketball can bring many stories together.