Duco van Oostrum: Romanian Exhibition

Duco van Oostrum checks in from Romania with his fourth blog of the Great Britain Under 20s’ 2013 campaign, looking at their dismantling of host-team Romania.

U20 European Championship B, Pitesti, Romania

Great Britain 99 (22, 53, 74)

Romania 43 (10, 17, 31)

The game versus Romania had an asterix again it. This would be a real test and an indication of the strength of the team; Slovakia and Luxembourg were games GB had to win and did, but not in truly dominating fashion (of course, after shooting unconsciously against GB yesterday, Luxembourg shot 19% versus Poland, Laurent shot 2/25, and the point guard didn’t play). With the new competition system, it wouldn’t be a disaster to lose a game, but still.

In the stadium we hear the familiar tunes of FIBA ‘We Are Basketball’ and the Pitesti basketball anthem, “Living the Hall of Fame” (maybe listen to it as you read to feel the mood). As I’ve written before, the games against the home team are special. A full stadium, TV cameras, horns, singing, insults. It’s a hostile environment. But the two GB supporters would not be intimated and proudly displayed the Union Flag on the seats in front of us.

The Romania U20 team also have plenty of quality. Star player Alexandru Olah starts for Northwestern University and has been one of the dominant big men of the tournament—good luck Zak. After losing the first game to Poland, playing them close in the first half, they were impressive versus Slovakia and ready to roll on for the rest of the tournament. Some great news on the GB front, though, as Matthew Don was dunking away in warm ups and clearly ready to make his tournament debut. Proudly we stand for the national anthems. Bring it!

Rowell wins yet another tip and we’re off. Raph posts up down low, gets to the rim, misses, grabs the offensive board, put-back. It will be a continuing story. On the other side, good defense, but the ball gets to Olah at the end of the shot clock and he hits a beautiful skyhook for a tie game.

From the next offensive, Devon misses a three, but Raph and Zac get more boards, and foul number 1 on Olah. Shots are passes to our rebounders, that’s clearly the mentality, as Rowell and Raph just keep flying in. With great defensive intensity, reminiscent of the first half v Belgium in the friendly in Bristol, the Romanian offense is a real struggle.

GB race out to 11-4, basically on offensive rebounding. Devon then dunks in traffic, and the game almost becomes a clinic in control and the execution of the coaches’ game plan. The inside game is so powerful that the passing opens up shooter after shooter.

Nick Lewis drains two 3s and it’s 21-4 with 2min 44 left in the first. Wow. It’s not over yet, though. Yesterday, GB led 33-15 in the first quarter v Luxembourg yesterday and we all know what happened in the second quarter. And even now, the final points are for Romania. A buzzer three makes it 22-10 and we’re worried—by the way, we’re always worried.

A Raph three signals a good start, but Olah responds and hits the tough jumper. Then a bizarre sequence of events. Olah picks up his 3rd foul as Rowell attacks him underneath. The coach decides not to substitute him right away but waits for the free throws—the sub is sitting waiting to come in. Rowell, however, misses the second and Zac and Olah get tangled up—referee calls 4th foul on Olah. Crowd goes wild (a rather threatening person with an official tournament badge edges close to court and wants to discuss the referee’s decision but decides better after all and leaves through a back door). The stats actually say Rowell drew the foul again, but clearly not—stats are an absolute mess for this game.

The atmosphere in the building is hot, not just in terms of temperature. And GB show their experience and poise. What a clinic. They put in an 8-0 run, with Joe Hart draining a three, Devon playing one of his best overall court games ever with good decision after good decision, and the team thrives. The inside-outside game has Romania in tatters and they are just as rattled by GB’s defensive schemes and aggression.

When the onslaught ends, it’s 53-17 at the half; Joe Hart has hit 3 3s, Rowell and Raph have cleaned the entire glass, Matthew Don is clearly back, Nick Lewis is having Toronto style fun, and Joe Lockwood makes his tournament debut in the final 2 minutes of the half. The coaches later say it was one of the best halves of basketball they’ve ever witnessed in terms of execution on both ends on the floor.

But importantly, the GB supporters have also won the battle. The players have silenced the crowd. At half-time, Romanian supporters come to us to compliment us on the team. The opposition coaches are filling their notebooks and nod respectfully towards us. Boy, do we feel smug. Up 36 at the half, we are slightly less worried.

The demonstration continues in the second half with rotations coming in early with no let off in level. After every three, the Romanian boys behind us join in the wave, while they had been swearing at us at the beginning of the match. Everyone who watched could appreciate the high level of basketball on display and appreciated GB. An amazing transformation to witness.
John Stewart, who had yet another complete game, joined in the 3-point party (GB shot 34 3s again), and Nick, Graham, Zac all scored away while keeping Romania struggling to get any good looks on offense. The fourth quarter started 74-31; Romanian frustration ran high.

In their efforts to stop Devon’s burst of speed, they missed and grabbed his jersey twice, both for unsportsman-like fouls. Not taking risks, the coaches rested the starters early and it meant deserved extended minutes for the bench. And they stepped up.

First thing Jordan Spencer does, as he done in the friendly v the Netherlands, is do some more zone busting. Two threes. The boys behind us are now spontaneously doing the wave, and GB’s bench cheers. Matthew Don shows he’s back with a 4-point run of his own. Matthew steals the ball for an open lay up to Jordan, but Jordan then sees John Stewart for the two-handed throw-down and delivers the dime—team basketball galore.

Lewis Champion doesn’t let up and comes up with 3 steals, feeding Joe Lockwood for his tournament debut points and he himself adds a lay up for good measure. Everyone on the score sheet. When Lewis steals the ball with a few seconds left and dribbles out the clock, the crowd gives GB a heartfelt applause.

There was a bit of stunned silence after that. Young Romanian fans stay behind because they want their pictures taken with the GB boys. Coaches smile (yes, really, it’s all a bit different from last year) and are just so proud of the boys for rewarding their scouting and game plan with such execution.

It’s a rest day tomorrow. The Polish stars up next. With a 3-0 record, the quarterfinals are in the bag. The other group is completely unpredictable and I guess this is the time when coaches become philosophers contemplating magical ‘what/if’ scenarios. Can’t wait.


Scores and Stats:
Devon van Oostrum, 19p, 1 assist (?), 9reb, 2 steals, 7 times fouled against, +44 on court.
Raph Thomas-Edwards, 14p, 14 reb, 2 steals.
Nick Lewis, 14p (4/7 3s), 2 assists.
Joe Hart, 12p (4/9 3s) +31 on court.
John Stewart, 11p, 6 reb, 3 assists.
Rowell Graham, 8p, 10 reb, +32 on court.
Matthew Don, 6p, 3 reb. Welcome back!
Jordan Spencer, 6p (2/4 3s). First points.
Zak Wells, 4p, 7 reb +31 on court.
Lewis Champion-Alleyne, 2p, 3 steals.
Joe Lockwood, 2p, 3 reb. Great tournament debut.
Grant MacKay, 1p, 3 reb.

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