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One Year On: What Happened to the Olympic Basketball Legacy?

July 28, 2013 17:36 pm 77 comments

by Sam Neter

Olympic Basketball Arena Dismantled

It has been almost a year to the day since the London 2012 Olympics started (wow, where has the time gone?!), and 12 months on I think it’s clear for everyone to see the Olympic legacy, for basketball, was nothing but a mere fallacy.

In September of 2011, Hoopsfix published the results of a poll asking ‘Will the London 2012 Olympics make a difference to basketball in the UK?’ – 57% of you said yes; I wish you were right.

In the same post, I chimed in with my own thoughts and said:

“I don’t see anything changing. It will still take a couple of weekends to get your Level 2 coaching qualification and be deemed ‘qualified’ to be developing our best prospects. It will still cost money for players to get in a gym. Our best players will still have to head abroad to have any chance of a decent professional career. Some of our best coaches will still have to hold down a full time job whilst trying to create a basketball team.”

And that, my friends, is still the reality.

Before I dive into this, I just want to make clear – when I’m referring to legacy, I’m talking about anything that has happened as a direct result of the Olympics that is going to make a LONG TERM difference to basketball in the UK.

Yes, British Basketball would never have been formed if it wasn’t for the Olympics, and we wouldn’t have had GB teams competing in European Championships or the Games, but does any of this make a difference for basketball in the UK 10 years down the line? No. If basketball’s funding remained cut earlier this year, 15 years down the line, the GB teams would be nothing but a distance memory.

Anyway…let’s do this.

Participation

In June, Sport England’s latest participation figures showed a 16% increase in basketball participation – wow, this must be the Olympic legacy in action right?

Wrong. This is seemingly little to do with the Olympics, and actually a result of England Basketball’s ‘IM Basketball’ and ‘Ball Again’ initiatives – programmes that have essentially been put together to be able to record those playing recreationally in an effort to more accurately measure participation numbers (basically, a lot of these people were playing anyway, there was just no way to record them as participants before).

For clubs I have spoken to who are in the trenches, it remains business as usual; they’ve received no major influx of kids from the Olympics (and by the way, even if this did happen, the infrastructure isn’t in place for clubs to be able to support it).

Facilities

A year on, and the main basketball arena from the Olympic Park has been dismantled (see image above). This was always the plan, but was met by opposition from the likes of GB star Luol Deng, and more recently, his former Brixton coach Jimmy Rogers.

The one shining beacon of ‘Olympic legacy’ that we’re constantly being reminded of is the London Lions’ use of the Copper Box, the former Olympic handball arena, this coming season. By all accounts it makes for a very nice mid-sized venue (7,000 seats), but it remains unclear how much the Copper Box will actually benefit the wider basketball community. It is yet another multi-use sports facility that basketball will be wrestling with other sports to get access to, and one they will have to pay for at that.

There remains a worrying lack of purpose-built basketball facilities up and down the country, but there is light at the end of this tunnel, with a number of facilities in the pipeline (got a feature coming out on it soon). However, none of these are a direct result of the Olympics.

Coaching

The standard of coaching remains as it always has been – with much to be desired. John Amaechi has called for a cull of all coaches that aren’t up to the job earlier this week – and I don’t think this is too far off the mark. Something desperately needs to be done about the standard of coaching that many kids receive in this country.

I’m still a level 2 qualified coach, on paper good enough to provide teaching to some of our best talent, but in reality so far off from being an expert I should never be allowed such a prestigious responsibility. It still takes a couple of weekends to be deemed a “qualified” basketball coach and then be let loose to nurture the future basketball potential of this country. This is a problem.

It remains ironic that all the junior national team jobs at England level, which are voluntary, are held by English coaches, and before this year (post-2012, of course!), close to all of the paid positions within the GB junior and senior teams were held by foreigners.

Disappointingly, the GB Senior Men’s coaching team for this year has been announced and doesn’t feature one British based coach who will then be able to pass that knowledge on to the up and coming talent (both players and coaches) in the UK.

Talent Development Pathway

Our best players are still all based abroad and all of our younger players look to leave the country as soon as they are physically able. This leads to a multitude of other problems (the level of competition in this country is not as good, kids have no measuring stick of what “good” actually is, national team programmes are hard to administer with kids being away etc etc) but no-one can blame them – it remains in their best interest to get out (funnily enough, many coaches are heading abroad at the first opportunity now as well).

Some coaches have pointed to the work Warwick Cann (formerly the GB/EB Performance Pathway Manager, the job now being done by Vladan Dragosavac) has done with the performance pathway and say it is “night and day” from before, so perhaps it’s not all bad.

The England U18s, who have just finished 9th in Europe, feature 10 of 12 players who remained in England last season – so maybe we can develop talent? However, by the start of next season at least another 4 of them will have headed abroad, and I’m sure every single one of them would if the opportunity presented itself.

There remains an extremely small minority who have stayed in the UK for their entire junior development and advanced up through the BBL and onto a better league elsewhere (Myles Hesson is the only player in recent times I can think of). The BBL, as a whole, still doesn’t place junior development as a priority and is a long way off from emulating the feeder systems in place of many European clubs.

Standard of Competition

The standard of basketball domestically, not only professionally, but at a grassroots level is as bad as it’s ever been. In the three years I have been covering the sport closely (watching games from U14 level right through to GB Senior level), you could make the argument the level of basketball has taken steps backward.

The 2010 Junior Final Fours was the first I attended, and all four of those teams would’ve dominated the 2013 Junior Final Four teams. The consensus amongst players and coaches is the same. The BBL, though taking steps forward, is still ways away.

Many of the league’s leading scorers would not have got off the bench of a top BBL team 10 years ago (so I’m told repeatedly by old heads). A former England international and BBL player when the league was near it’s peak, told me he finds it astounding that Charles Smith, a player who was solid but not spectacular by the league’s standards back then, is now 37 years old and having 40 point games last season (in the ’99-00 season Smith averaged 16.2 points in his first year out of college, last season, 13 years later at an age where, for most, their playing days are long gone, he averaged 18.8).

Media

The media continues to pay no attention to basketball at any level. This is partly the sport’s fault (England Basketball don’t even send out press releases, British Basketball’s communications are worse this year than they’ve ever been), however, even during the Olympics, basketball found it very hard to get a look in.

The Olympics has provided no boost to the coverage of basketball (or any other sports for that matter); the sports page are still 90% football, with 9% rugby and cricket and the other 1% given to whichever lucky sport is flavour of the month (not accurate percentages, but you get what I’m saying).

This, of course, is all a self-fulfilling prophecy – until the sport gets better and has more interest the media won’t be interested, but it’s hard for the sport to improve and receive interest without media coverage at some level.

British Basketball

And then we have British Basketball, the organisation, which is perhaps as in as sorry state as it’s ever been. Straight after the Olympics, funding was pulled entirely, then reinstated but on a one year conditional basis with the conditions being near unattainable.

For British Basketball to unlock the remaining three years of funding after this year, UK Sport want World Championship qualification from the senior teams. The women have already failed in that, despite getting their best ever finish at Eurobasket, and the men, by all accounts, will have their work cut out with a Luol Deng and Joel Freeland-less team that will be the most inexperienced it has been in recent years.

The reality is British Basketball could be done by the end of 2013.

It might also be worth nothing; since the Olympics has finished, pretty much every single member of the GB staff has moved on to greener pastures. Chris Spice, the Performance Director has gone to Swimming, Ron Wuotila, the High Performance Manager, has gone full time Athletics Director at the University of Calgary (a job he was already doing whilst still at GB), Simon Tuckey, the Commercial Director, has left to pursue business interests, James Tombs, Head of Commercial & Business Operations, now works for the Youth Sports Trust, and Beverly Kettlety, the Operations Officer, now works for Netball.

But what about…

People will try to point to the Under-18s competing in Division A, knocking off Spain, or the Under-20s finally getting the Division A promotion that has eluded them for eight years – but these are exceptions; it is no surprise the ’95s are the ‘golden generation’ and the ’93s (who many will say are the other golden group in recent times) feature arguably the best prospect out of the UK in recent years in Devon van Oostrum. But what after them?

The ’96s are one of our worst generations in years and the ’97s are thin. Until we get to a point where year upon year we are consistently producing teams that can compete in the upper echelons of Europe, instead of relying on an exceptionally talented generation or player, we will remain a joke amongst the international basketball community.

On the ground things remain the same. For the last three decades people have been constantly harping on about what “potential” we have, how basketball is on “the brink” of blowing up in the UK and how other countries would kill to have our raw talent.

So why is it not getting better, and how is it possible that the world’s greatest sporting event, which made so many promises of legacy (pumping £9million+ into basketball over the past 8 years), has made no difference whatsoever to the state of affairs?

How is this allowed to happen? What happened to the Olympic basketball legacy?

Image Credit: Twitter

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