- National Teams
GB have announced that Luke Nelson will be the captain of the under-20s at the European Championships in Italy next month.
Having been the driving force last summer at U20 level and having further enhanced his already lofty reputation, Nelson has been given a glowing endorsement by Head Coach Douglas Leichner.
“Luke Nelson is the epitome of everything wanted in a GB player,” stated the play-caller.
“Luke has represented his country at every age group, displays tremendous leadership qualities, possesses a great work ethic and is a role model for aspiring age group players within the UK.”
He added, “Luke is well respected by both his fellow players and the staff.”
Leichner and his coaching colleagues are currently facing the unenviable task of trimming their 19-man candidate list to 12 ahead of their trip to Italy – one which is preceded by a warm-up tournament in Spain.
It is an assignment they have been preparing for since last year’s best-ever 11th-place finish at the 2014 edition of the competition.
Their young charges are currently being put through their paces ahead of preparation games against Poland, Belgium and Spain.
But those selected to the shortlist will by no means be judged on their training camp performances alone.
“As soon as the previous European championship ended, myself and [assistant coaches] James Vear and Andreas Kapoulas have been constantly evaluating the roster that completed,” revealed Leichner.
“We have been looking at the U18s moving up and throughout the fall, the winter and the spring, we have been watching the leagues [whether the players are playing domestically or overseas] and keeping track.
“We convene weekly to say ‘hey, did you see this player’ or ‘how about this player, I’ve heard he’s had a really good game’.
“There are a number of players that we have been really targeting and focusing on within that core group. Then there is the next tier of players, ‘are they minute players, are they guys who are going to make the roster?’ and we follow them as strongly as the top guys, just to make sure we have a great selection process.
“We have been evaluating for literally a year, so it’s given them all a great opportunity to make the team.”
Leichner and his staff also seek the opinion of the coaches who have overseen developing talents in younger age groups.
However, he feels it important to approach each player from a fresh perspective too.
“A lot of it is looking at the group coming up independently and us making our evaluations, but there is a give and take,” added Leichner.
“We will reach out and get their thoughts on players, just to give us another source. It can be different tastes, just like if you go to a restaurant and somebody orders a steak and somebody orders a pasta. Both may be great dishes, but one coach, or one person, may like a certain style over another.”
Another key ingredient in bringing together the final roster, is the continuity which comes from the inclusion of players, who took part the previous summer – in this case, the likes of Nelson, Kavell Bigby-Williams and Ben Lawson.
“Familiarity and experience will breed success and confidence, so to have those guys returning is important, since they understand the system and what we do,” said Leichner.
“Of course we are going to make adjustments based on personnel, but in terms of the general way, the culture of winning and emphasising the team over individuals – those core values will be carried over.
“It’s a great opportunity to already have your feet on the ground and to get ready to hit it running, as they know what we are looking for.
“A lot of it goes back to the group two years ago with Devon van Oostrum, Rowell Graham, Nick Lewis and Joe Hart, who was our captain.
“This is where I entered into the picture, so I see that group as the one that really spearheaded us into the ‘A’s (Division A), and then last year’s group, clearly identified us as players in the European Championship.
“We didn’t stay there by accident. We fought our way in, we garnered respect from different countries within the tournament, and now this year is where we take that next step.”
But that step forward cannot be taken solely during the summer.
“We want to make sure players feel included for the whole year, not just the summer, and for them to know how much we do appreciate their service and their sacrifice.
“It’s part of building our culture, letting them know what our vision is – our ultimate goal.”
Check out the GB U20 schedule below:
Preparation Tournament (Girona)
26/06 v Poland 17.00
27/06 v Belgium 16.00
28/06 v Spain 11.00
U20 European Championship First Round (Lignano & Sabbiadoro)*
07/07/15 v Turkey 17.45
08/07/15 v Slovenia 15.30
09/07/15 v Germany 13.15
11/07/15 v Lithuania 17.45