Nilsen: EuroCup Women Key to GB Prospects -

Nilsen: EuroCup Women Key to GB Prospects

This is another guest post from British basketball journalist Paul Nilsen, who provides media to GB Basketball, FIBA, Women’s British Basketball League, FIBA Europe, British Basketball League and other organisations. He can be followed @basketmedia365.

It was an emotional and memorable night in Manchester as GB bounced back from the brink with a rousing rescue mission against Montenegro in their EuroBasktWomen 2017 qualifier.

The players showed tremendous resilience and belief, with their elation afterwards a gauge of just what it meant. Most of that was then mirrored across social media for all to see.

I measured my own enjoyment of the occasion via my hoarse voice and the bruises and bumps on my elbows. That is because as I tumbled off my chair in joy while punching the air in delight as Ella Clark dropped the clutch triple right in front of me as the shot-clock prepared to expire (amidst me giving one of the loudest ‘shoot it’ cries known to the human race).

The result was of course immeasurably positive for the programme as it keeps the dreams of a fourth consecutive Final Round alive until November at least. There will also be a spring in the step of the U20 women’s team this summer as they also get the chance to play for the supremely positive and engaging Jose Maria Buceta.

Whatever happens in November, the future must be built with the long-term success of the women’s team in mind. Part of that strategy for me includes two key components – the exploration of an all-WBBL team playing in EuroCup Women and a long-term aim to access a choice of naturalised players.

After all, as outstanding and incredible as it is – dedication, commitment, hard work and positivity will only get you so far with a decent talent pool. And we do have a decent talent pool by the way – with plenty of rising stars beginning to emerge. Although unfortunately, many will be lost into the black hole of NCCA non-national team representation and just when we need them most.

Focusing this time on the EuroCup Women element, one of the biggest challenges for the British Basketball Federation is how they can ensure more of our players are regularly exposed to elite level competition. The WBBL is growing with every footstep, but in reality (and as positive as it is) is still a long way from much of the continent.

One emphatic answer would be to work with WBBL clubs to have a WBBL/GB team entering EuroCup Women for six games per season.

The tournament is now regionalised and it can be budgeted on reasonable terms – the payback being a priceless opportunity for British-based players to play in a top notch club competition.

It has been undertaken in the past through the Belgian Federation and Lotto Young Cats. Most recently with the Dutch Federation and the Orange Blizzards.

How would it work? Well there are a few principles for me that would be non-negotiable.

– Jose Maria Buceta would coach the team and his assistants would ideally be linked to U20,U18 or U16.

– There would be no quotas in terms of players from each WBBL club and all WBBL clubs would support.

– Of a 13 player roster (12 +1 standby) there would always be seven British players. The bigger picture needs to be seen and the team needs to have USA and European players where appropriate to make sure the team is competitive and British players get it, only on merit and must work hard to do so.

– Any players outside of WBBL should also be considered where young and talented.

The more optional elements are where the games could take place, although the National Basketball Performance Centre or Leicester Community Sports Arena would be two fabulous options for a start.

What would a roster look like at the minute if this team was entering EuroCup Women tomorrow?

Maybe: Georgia Jones (Riders), Stef Collins (Archers) Amber Stokes (Wildcats – USA), Kyla Nelson (Topcats), Helen Naylor (Hatters), Martina Matejcikova (Mystics –EU), Abigail Asoro (Northumbria – EU), Erin McGarrachan (Riders), Gabby Nikitinaite (Suns), Mollie Campbell (Riders), Savannah Wilkinson (Crusaders), Ashley Harris (Wildcats – USA), Eleanor Jones (Riders).

Other contenders – Georgia Gayle (Hatters), Megan Haines (Topcats), Fiona O’Dwyer and Diana Voynova (Northumbria), Judit Fritz (Archers), Andrea Vackova (Wildcats), Baendu Lowenthal (Hatters), Hannah Peacock (Edinburgh), Abby Lowe (Crusaders), Zoe Willis (Crusaders), Teresa Da Silva (Crusaders).

There will be plenty more. I am just quickly thinking out loud and sincere apologies to those other deserving players who would be in the shake-up. I also note the need to work with BUCS for those clubs affected and of course, the universities.

Implementation of this plan would see these players arrive at future national team camps having been playing in EuroCup Women – the pace, intensity and sheer step up will have been bridged. Not completely, but I can’t think of a better way to develop our national team in the medium to longer term.

It needs costing out in principle without further delay and budget considered when the new BFB board inevitably help to turn the tide around in terms of commercial opportunities and funding.

Having a regular team playing in Europe would also be a huge incentive for aspiring players. I am not sure it would even be enough to deter the NCAA route which is the only real Achilles heel of the EuroBasket Women qualification
windows, but it would help.

Anyway, this project is an absolute no-brainer for me and needs exploring at the very least.

Next time I will turn to the often thorny issue of naturalisation. While if you missed it, I wrote last time about the 3×3 void in the UK.

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