What's the Story?

The State of the Game - John Amaechi, the UK's top basketball player, former Cleveland Cavalier and Panathanaikos star looks homeward at the domestic game and gives Britball his exclusive perspective.

Well, I have sat back and watched yet another season of "British" basketball go by. I've winced as British players - hard working as they mostly are - struggle to even step on a basketball court, and when they do, fail to compete with players with superior skills, experience and preparation. Many people (self-proclaimed, British basketball experts) have offered their own personal opinions on what has happened to the direction of our game. Consequently, I have jumped upon my oh-so-high horse to bring some truth to light in the case of British basketball, coaching, player development, the domestic leagues and the National teams. It is an understatement to say that the British game is in a state of disrepair. The countries top league is unprofitable (for the most part); teams only gesture towards the development of younger players; "good" British players struggle to find time on court; the National teams don't really "get the job done"; etc., etc., etc.. There is a list of problems that would confound even the slickest spin-doctors for any of the major political parties, and yet the game continues to slide, not in small part, because there are no other ideas for the basketball community to vote for.

To clarify, I am NOT running for any official position within the ranks of British hoops. Indeed, I have very little to gain or lose regardless of the state of the game. My return to England to play, is many years away, even with drastic reform. However, England is my home, its where I first got interested in basketball and where the door to a whole world of opportunities creaked open and allowed me to sneak out. The life I lead now, is thanks to a few people in basketball who believed in me, and despite a great many others who said it couldn't be done. Firstly, I do not have all the answers, I'm sure I only get to see part of the problem and not from every perspective, but I have made a study of the game of basketball in all the countries I have played and seen how it develops, is promoted, and sustains itself. I recognise that I'm not the only expert, but Id be selling myself short if I didn't claim to be one of them.

Young children need to love basketball in order for basketball to grow, they need to be able to express that love in the form of places to play (cheaply or for free). If these children develop a desire to play at a higher level, school-boy, cadet , under-19, under-23, and Senior basketball should be (and can be) available. When these youngsters get to these developmental teams, coaches should be available who know their job - to produce high-quality, well educated, British basketball players. When our prize, home-grown, basketball students have been educated to the highest point our well developed system can take them, we should guide them to the next goal they can strive for, should that be a American college or University, we should sagely push them on their way. Realising, that if our children don't come home, then perhaps it is the climate at home, and not the youngsters away, that have the problems. A fantasy? Certainly right now it is. The infrastructure of British hoops starting as low on the ladder as you like, is riddled with dilemmas. Kids receive the initial stimulus, many are exposed to basketball (domestic, European and American) through TV. Many more youngsters have been bitten by the basketball bug than in the past. However the path to take from an initial desire to play, to actually becoming good, is as obstacle ridden as ever. Desire is a very useful emotion if it leads to meaningful action, otherwise it is simply an unfulfilled, empty promise. Something there seems to be increasingly large amounts of in the basketball community. In many cases, it is easy to point to the "bottle-neck" of funding as the culprit, and that certainly appears valid, however the financial position of British basketball is hardly likely to improve if prospective players, fans, officials and investors see a slew of road-blocks besides money!

Our kids must play. It's easy to blame Bosman ruling for this years changes and the loss of some British talent to Europe, but the fact is that Britain doesn't even follow the Bosman ruling. We (or is it they?) are doing it our own way. Five Americans per team??? Two British teams squaring off with no British people on the floor. An all-star game with two or three British players. Two under-23 players at the end (the far end) of every bench - because its mandated (and its cheap). This is the reality of today's situation. On the other side, can you think of five British players that should play on every team? I've not been around to see them - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

Right now I can hear the rumblings of experts in Britain saying that the games are closer and attendance is stable - my answer to this will always be the same. Close games aren't always good games and don't reflect the overall health of the league (every league, in every sport, has its whipping boys). Equally, as fans get more sophisticated, understand the game better and appreciate its finer points (not just dunks), they will start to ask why "our Tommy" sits behind Billy-Joe (who doesn't really care as long as his cheque isn't late). We need to create an environment that produces players - British players - of a calibre that keeps new ones striving to achieve, younger ones working to compete, talented ones having to improve, and the foreigners, be they American or European, actually having to earn and keep their spots, because this is also the environment that keeps the British players at home. Basketball in this country requires a change in philosophy as much as funding, I do understand that just keeping basketball afloat is a major consideration at this time. Nonetheless, if one makes all decisions about basketball with money in mind, then the very most that will change is the money situation, making more holistic changes will, of course, seem more radical, but certainly would stand a better chance of effecting the situation as a whole. I think this is quite enough to chew on for the moment, but I will be commenting further

Thanks for listening,

John.


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