The remarkable rise of GB women’s basketball


Great Britain’s women’s basketball team are ‘on the cusp of something special’.

These are the words of Basketball England CEO Stewart Kellett. And he’s not wrong.

In 2017, they failed to reach for the main draw at the Women’s EuroBasket event. In 2018, they were threatened with disbandment after Sport England withdrew emergency funding.

Yet now they find themselves in with a chance of appearing at Tokyo 2020, having finished a historic fourth at this year’s EuroBasket event and securing a place at the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in February.

Furthermore, England’s women also secured a superb silver at last spring’s Commonwealth Games.

This remarkable turnaround has been overseen by the enigmatic head coach Chema Buceta, who was first appointed in 2015.

But for the Spaniard even reaching Tokyo – the first time a British women’s team would have qualified for an Olympics after appearing as hosts in 2012 – would only be half a job done.

He knows his team still have the capability to improve even further.

“When you have a good group of players with a good attitude who believe they can do it and you give them the chance to grow, to take responsibility, to be ambitious about achieving something then anything is possible,” he said.

“What is important is that we are able to compete at a high level and get the results. If we want to continue at this level we have to move forward, keep doing things well and improve the things we have to improve.”

When put into context, what this have achieved over the past two years really is astonishing.

UK Sport cut their elite funding in 2016, while Sport England withdrew a £10m grant two years later despite basketball being the second most participated activity in the UK, with 1.2 million participants.

This left the international teams on the brink of not being able to play until 2020 at the earliest, yet less than two months later they overcame Canada – ranked fifth in the world – on their way to that silver at Gold Coast 2018.

They then gave eventual champions Spain and London 2012 runners-up France serious scares at the recent EuroBasket event, proving they can mix it with the world’s best on their day.

It may be a very British trait to relish in the role of the underdog but for Kellett he believes this has helped bring the best out of the players.

However he also hopes their recent successes can also lead to the authorities boosting their cashflow so the players can fully realise their potential.

“At the EuroBasket tournament everyone underestimated us but we kept winning and each time the team managed to punch above the weight of the money we’ve got,” he reflected.

“The belief in the women’s game has really rocketed. There’s a real pride that has developed around the team and a belief that we’re on the cusp on something special.

“We’ve done so well with so little resource that the feeling is that if we just got a little bit more support, just think what we could do.

“We’ve been the underdog and won. We’ve been the underdog with no money and won. Now we’re in the Olympic qualifier and there’s an expectation that’s rising and we do need to put resource on it to get over the line.”

There can be no doubting that there is some serious talent in this team. Temi Fagbenle – who plays professionally for Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA – averaged a tournament-high 20.9 points per game at this year’s EuroBasket. Johannah Leedham averaged more steals (3.4) than anyone else as well as providing 4.7 assists per game.

The team is also full of experience, with five players – Leedham, Fagbenle, Stef Collins, Rachael Vanderwal and Chantelle Handy – having played at London 2012.

Sacrifice and a desire to play for their country have also been key characteristics behind their remarkable resurgence. However Buceta believes it is another that has played the most crucial role in their rise.

The willingness to change.

“Elite athletes in any sport, if they are successful they don’t like to change,” he explained.

“After one of my first campaigns here – where we didn’t quality for the main EuroBasket event – we had a meeting and said if we do the same the result will be the same. We have to change.

“These women, even those who were 30+, were able to change and this has been very important. It’s not always easy for a 30-year-old to change things they have done for many years.

“But the attitude to change, to take more risks, to do things they haven’t done before, to go out from their comfort zone, that is a great quality of this team.”

Can they qualify for Tokyo 2020? If you combine recent form, the skill and desire of the team and the fact that there are 10 spaces to be filled at the upcoming qualification tournament, they certainly have a strong chance.

Women’s team sport is flourishing in this country right now and this could be the time for basketball to join the party as a major player.

 

We will return with a second basketball piece next week, outlining the brand new All Girls campaign and how Basketball England will be using it to attract even more participants to the sport and use the success of the national teams to inspire the nexts generation. #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired

One Comment on “The remarkable rise of GB women’s basketball

  1. Pingback: Lionesses’ Wembley extravaganza epitomised #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired; now we need all sports to get on board – The 52 Blog

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