Thursday, 29 October 2009

Worthing boss warns against self-destruction

Worthing Thunder boss Dave Titmuss has warned his side that the main threat to them this weekend, is themselves. His side face Cheshire Jets on Saturday evening at Worthing Leisure Centre with the ex-Great Britain Paralympic coach warning his injury-hit side to raise their games or face the consequences.
“If we can cut down on our handling errors, read each other and the opponent a little better on offence, and keep playing with the heart and commitment in the effort areas that we've shown recently, then we can surprise our opponent,” he said.
Titmuss confirmed that Reggie Bratton and Sherrad Prezzie Blue – along with long-term absentee Janis Ivanovskis – will again miss out.
“Janis may not suit-up for us until the Yew Year although he is making good progress,” he added.

Herriman heads to Wales

Delme Herriman, who was released by Everton Tigers in the summer, has returned to basketball after signing for Welsh side Glyndwr Nets, who play in EBL Division Two.

The former international, now 36, was part of the England team that claimed a bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and spent four years of his early career playing for Wright State University in Ohio.

Freeland sparks Euro win for troubled Malaga

Joel Freeland had his first Euroleague double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday as Unicaja Malaga cast aside their disastrous start to the ACB campaign to shock Olympiakos 86-68.

The Great Britain forward, coming off the bench, helped the Spaniards build a ten-point half-time cushion and they never looked back.
However Malaga remain in crisis domestically after a 0-4 start that has led to talk of roster changes. And GB centre Robert Archibald admits the Euro victory has not ended the problems.

"This is not going to change anything in the ACB," the Scot said. "We've arrived at the point where we're going to have two games a week ands we have to play them at a high level."

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Davis raps Rocks

Glasgow Rocks coach Sterling Davis has issued a scathing critique on his team after their disappointing start to the campaign.

The Kelvin Hall outfit lost 78-73 to Cheshire Jets on Sunday to exit the BBL Cup in the first round, mirroring their league struggles.

And the American, who is still looking for at least one new signing, said: “I don’t feel like we’re playing together. I don’t feel like we’re mentally there. I’m not sure the guys know how to win a basketball game. They’re not on the same page at the moment. And we have to wake up, otherwise it’s going to be a long season."

Deng's return invites interest, questions

Luol Deng’s official return to the NBA on Thursday won’t quite be viewed around the league with quite the same anticipation as that of Kevin Garnett on opening night. The Boston Celtics beating the Cleveland Cavaliers? Hype that up as a really early Eastern Finals forecast. The Bulls, Deng included, against San Antonio? Keep us posted.

However for Deng, playing a competitive game for the first time since February 28 means a lot. Months of recovery and rehab. Enduring the criticisms of the doubters who wondered why a stress fracture of the tibia was enough keep him on the sidelines. Plus, inevitably, proving to himself and his employers that he can be an elite player who merits every dollar of his $70 million contract.

No pressure then.

Two years ago, the Londoner played all 82 games, averaging 18.8 points, 7.1 rebounds – both career-highs. He led Britain in the Eurobasket finals. Life couldn’t be better. Then fate took a twist. Deng is having to prove himself all over again in an offense that has evolved during Vinny Del Negro’s second offseason and with the replacement of Ben Gordon with John Salmons in the Chicago line-up.

So what can Lu do? “I really have to use my versatility, focus on defence and rebounding," he said. "It's not going to be one of those things where I have to get 20 or 30 points every night. We have different options. The most important is going out there, chipping in and doing all parts of the game."

If he doesn’t, the criticism, the doubts and the analysis will continue. But that comes with being paid the big bucks. Lest we forget, it’s only a year since no-one questioned Deng’s primetime value. His best, quite probably, is still to come.

"I can't tell you how confident and excited I am for the season to start," he declared. 
A long time coming, the return starts here.

Season predictions
Eastern Conference champions: Boston Celtics
Western Conference champions: LA Lakers
NBA Finals winners: LA Lakers
Regular season MVP: LeBron James
Rookie of the Year: James Harden
Coach Of The Year: Flip Saunders

Rocks starlet set for States

One of Glasgow Rocks newly-formed women’s team has landed a move to the United States after being scouted by a top university. Erin McGarrachan, who captains Scotland’s junior national team, will join the University of Texas-El Paso next year after landing a four-year scholarship to study and play basketball.
The 5’11” teenager from Cumbernauld, who is already on the radar of the Great Britain Under-20 team, was approached by several colleges throughout the USA but opted for UTEP after being impressed by their facilities and coaches.
“Erin has genuine GB aspirations and is a very smart girl, so am sure she will enjoy and contribute to UTEP's on court success over the next four years,” said Scotland junior coach Donna Finnie, who facilitated the switch.
“She is on her own in her school and club in terms of vision and commitment, and as a 17 year-old girl that is tough when friends are out partying. She has stuck with her workout programme of club training, strength and conditioning and individual workouts because she wants to be the best she can be every time she steps on court. She is a dream to coach because she soaks up information, but more importantly, is the most consistent player I have worked with.”

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Pops ready to fizz for Rockets

Great Britain forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu will step into the biggest shoes in basketball when the new campaign begins in the NBA tonight but the Londoner has insisted he is capable of making himself a permanent fixture in the world’s toughest league.
Mensah-Bonsu will make his official debut for the Houston Rockets in their opening game against the Portland Trailblazers after successfully battling to win a roster spot during the team’s month-long training camp. Mission one, accomplished, acknowledged the 6’9” swingman, who split time last season between the Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs and Spanish club Badalona. However, with the daunting prospect of trying to replace injured Chinese superstar Yao Ming, he concedes there is pressure to deliver from Rockets coach Rick Adelman.
“I’m excited about the challenge,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “I’ve been working all summer for this opportunity and hopefully, I’ll get the chance to play a lot and showcase what I can do. I’d like to stay in the NBA for good. Coach Adelman has told me I have a chance to play and when I get that, I have to do the best I can with it and solidify my position.”

Friday, 23 October 2009

Sky deal in the works for BBL?

The BBL is in talks with Sky Sports over a deal that could see domestic basketball return to television screens later this season.
League officials have met with the satellite broadcaster and are understood to be at an advanced stage in agreeing a move that would end the BBL’s black-out after a 18 month hiatus.
“We have been in conversations with Sky for a while and I think we are close to getting a deal done before too long,” BBL chairman Paul Blake told Journal Live.
“I don’t want to make too many promises and there is some work to do but there is a good chance we could have some sort of deal in place in time for the second half of this season.”

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Pops on brink of Rockets deal

Great Britain forward Pops Mensah Bonsu survived the Houston Rockets first tranche of cuts on Wednesday, lowering the odds that the Londoner will be on the team’s roster at the start of the NBA season.

Mensah-Bonsu, who agreed a non-guaranteed contract with the Rockets last month, had his hopes of surviving raised on Monday when he played in his team’s win over Oklahoma, a game in which coach Rick Adelman hinted would feature his intended rotation.

And he contributed 13 points in 17 minutes to advance his cause.

“He's done what we hoped he will do,” Adelman said of the GB star. “He's strong around the basket. He's been aggressive. He's got to be consistent in the way he plays.

“His strengths are around the basket, so in our stuff, he has to roll hard, he has to establish himself inside, he has to use his quickness and his athleticism to get shots.

“And he's got to run the floor. That's one thing he can do, run the floor and get easy opportunities on the run.”

Garbo bids to plug Everton leaks

Everton head coach Tony Garbelotto has ordered his side to toughen up after back-to-back losses to Cheshire and Newcastle compounded the Tigers disappointing start.

The Merseyside outfit, who return to Greenbank Sports Academy to host Worcester on Friday, are counting on American point guard Steve Rush to finally receive his work permit and make his often-delayed debut.

However Garbelotto, who has criticised the BBL’s referees for corralling his players, insists an improved defensive showing is the top priority against the struggling Wolves.

“For me, these next two games are must-wins,” he said. “We cannot afford to drop any more games if we want to be considered a top team. We can score 90 points on almost any game. Our challenge is simple, to stop other teams from scoring.

“After a really solid week of preparation where we will really start getting into our defensive stuff I feel we will be ready. We are like a sieve at the moment - just leaking baskets.”

Friday sees the return of former Tiger Chuck Evans to Greenbank, in his new role in charge at Worcester.

“They are pretty deep in the back court and have a few guys that can really shoot the ball, so it will be important for us to play with intensity right from the start,” Garbelotto added.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Worthing set to sign Schmidt

Worthing Thunder have lined up a move for American point guard Jon Schmidt amid an injury crisis that threatens to derail their promising start.

With regular starter Sherrad Prezzie-Blue sidelined for a month with a broken bone in his wrist – and impressive swingman Reggie Branton likely out two weeks with a foot injury - head coach Dave Titmuss is looking to sign Schmidt on a short-term basis.

Schmidt, who has an Irish passport, played last year for Long Island University.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Yanders glad of home comforts

Glasgow Rocks captain Rob Yanders has admitted he’s glad the club’s nightmare run of away games has come to an end following Friday’s 85-75 loss to Sheffield.
The Kelvin Hall outfit have not played at home since the opening weekend of the BBL season after being turfed out to accommodate a snooker tournament.
However the Rocks, who have won just two of their opening five fixtures, will be back at their base for next weekend’s crucial Cup clash against Cheshire and the Milwaukee-born guard wants it to spark a move up the standings.
“Not being at home is something you get used to but it’s been different for the rookies,” said Yanders. “You get used to one place and it helps settle you into a routine. But now we’ve split our spell on the road. It’s up to us to take advantage when we have a bunch of games at the Kelvin Hall and make them count.”

Friday, 16 October 2009

Stronach seeking bench press

Plymouth Raiders coach Gary Stronach has admitted he needs reinforcements to produce a play-off push this term.

The Pavilions outfit will be without injured James Noel for Saturday’s Cup clash with London – a tie considered a must-win to break the Raiders disastrous start.

Stronach has ruled out a move to bring released Worcester guard Anthony Martin back on a temporary basis but he concedes he has to get more help from his bench in the Raiders’ first home tie of the campaign.

"There's a lot of weight on the shoulders of the five starters,” he told the Plymouth Herald. "If they don't bring their A-game, it's difficult to get the bench involved.

"We need five solid performances from the starters. That then takes the pressure off the bench players."

Martin, who turned down a one-year extension in the summer, was part of the side who were thrashed by Everton in last year’s Cup final.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Interview: Retirement on hold for Eagles vet Stewart

Sometimes, even in the darkness, a chink of light is to be found. A ray of hope amid the despair. Lynard Stewart had known the ebbs and flows that come with being a professional basketballer but as he sat, last spring, pondering what might be – and what might not – he wondered if his entire playing career was on the brink of fading to black.

The Newcastle Eagles forward had undergone surgery to repair a torn meniscus, suffered just before last Christmas but barely detectable. “My leg locked up but came back in,” he recalls. “I didn’t know it was a tear in there but I played for another month.”

Eventually, when the reigning BBL Most Valuable Player went under the knife on Valentine’s Day, the wounds cut deeper than the surgeon intended. Self-doubt, anxiety and a sudden fallibility were added to the list.

“My rehab went well and I came back,” he reflects. “But then I caught an elbow, it knocked me out and I fell again. So we all sat down and talked. The team was winning. And Fab (Flournoy) said to me ‘why do you want to push yourself and risk things?’ So I relaxed, did my rehab, and all summer long worked on my leg.”

It says much for Newcastle that they declined to push the veteran forward back into service with the title still on the line. Yet, confined to frustrated spectator, the Philadelphia native found a new means to contribute. Given leeway by Eagles player-coach Flournoy to mentor his younger team-mates, Stewart caught a glimpse into a future that he had already begun to envisage.

“When I finish, my career I want to be a coach anyway,” he revealed. “So it’s helped me out for the future, being asked to talk to the guys and helping them through problems, and the good times and bad times.”

With two elder brothers who are assistant coaches in college basketball, the career path when the American decided to hang up his boots was an obvious one. “I know a lot of coaches at home,” he added. “Or I might do high school first. I’ve already had a lot of calls, asking me to do things when I’m home.”

It was a thrilling Plan B. Not just yet, however. Cajoled by friends, and inspired by his three-year-old daughter Leila, Stewart decided that his bionic knee was not yet prepared to give up the ghost, signing on for another year in Britain.

“When I was forced to think about retirement, I was coming up with plans about life after basketball,” Stewart recalled. “And that’s hard because this is one of the best jobs in the world to have. There aren’t many people who have jobs they love to do. A lot of guys go to work and hate it. I love this.

“I was like ‘this season, I have to come out and establish that I still got it’. It really hurt me sitting there because I never was hurt before. So for me to come back this year and play is all about trying to get back in the groove.”

So far, Stewart has slotted back in where he left. Newcastle is off to an unbeaten start. The former MVP looks like a potential MVP. It is business as usual. Almost.

“The only thing that still preys on my mind during games is when the injury did occur. I can’t forget that part, how it happened. It still scares me. But I think it will all come back quickly. The more we play and practice will help.”

Lest we forget, the Eagles won the league last term without their most potent and consistent performer. Despite losing Tafari Toney and Trey Moore, the Tyneside outfit look set to play out their final campaign at the Metro Arena as unquestionable favourites for every available piece of silverware before moving into a new 3,000 capacity home at the University of Northumbria.

“That’s the way it has to be,” Stewart grins. “Until somebody knocks us off that perch, that’s where we are. Even having that kind of attitude sometimes pushes you forward in games. But I haven’t seen everybody play. There are other teams who are supposed to be good. But they might not gel. Other teams will surprise you. Once we’ve played everybody once, then I’ll have a better idea.

“But that has been the main focus, to establish ourselves early. Joe Jackson’s the only new player. We want to get him acclimated quickly to the BBL. And if we get wins early in the BBL, that’s going to make things stronger for us later on. We talked a lot about not losing games early and it’s gone to plan so far.”

Evans claims Wolves improving

Worcester Wolves coach Chuck Evans has insisted he still has faith in his side – despite their horrific start to the campaign.
Evans’ rock-bottom men visit Essex in the BBL Cup on Saturday, still looking to replace the axed Anthony Martin.
With summer signing Randy George yet to reach full fitness, it all points to a mini-crisis in Worcester but the Wolves rookie boss is refusing to write off their chances.
“My team are vastly improving from week to week,” he claimed. “The players are working hard to get better, even though we have not won a game yet. I believe we are heading in the right direction and we are getting Randy George back to 100%, which is vital to the system we have in place.”

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

EJ provides Lions Cup boost

Milton Keynes Lions coach Vince Macaulay insists the arrival of point guard EJ Harrison can transform his side into BBL Cup contenders when the competition gets under way on Friday at Bletchey.
The American point guard, who landed late in the UK due to visa issues, had an immediate impact in last weekend’s win over Worthing. However Macaulay believes Harrison will be more effective against old side Guildford after a week of practice with his new team-mates.
“I was really just pleased to have our full team on the floor for the first time this season last weekend,” he said. “Playing without a point guard is not what you want to be doing in the BBL as it is so competitive. EJ slotted in well and I see us able to make improvements game on game now.”

Sub-strength Everton worry Garbo

Everton Tigers head coach Tony Garbelotto admits his side will have to improve in order to kick start their BBL campaign ahead of a double header of games this weekend.
On Saturday local bragging rights are on offer as they lock horns with an improving Cheshire Jets side but the following day they face a sterner test of their early title credentials with a trip to presumed challengers Newcastle.
The Tigers have so far endured a mixed start to the new season with opening day defeat at the hands of Leicester.  They bounced back last weekend with a dramatic late win against the Guildford Heat at the Echo Arena.
But Garbelotto, who is still awaiting the arrival of point guard Steven Rush,  said: “I did not feel we played well. Guildford played really hard, defended the post really well and to be honest could easily have won the game.
“Our only bright spots were the play of James Jones and the inside play of Flo Larkai. For sure, if we play like we did at the Arena, we will not win many games.”
Saturday sees the Tigers make the short journey to Chester’s Northgate Arena where they will take on a side that they are yet to lose against.
The Jets will be without long term injury absentee and ex-Tiger Calvin Davis but Garbelotto knows that given the opportunity they possess enough quality to hurt his team from anywhere on the court:
“They have been a bit of a surprise package so far this season and have had some decent results. We know we’ve got a decent record against them but they will be trying even harder to put that right so we know we’ll have to ready for them from the tip-off.”
Less than 24 hours later the Tigers are on the road again to Tyneside to face Garbelotto’s former club – a game which the Everton coach believes will be a stern examination.
“It is too early to tell how we will shape up this year. We are hoping to get our full team out on the floor this weekend and then we will be able to start to see exactly where we are
“This game has come a little too early for us, but that said, we have to know where we are against the best teams and there is no doubt that Newcastle are the best.
“Their whole roster can be game winners and they have the most settled and balanced team in the league.”

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Spice content with GB progression

The Performance Director of British Basketball, Chris Spice, is pleased with the direction the Great Britain men are taking following their annual debrief last week.

Spice was joined by performance staff - including GB coach Chris Finch - as they reflected on the last 12 months of the men's campaign, which included a British debut at the European Championships.

While various facets were covered off in the debrief a significant amount of time was spent focusing on a performance plan for each player; relating to their current playing environment and where British Basketball expects them to be by the time they meet again in the next international window.

"The men's team debrief has proved again to be a valuable part of our programme," Spice said. "The time spent going through in detail each and every part of our preparation programme from scheduling, coaching, scouting, team administration, sport science and medicine and most importantly, performance at the EuroBasket tournament.

"We have key areas where we need to improve and a performance plan has already been agreed with Chris Finch and myself for the coming off-season.

"The competitive element of that plan will no doubt be impacted on by the tournaments we are scheduled to play next season.

"A wild card into the FIBA World Championships would be of great benefit to the team's Olympic 2012 preparation. If we are unsuccessful then the EuroBasket Qualifiers will be the important focus for 2010.

Monday, 12 October 2009

GB retirees are 'copy'cats

News reaches Britball HQ about the whereabouts of recently-retired Great Britain internationals Chris Sanders and Richard Midgley who have become rivals off the court since returning to their bases in California.

The duo, who called it quits in the summer after playing their final seasons with Sheffield and Everton respectively, are both now working as sales reps for competing copier companies. 

"It's pretty funny," said Sanders. "I definately miss basketball, but I retired because I had to put my family first. I was never going to make enough money to retire and do nothing for the rest of my life. So I felt it was time to move on and work on my new career."

Lakers London-bound?

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers will form part of next year's NBA Europe Live tour with London and Barcelona the planned destinations for the reigning champions.

It has long been expected that Hollywood's favourites would make the trip to the UK, given the shared ownership of the Staples Center and the 02 Arena by US facilities group AEG.

The Lakers last played in Europe in 1991 when a Magic Johnson-led squad travelled to Paris.

Russell praise from Rocks boss

Glasgow Rocks coach Sterling Davis has promised to give Scotland international Scott Russell a bigger role after the reserve point guard shone in Saturday’s 93-87 win over Worcester Wolves.
Russell was summoned to replace injured captain Rob Yanders in a tight fourth quarter and steadied the ship as the Kelvin Hall outfit recorded their second victory of the BBL campaign.
Davis said: “Scott did really well. I’ve been trying to find ways to put him in the game more. I know he is able to help us and he showed that. It’s all about him giving me confidence and showing composure out there. And when Rob went over on his ankle, we really needed him to step up at both ends of the court and he did.”
The Rocks, who were tied 40-40 at half-time, almost threw away an 11-point cushion for the second game in a row as winless Worcester stormed back to level midway through the fourth quarter. However Jessie Sapp, who hit a game-high 28 points, converted seven free throws while Gareth Murray hit a three-pointer which proved decisive.
“It was one of those games where we had to dig deep to get a win,” Davis admitted. “I wasn’t happy that we let our lead slip but we managed to control the tempo and come away on top.”

Friday, 9 October 2009

Lewis, Jennings take U20 roles

British Basketball have appointed Tim Lewis and Damian Jennings as the head coaches of the U20 men and women respectively.

Lewis led the men's U20 programme this summer and was also one of Chris Finch's assistant coaches with the senior men's team. Meanwhile Jennings - who replaces Sergio Lara-Bercial - has been heavily involved with the senior women's programme as an assistant coach and this summer formed one quarter of the coaching team for the FIBA Europe Champion U18 All Star game in Poland. He is also the head coach of UWIC Archers and UWIC BUCS.

Head of Basketball Operations Ron Wuotila said: "We are excited about Damian's appointment. He has excelled in the FIBA Europe Coaching Certificate programme and has put up some good results at UWIC. His work with the senior women's programme provides him with an intimate understanding of what is required at the Division A level - we are thrilled that he is up for the challenge of leading our U20 programme.

"Tim will return to his post as the U20 head coach. This past summer there were some considerable advances in the technical performance of the U20 men's team and Tim deserves full marks for this shift and the expectation will be that the technical progress continues in 2010. Tim's passion and commitment are to be commended.

"For both of these coaches and all of the eligible players, the work starts now. We will be distributing player development plans to each returning player in the coming weeks. The potential is high for both programmes with many key players returning and some very talented players moving up from the U18 level."

The U20 men finished 13th at the European Championships B Division in Macedonia this year and Lewis is hoping to improve upon that disappointing showing at next year's tournament.

Lewis said: "I would like to think that we can stake a claim year in year out within the top four teams. Ultimately qualifying for the A division as the men have done.

"I look forward to working with British Basketball in developing a core of British based athletes that can be monitored, supervised and worked with throughout the year, whether they play at home or abroad.

"We have a core of the players that will rejoin the squad from last year's programme which will hopefully give us that edge that we are looking for. Some of those returning players were major contributors to the U20's last summer and we will ultimately look to them for leadership and continuity."

For Jennings his new role presents the opportunity to link up the U20s with the senior programme, as Lewis and Finch have worked towards, due to time already spent with the new women's head coach Tom Maher, both at the training camp this summer and the World University Games.

Jennings said: "I am really looking forward to linking my work with the senior programme with that of the U20's. Having worked so closely with Tom Maher during the 2009 training camp, and particularly the World University Games I saw first-hand the imprint needed at the U20's level to prepare them for life in senior GB basketball. For those in the U20's that work hard enough to take that opportunity my aspiration is to ensure they are as ready as possible once called upon.

"My role therefore is one of creating readiness for senior basketball; creating clarity to junior GB players regarding the physical, mental, motor and emotional skills required to compete and produce at the highest international stage.

"For those of this age group the aspiration of representing their country at U20 competition should not be enough - their commitment is a 365 day journey to goals that should be set on senior basketball and becoming the best, most rounded basketball player possible."

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Utah cruise by Real Madrid

What did the Utah Jazz and Dulux have in common on Thursday night? Answer: They both controlled the paint.
Facing Real Madrid in the second of their two stops on their pre-season tour of Europe, Utah domineered the 30-time ACB champions and cruised to a simple 109-87 victory at the Palacio de Deportes.
Unlike in London, 48 hours earlier, against the Chicago Bulls, there was never going to be last-season dramatics here. Not after a 23-7 second quarter burst that ended any pretence these two teams were on the same planet. 
There was a sniff of an upset when Louis Bullock closed the gap to 33-30. But Real Madrid looked like a team still trying to get to grips with Ettore Messina’s defensive schemes. Short of bigs due to injury, the Spaniards struggled inside, hogging the perimeter for dear life, as Paul Millsap - who hit 18 of his game-high 20 points in the first half - pulverised and bullied under the basket.
"He's played extremely well. He's in great shape. He looks more relaxed than any time I've seen him since he's been with our team," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, "and I think he's been able to take advantage with not only the fact he scored points but his ability to do the little things that help you win."
You live by the J and die by the J. Some of Madrid’s excursions proved fatal, despite the injection of money and ambition from their paymasters at the Bernabeu this summer that will demand a genuine challenge for ACB supremacy.
Yet as Utah surged clear as half-time approached, the possibility that the hosts could repeat their defeat of the Toronto Raptors of two years ago was ruthlessly extinguished.
Even with Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer chilling on the bench, the Jazz tuned in and coasted 56-37 in front at the interval.
At least, for the Madrilenos, the Chinese plate-juggling act that earned the second-biggest cheer of the night at London’s 02 Arena two nights earlier raised a cheer.
That wave of enthusiasm was swiftly squashed with a strong Utah start to the third and a 7-0 burst only accelerated Real’s embarrassment. Messina, sat on his bench, must have been pondering if leaving CSKA Moscow was such a good move as the turnovers mounted up and the gap closed on 30.
Down 89-63 heading into the fourth, all the ACB hopefuls could do was save face and learn the lessons.
The Jazz – shooting better and defending with more poise than on their visit to the UK – could let thoughts turn to the long flight home as the clock ran down and the benches came out to play.
Sloan will still see improvements to make. Messina’s overhaul is very much a work in progress.

BBL snippets

EJ Harrison to debut for Milton Keynes v Worthing this weekend after visa comes through.

Cheshire centre Calvin Davis has had ankle surgery today. Out until the New Year.

Worcester Wolves release Anthony Martin after 0-3 start.

Glasgow Rocks end pursuit of Australian centre Neil Mottram.

Utah expecting Real tough test

Madrid tonight will host no ordinary pre-season game. Exhibition? I think not. When Real Madrid welcome the Utah Jazz (ESPN, 7.30), putting on a show will hardly be top most in their minds. Remember Varese, Badalona and Barcelona? Some of the best games in the long tradition of NBA tours of duty on the Old Continent have come when a European club set out to humble a North American counterpart. The odds remain lengthy, sure. But the Spaniards will want their scalp.

"They’re going to play hard," admits Utah forward Carlos Boozer. "They’re getting ready for their championships. We’re getting ready for our season. They’re going to go hard. And we will too. It will be a completely different style of basketball. It’s all so fun for us because we get to face different challenges."

The hosts' preparations have been overshadowed, however, by a rash of injuries, the latest being Spain international Felipe Reyes, who was hurt on Tuesday and will miss four weeks of action - joining centres Darijus Lavrinovic and Tomas Van den Spiegel on the sidelines.

The Madrid Sports Palace, which was also the scene of the 2007 Euroleague Final Four, has also been host to a number of previous meetings between European and NBA teams. The first of those was the 1988 McDonald's Open, when the legendary Boston Celtics outlasted Real Madrid 111-96 in one game. 

Almost 20 years later, in 2007, a rare double-header finished NBA Europe Live with Real Madrid beating the Toronto Raptors 104-103 as Sergio Llull starred down the stretch and Louis Bullock poured in 27 points.

"The last time it was me who lost with the Raptors against Madrid, so now it's my turn to win," new Madrid forward Jorge Garbajosa said on Wednesday. "Being Spanish and from Madrid, I had to put up with a few jokes."

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Bulls- Jazz a success. What now?

“You have to sell tickets and sell sponsorships and have a good product on the court both as a game and for entertainment purposes. So that when people come they want to come back.” – The Gospel, according to David Stern.

Credit where credit is due. The NBA’s people – both in the UK and in New York - ensured that Tuesday night’s exhibition game at London’s 02 Arena was an 18,000+ sell-out. I saw the league’s front office-personnel run themselves ragged before, during and after the contest to ensure it ran as smoothly as possible and that those with influence: corporate partners, media, VIPs and other glitterati, had the best experience possible.

If there’s one thing the Association knows how to do better even than basketball, it’s to put on a show. As I said, jokingly, to one senior NBA figure afterwards: “I always said you guys knew how to rig a game.” In truth, there could have been no better outcome to what – and let’s be honest here – was a meaningless pre-season outing, than a last-second score by James Johnston to separate Chicago and Utah. Other than perhaps if Luol Deng has been the one pulling the trigger in front of his hometown fans.

The evening, and the three days of intense promotional activity that preceded it, will have done much to push the NBA forward. More jersey sales, better ratings on ESPN this season, more moneymen eager to associate themselves with Stern’s enterprise.

“We find ourselves with a brand and we are managing it,” the Commissioner conceded beforehand.  “It is sort of self-effectuating.  Kids around the world are watching our games, and yesterday’s kids are today’s Tony Parker or Michael Pietrus, or Dirk Nowitzki, or Yao Ming.  They watched the great players and they say I want to be like them and they take up the game. 

“And as they take up the game, they want to buy our merchandise, watch our games on television, go online to find out what’s going on, and it turns out now that in many months we get more business to from outside the United States than from within. 

“And, that leads us to attempt to monetise what is here. And from playing games, from sponsorships, from merchandise, from television and from online activities and other events and all of a sudden we couldn’t spell global brand but now we are one.  And, that’s pretty good and we’re enjoying it.”

The NBA is about basketball, Stern declared. Above all, lest the hyperbole should suggest otherwise, it is a business.

What, however, does this entire endeavour mean for the sport in the UK as a whole? The buzzwords from the NBA regarding its relationship with the rest of British basketball’s myriad entities are co-operation and grassroots. As Stern told me, “historically, we have worked very carefully with the federations and the leagues, the ACB, the Bundesliga, and the BBL. We have been in consultations with them for probably 15 years.”

However, leaving The 02 late on Tuesday night after the arena had long since emptied, it wasn’t hard to name, and count, the opportunities squandered to maximise the benefits to the domestic game.
Passing by the NBA’s Jam Van beforehand, there were enthusiastic kids lining up to get a shot at the outdoor hoops. But what if they want another crack in three days time? Where were the details of numbers to call, or websites to access, to find out where their local team is located?

And what if, perish the thought, they wanted to drag their parents along to see another game this Saturday evening? No adverts, no flyers, for the BBL. How difficult would it have been to parade a single player from each team, in uniform, at half-time with the league’s website (or the present excuse for one), emblazoned on the electronic scoreboards? As one BBL General Manager, who attended the game, told me: ”we were only invited through sponsors.” Partnership, it seems, remains a work in progress.

Yet is the NBA culpable here? Yes, and no. “We hear a lot about what they might offer but beyond providing goody bags, there’s not much evidence,” the same GM said. Words have to be backed up with deeds, sure. But Stern is not running a charity.

How pro-active has the BBL been to take advantage of opportunities to help themselves? I questioned one other senior figure in the domestic league why, at Great Britain’s Game On tournament last month, there was no effort made to persuade those locals in attendance to sample the dubious joys of a London Capital game. The answer? ‘No time to organise it.’  If not then, or on Tuesday night, then when?

Stern’s advice is simple but sound. Everyone associated with our homegrown league should write down his mantra, pin it up in their offices, and repeat ad nauseum. The unbridled world-wide success of the NBA is testament to The Commissioner’s canniness.

Yet the UK has not yet been wholly conquered. One sell-out does not a conversion make. More people playing, more attending BBL games, more Bulls or Jazz vests sold. There is an inextricable link, as Stern underlined.

So, by the time the NBA circus rolls into town again next October, let us hope a means can be found to squeeze every potential benefit for all those with a stake. Otherwise, opportunities will again be lost for basketball, in the eyes of the uninitiated British public, to be more than just a glorious one-night wonder.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Stern reveals BBA approach

NBA Commissioner David Stern is in attendance at the Bulls-Jazz game and revealed that the league, as well as holding talks with Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, had also recently met with representatives from the British Basketball Association, an American-backed group of investors who have pledged to raised the funds to set up a new league in the UK in direct opposition to the incumbent BBL.

According to reports, the BBA is targetting football club owners to back the venture - and has appointed a well-known broker, Keith Harris of investment house Seymour Harris, to approach investors with a view to establishing eight franchises from 2010.

"We meet with anybody who would like to meet with us," Stern revealed. "Most recently something called the BBA said they’d like to come in and give us a report and we said come on in and tell us what you’re doing. 

"We meet regularly with the BBL and the BBP – I’ve got my acronyms just perfectly aligned, and I know I’m supposed to call it Team GB and not Team UK and I do that now too.  And, it's the same thing that goes on when we talk about the Premiership.  

"You have to sell tickets and sell sponsorships and have a good product on the court both as a game and for entertainment purposes; so that when people come they want to come back.  The sponsorship is important not just because it puts money in your pocket but because you get other companies bigger than you to spend money promoting their brand and yours."  

Stern also admitted there is likely to be a regular season game in London ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

"We hope to do it and we still hope to do it and we are running out of runway, but we will likely do it.  You know, the friendlies have been very effective for us, sold out games – you could look at see the Chicago Bulls uniforms that are dotting the concourse.  I went expecting to hear some Americanisation, but I didn’t – I heard only, you know, GB – Team GB was well represented among the Chicago Bulls faithful.  

"But there seems to be some notionality that a regular season game would add in some way to the commitment that we have.  It won’t – but we’re going to do it anyway.  The commitment that we have is from the 30-plus people that come into the office, arrange for the grass-roots events, arrange for the interviews with the media, arrange for the player visits and do all of the things that help connect us to this community."

Among the celebrities in the courtside seats at The 02 were several soccer stars, including Tottenham Hotspur’s Jermaine Defoe and Chelsea’s Joe Cole, former WBC cruiserweight champion David Hay, and music group JLS.

Boozer backs European expansion

Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer is getting a taste of what life might be like if the long-standing vision of creating a European division to the NBA ever comes to pass.

Long-haul travel. Jet-lag (despite the team buying up an entire trans-Atlantic flight). Practice at weird hours. Different food. And, even in the UK, that old-fashioned language barrier.

But none of those disincentives is enough to put off the All-Star from backing the idea.

“I would be excited about it, having the chance to travel a little bit more,” Boozer declared ahead of his team’s meeting with Chicago in London.

“For the NBA, there couldn’t be just one franchise. There would need to be four or five so that when you come over to Europe, you’re not just coming all the way to play in London then flying all the way back to the west coast.

“Hopefully if they do open up franchises, there would be five or six of them so we could spend some time and get to know the cities.”

For the Jazz, this excursion takes in two stops with Thursday’s visit to Madrid to take on Real. And for a team whose playoff hopes were derailed last season by injury, there is little holding back despite the ‘exhibition’ status of the games.

“For us, as a team we want to continue to get better with every game we play because the regular season is just two and a half weeks away,” Boozer added. “We want to get as ready as possible. We have a tough schedule.

“I’m sure coach will be putting in a lot of stuff because it is London. But as long as get better as a group of guys, that’s what we’re looking forward to doing.” 

BB: no major changes

No official comment is being made on the outcome of British Basketball's Eurobasket review, which was held on Monday in London. However the word is that there will be no immediate major changes. 

British Basketball officials are meeting the British Olympic Association today. May be more news tomorrow.

Stern: European teams a decade away

NBA Commissioner David Stern, speaking in London ahead of the Bulls-Jazz exhibition, has re-emphasised his desire to have a regular season game in the UK ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games.

With the first of two NBA Europe Live turns this week scheduled to sell-out, Stern admits he is keen to build on the popularity of the now annual fixture, if logistics can be worked out.

However, he has played down any suggestion that a European division of the league is any way imminent, suggesting it will be an issue for his successor to consider.

"I estimate it would take the better part of a decade before that could happen," Stern told the BBC.

"It requires so many things - we think positively, but we have to be realistic," he says, but discounts travelling distances as a potential problem.

"Broadcasters, owners, pricing models, fan affinity - these would all have to be considered. It is a tremendous undertaking."

The idea of more trans-Atlantic road trips received a mixed reaction from Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, one of several players hit by jet-lag on the way over to the UK.

“I wouldn’t put it past the NBA to do that but it would be tough travel-wise," he said. "I don’t know how they’d work the season.

"I don’t know how it would work because the teams would be hurting pretty bad, particularly when we have a lot of stretches of four or five games on the road.”

Q&A Sophie Goldschmidt


Sophie Goldschmidt is the NBA’s vice-president for Europe, Middle East and Africa. You can read more on this in Tuesday’s Herald and Chicago Sun-Times but here’s a transcript of my interview with her in full.

- What return does NBA Europe Live, and other overseas activities, bring on investment for the league’s owners in the UK and Europe?

From an overall NBA perspective, the internationalisation of the brand and basketball has been a huge positive from an exposure standpoint and a revenue perspective, which is something all the teams and the owners benefit from.

- Is it profitable yet?

What we do internationally does generate revenue for the NBA and the amount of revenue is increasing year on year.

- How much of this is driven by the fact that US market is largely saturated?

We continue to grow in the US but we are more mature there. We’re just coming one off our most successful seasons so I think we still see the opportunity to grow. But international is where most growth is expected. It varies market by market. There are some markets where the NBA and basketball is very mature and some where the NBA is in the development phase. We very much take a market-by-market approach. It’s not one size fits all. Fortunately we have so many different events ands marketing platforms that we can take internationally and we can utilise our players and teams in those.

- What is NBA Europe Live’s role?

“It’s very important for us to grow the game at the grassroots level. So we do numerous activities around the world to really engage young kids and fans. Whether it’s Events we’ve done in Europe this year such as Adidas 5United or the NBA Jam Van. And we’ve also fortunate to bring over the true NBA experience with these pre-season games that allows fans to see the best of the best, up close and personal. With the 02 Arena here in London, which is a NBA-style arena, you could be in the States watching a game. It’s very authentic. That’s an important part of the strategy.

- You don’t like to compare the NBA with the NFL but their London games are a way of testing the market for the idea of overseas franchises. Does the NBA see that one coming up on the horizon?

We do see the potential opportunity to have regular season (games) again because we have had them in the past. We did that for the first time in 1991 in Tokyo. So we’ve done that before and I’m sure at some point in the future it will happen again. But for us, at the moment, the pre-season model works very well. It enables us to take multiple teams to multiple markets. The economics and operational issues are slightly different. For us, it’s about going to as many strategic places as we can. So this year we’re playing in London and Madrid, as well as Beijing, Taipei and Mexico City.

- Is the UK all about capitalising on the 2012 Olympics?

We think the Olympics does give us a unique opportunity to take the sport to the next level. But even without that, we do believe the level has improved over the last few years. The level of play as improved. For the first time, GB was in the European Championships. But the Olympics will have the focus of the world on London and basketball will be one of the main events during the Games. So we definitely think it is a unique opportunity to further what we’ve been doing here.

- Is there now greater co-operation between the NBA and the indigenous powers within basketball in the UK?

We have very good relationships with the BBL, Team GB as well as Basketball Scotland, England and Wales. From our perspective, we’d like to help each other. We have common goals if the sport is growing.  It has mutual benefits. We’ve been very pleased with the reception we’ve had here since we set up the (UK) office.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Kirilenko jazzed up on latest London trip

The last time Andrei Kirilenko played in the UK, the NBA was still just a dream. Appearing for CSKA Moscow against the London Towers (remember them?), he was a young man with a bright future still ahead.

“It was a long time ago, 12 years ago,” he acknowledged. “I’ve been back to London almost every year since. I love the restaurants, the shopping, the tourist stuff.”

Hence he is more familiar than more with the local landscape ahead of Tuesday’s exhibition against the Chicago Bulls. And he could be back again at The 02, of course, in three years time if Russia succeeds in qualifying for the Olympics. Regardless of whether the 2007 European champions get a wild card for next year’s world championships, the All Star intends to be on board yet again on national duty.

It has always been one of basketball’s great enigmas: why AK47 is so unstoppable for his country but yet so hamstrung within Jerry Sloan’s system in Utah. Having played in Salt Lake City his entire NBA career, there must be a better home for his talents. Or so you’d think.

“It’s not frustrating,” said Kirilenko. “It doesn’t matter who we get, that’s just who we got. You have to play with everybody. We have a great example. Russia doesn’t have anyone from the NBA except me but we won the European Championship. It was tough. It’s not like the Spanish team with five NBA guys or the French with the whole team.

“But again, it’s one more example. If you build a team to win rather than around individuals, you’ll have a great chance to be successful. Same with the Jazz. We have a chance to win the championship. But it’s only words until we convert it.”

Kirilenko was one of a group of Jazz players who attended the Chelsea-Liverpool game on Sunday.

“I’m a fan of the Premier league because all the games are aggressive for 90 minutes.”

It did mean he missed out on the chance to see close friend, Andriy Arshavin, feature for Arsenal. “He’s not as tall as me,” he said. “But he’s fast enough.”

In a blow for Utah, shooting guard CJ Miles ruptured a ligament in his thumb and will miss the London encounter. Miles, who averaged 9.1 points per game last season, will require surgery.

Deng ready to go - just not at full tilt

Luol Deng wants to put on a show in his hometown on Tuesday evening but not at the expense of his entire season. The exhibition against the Utah Jazz is, after all, only the second game the Chicago Bulls forward has played in six months after the shin injury that sidelined him for Britain's Eurobasket campaign this summer.

The recovery is ongoing, he admitted.

"It's not 100% but it's definitely starting to feel better with each practice," said Deng, who made his comeback against Indiana on Friday. 

"We've got to be smart, though. It's still pre-season and I've just come back. Also this game is for our team and we've got to prepare ourselves in the right way."

So don't expect Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro to push him too much. Then again, don't expect the hysterical reaction that Greg Popovich got when he held out Tony Parker in the fourth quarter when the Spurs came to Paris a few years ago.

"Luol is always one of our showcase players and we need him to play and consistent all the time," Del Negro said. "This is only our second exhibition game. He's coming back from missing a lot of last season. So we need to monitor his minutes as well as enjoying the game, play hard and play well. 

"Luol took the guys to the soccer game yesterday and they enjoyed themselves. But they know the importance of the practices we had today and the game tomorrow."

Read Kirk Hinrich's thoughts on the game here. (Fox Sports)

Deng converts new Gooners

Luol Deng is playing host to the Bulls in London - and foremost in his mind was the opportunity to take his team-mates to the Arsenal-Blackburn game on Sunday.

Brad Miller, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jerome James and Kirk Hinrich all made the trek to the Emirates. “It was probably pretty similar to a college football game,” said an impressed Hinrich. "We were in a box. We snuck in late and left early but it was an enjoyable game. I’m definitely going to start following Arsenal now.”

So far though, the Great Britain star hasn't yet had a really daft query from his team-mates about the capital.

 “Honestly," he added, "there haven’t been a lot of bad questions. A lot of guys are familiar with London. But I’ve been waiting for it"

The Bulls practiced at the O2 Arena on Monday morning - Derrick Rose and Tyrus Thomas sat out and will likely miss Tuesday's game against the Jazz.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Bulls arrive in London

I'll be blogging more over the next few days ahead of Tuesday's meeting in London between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz.

But a few notes from Sunday practice. Bulls guard Derrick Rose sat out the run around which happened just a few hours after the bleary-eyed for Bulls landed in the UK. Rose, who turned 21 today, is uncertain for the 02 contest.  John Salmons, his expected backcourt partner for this season, is likely to miss the Jazz friendly due to the birth of a child.

Here's a great story on Luol Deng from my good friend KC Johnson at the Chicago Tribune.

Friday, 2 October 2009

NBA events in London this weekend

London is play host to a number of NBA-sponsored events this weekend ahead of Tuesday’s exhibition game between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz at The 02 Arena.

The league’s Jam Van will take place at Take To The Courts, Canary Wharf West Plaza (Monday) and outside The O2 (Tuesday).

While, NBA Cares and adidas will join members of the Bulls to dedicate the refurbished basketball courts in Clapham Common on Sunday. In addition, the basketball courts at Ducketts Common (Turnpike Lane) will host a Special Olympics clinic for local athletes on Saturday.

It has been confirmed that Tuesday's game will also be broadcast on the BBC Sport website, in addition to coverage on ESPN and on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Watch: Bulls look ahead to London trip

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Finch - I'm sticking with GB

Great Britain head coach Chris Finch has confirmed that he has no plans to step down from the role, despite accepting a job in America. The 38-year-old, who was in charge of the national side at this month’s Eurobasket finals, is to take charge of Texas-based NBA Developmental League side, the Rio Grande Vipers, after quitting Belgian club Mons.
“It doesn’t affect things,” Finch said. “I cleared it with them before I took the position that I could continue with GB. I think it can even enhance it. Yes, I lose a little bit of my connection with Europe but it allows me more time in between seasons to better prepare. I can still come to Europe in the spring and I’ll have more time to see players without being pinned down by my club schedule.
“It allows me to develop my relationship with Ben Gordon and be more regularly in touch with Pops (Mensah-Bonsu) and Luol (Deng). In terms of my own development, the D-League is pretty game-intensive. It’s a different kind of game and there’s a lot more control given to the coach which will be beneficial. I don’t see too much of a negative. I was very sensitive to GB but they’ve offered their support to my development as a coach which is great.”
Finch will coach the opening game of Mons’ Belgian League campaign this Saturday before leaving for his formal presentation in Texas.
“The timing’s poor but there’s never a great time to leave a job you enjoy,” he conceded. “I’m very sensitive to it but Mons have been great with me.”
The former Sheffield coach will travel to London on Monday to attend British Basketball’s post-Eurobasket debrief. A recommendation that changes are made to Finch’s backroom staff is expected to be on the agenda, with influential figures thought to be in favour of adding an experienced international coach as an assistant ahead of next summer’s GB programme.

Why the WNBA makes us feel better about the BBL

Intriguing nugget from the States... The first game of the WNBA Finals on Tuesday night, according to the league, had TV ratings on ESPN that were 59% up from last year. The Phoenix Mercury's 120-116 overtime victory over the Indiana Fever was the highest-scoring contest in the league's history, setting all sorts of quarter-by-quarter records and, by common consent, providing a great showcase for the women's version of the Association.

If you've never seen the WNBA, then you should. It's terrific basketball and it's a shame the NBA has never bundled it into its numerous television deals in the UK. But here's the rub. The official attendance at the American Airways Center in Phoenix was just 7,200. And that's DESPITE the fact that Suns GM, Steve Kerr, bought up 7,000 tickets and gave them away free on a first-come, first-served basis.

Now here is a league that has had some kind of national television deal since its inception. It's got the best (female) basketballers in the world. They've spent millions on marketing it, not to mention the rub it (theoretically) gets from its link with the NBA.

And yet... it's losing money, it's been losing franchises rather than adding them in recent years, and even its showpiece Finals can't draw much of a crowd.

Puts the BBL in perspective, right?

Titmuss looking for bench help

New Worthing Thunder head coach Dave Titmuss has refused to get carried away with his team’s promising start to the BBL campaign.
The south coast outfit, in their second campaign in the league, thrashed Plymouth by 20 points in their opener last weekend and will look to double their count with a trip to unimpressive Sheffield on Friday.
Titmuss, the former GB wheelchair boss, has been praised by his fellow playcallers for recruiting a solid starting five to the Thunder but he wants contributions from his bench.
“Even though it's early in the season and we're certainly nowhere close to being settled as a team, I'm looking to establish key roles for everyone on our roster because I don't think 'depth' is just about having back-up,” he said.
“I think it's about recognising what each of our guys brings to the table and then finding a way of maximising that available talent in any given combination on court.
“All of the guys made positive contributions to our win against Plymouth last Saturday and we're looking to build on that this week.”