Having established a 33-point lead in the home leg, Great Britain’s men remained in control of the tie but with the defence unable to recreate a similar display to that in Sheffield, they were given their sternest test of the campaign.
Four Brits ended on double figures, Scotland’s Robert Archibald led all with 23, Chicago Bulls’ Luol Deng had 22, GB captain Andrew Sullivan (pictured left)with 12 and Nate Reiking with 10.
GB started off impressively against Switzerland and another dominant lead looked to be on the cards in the first quarter thanks to some sweet drives by Sullivan and yet another one of Reinking’s three pointers from downtown, but Kgomotso Sefolosha’s (that’s Thabo’s brother) own shot from the three point line, right on the buzzer, meant GB were only up by 23-18.
The visitors stepped it up in the second quarter with Britain’s two big men, Robert Archibald and Andy Betts, taking over scoring duties to once again re-establish some air between the sides.
But the tide turned in the final quarter as the Swiss fought hard to give their massive and vociferious home crowd something to cheer about. Twice they clawed their way back to within one point, with Thabo getting excellent help from his team mates. Something that didn’t happen in the first leg in Sheffield.
However, there would be no denying destiny as Chris Finch’s charges stretched out the score to take victory by 78 to 89 (aggregate 119 – 163) and take their rightful place at the top table of European Basketball.
A summer to remember
For basketball fans in the UK this has truly been a summer to remember. The first that I saw of Chris Finch’s team was in the two friendlies at Crawley. The big news was that the Chicago Bulls’ Luol Deng would be with the team.
I arrived in Crawley not knowing what to expect. Checking into the hotel I bumped into GB’s Assistant Coach Tony G. He was confident everything was going to be OK. The coaching team were delighted with the way the training camps had gone.
And so it was that we turned up at the impressive Crawley Leisure Centre for game 1 of this two game series. The Irish were missing some of their star players but even with their missing stars, they would not have been a match for this GB outfit.
Led by Luol Deng, GB had their way with the Irish. One awesome two handed dunk by Deng said it all. The second game the following night went very much the same way and I have to admit that by the middle of the second half I had had enough of this playing about. Bring on Slovakia and let’s get to the real action.
And now on to the NIA, Birmingham for the big one. Arriving in the mid afternoon the Arena look stunning as always and I let my mind wonder back to when basketball was played at this venue every week with the Birmingham Bullets.
Perhaps this was a pointer to the future.
To the game, and in a blink GB had destroyed the visitors. Deng was the star but every GB player played a part. Very impressive were the two big men Archibald and Betts. The final score was an emphatic 77 – 52. A statement had been made.
The next stop for GB would be Edinburgh where they would come up against the Netherlands. They ran out victors by 83 – 64. Everyone who was there still talks about the Luol Deng dunk.
This was a game I didn’t see as I was with the GB Women at the Amaechi Centre in Manchester. They were having their own qualifying battles, but for me the next Men’s encounter would be Ponds Forge as the team took on Switzerland in the first leg of the Promotion Play-off.
Having defeated Belarus on the road, promotion to ‘Eurobasket A’ was now within touching distance.
There had been much talk about the Swiss team and their NBA star Thabo Sefolosha and to be fair he was impressive but unfortunately he received no help what-so-ever from his team mates. I don’t like to criticise sports stars but had my team performed that badly when they were also this close to promotion, I would have been devastated.
Victory by a score-line of 83 – 51 was nothing more than GB deserved. So now to the final game in Geneva, Switzerland. Victory for GB or defeat by anything less than 33 points would be enough to take us to the next level of European Basketball. This was a game I just had to be at and thanks to EasyJet I was able to make it.
We flew out of London(sic) Luton at 06:40 on Saturday morning arriving at Geneva before 09:00 their time.There are some odd things when you travel abroad like when you change your money into Swiss francs you get only notes but the bus ticket machine only accepts coins, you’d think… oh well.
We eventually get a bus/tram ticket and head downtown. There it is the biggest water feature in the world.
Immediately I am transported back to my youth as we wait for the best programme on the television ‘The Champions’ If you’ve not seen the opening sequence to that programme I won’t try to explain.
Suffice to say, this was truly a great moment for me. After buying a map we eventually worked out where we were and more importantly, where the stadium was. It looked like a long way but we thought it was walkable. After walking for what seemed like miles we eventually decided to take the bus and arrived at the stadium.
This had to be one of the strangest venues I had ever seen in 30+ years of watching basketball. About 90% of the building was made of wood and a substantial part of the structure looked like MDF. It had to be seen to be believed.
Eventually it was game time and to see the players walking out for their informal warm-up was total joy. There weren’t many other Brits that I could see in the house. Our basketball journalists were there and praise should be given to Rob Dugdale, Mark Woods and Ian Whittell for the sterling job they continue to do for the sport.
Well the game was fantastic and a much better encounter than the one sided affair in Sheffield. Sefolosha was again awesome but this time he got great support from his team mates. To be honest I would not had minded had GB lost the game and with minutes to go the Swiss had cut the GB lead to just 1.
The massive crowd that had gathered were loving it, but after a Chris Finch time out, GB regrouped and extended the lead to claim the victory.
I have to admit that it was all kinda low key and the victory over the two legs was never in doubt.
But low key or not Great Britain was now to be dining at the Top Table of European Basketball.
After a late dinner back on the lakeside we headed for the airport for the 21:50 flight back to Luton. We arrived back in good time to be in my car by 23:15. Now it was a drive back to Manchester grab a couple of hours sleep and head out at 05:00 for the breakfast show at BBC Radio Manchester. Boy it was a long day but there is no doubt it was well worth it.
GB Men are now in the top tier of European Basketball.
Now let’s get the GB Women there too.
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