USA's Andre Iguadala celebrates

THESE were the feel good Olympics, the most memorable sporting event of our lifetimes, the fortnight we put the “Great” back into Great Britain.

The basketball tournament wasn’t half bad either – at least considering the fact that the gold medals were a foregone conclusion from way before we all gathered in London for that extraordinary Opening Ceremony nearly three weeks ago.

For British Basketball, though, the 2012 Olympic Games is easily summed up by a short, painful two-word headline.


There seemed to be a groundswell of opinion in the wake of our two teams’ combined 1-9 record and exit from the group stage that great strides had been taken in London.

The twittersphere was white hot with congratulations for the GB men and women for their hard play, for the manner in which they had represented the sport and the country for their ability to rub shoulders with the great and the good of the world game.

The men’s one-point defeat to silver medallists Spain, the women losing in over-time to silver medallists France, a number of other close games, heroic failures … these were the Games when GB arrived on the international stage, right?

Well, not really.

If that sounds harsh, it is no more harsh than UK Sport will be when they come to discuss funding for the men’s and women’s programmes in March 2013, deciding whether to add to the £12.3 million they have pumped into the sport since 2006.

(You can see the figures here, it was £3.7m from 2006-08; £8.6m from 2009-13:

The expectations for that investment were places between 5-8 – i.e. quarter-final finishes – for men and women so, by that definition alone, GB failed to deliver at these Olympics.

In fact, in the cold light of day, performance director Chris Spice is going to have to go to UK Sport in March and explain how our one victory in our home Olympics cost us £12.3 million when, by way of comparision and example, cyclist Laura Trott was paid £27,000 per year by British Cycling over the past funding cycle and delivered two gold medals.

Of course, it’s not that simple and the team sport-individual sport comparison never works in the favour of a team sport (particularly in a sport in which the USA is going to win gold nine times out of ten) and nobody can claim that the national team and the sport in general in Britain is not in a better place than it was when the GB team was formed in 2006.

But London 2012 was about legacy, about inspiring a generation, about that word “opportunity” and I think basketball failed here.

It did not help that FIBA made us jump through hoops (pun intended) from the day London won the Olympic bid to prove our “competitive” worth. It was hard for Spice and co. to pump money into grass roots programmes or developing our chronic shortage of (men’s) guards over the past six years when we had to “waste” a couple of hundred thousand every summer on Luol Deng’s insurance just so we could keep FIBA happy and put out our best team.

Finch was criticised by fans throughout the summer for his lack of trust in young guards like Devon van Oostrum or Ogo Adegboye but the simple fact was they were not ready to play on this sort of stage. If Finch had had chance to develop them more over the past few years – or if Spice could have freed up some money to fund better development programmes – then they might have been.

Look at it this way, Finch could have taken kids to Eurobasket 2009 or used them in trying to qualify for Eurobasket 2011 to give them experience but GB Basketball knew that poor performances in that first tournie or failure to qualify for the second and FIBA could have kicked us out of our home Olympics. It was a risk they could not take and that’s why our best guard in London was a 39-year-old BBL American.

But there were a lot of mistakes closer to home – by coaches and management alike.

Tens of thousands of pounds were poured into medical personnel for the basketball teams – so much so that Chris Finch and Tom Maher were only allowed one basketball coach alongside them on their Olympic benches because they were forced by management to have two team managers and two doctors.

That’s the sort of thing that looks good on a UK Sport planning spreadsheet, not so good when you’re leaking 70 second half points to Australia and you could do with an extra basketball brain on your bench to give you some input into how to stop it.

It also has to be said that the men’s campaign, certainly, was not helped by injuries to Mike Lenzly and Dan Clark. The latter performed heroically on a clearly busted ankle but the former lasted all of six minutes which begs the question what sort of medical advice Finch was getting when they were declared “fit” to play in the Games.

Let’s just look at the USA men’s bench where Mike Krzyzewski had three assistants alongside him – not that he, of all coaches, needed them – but if it works for the gold medallists, why not us?

(There is a long-winded explanation why Finch and Maher were only allowed one assistant, to do with who was actually staying in the Olympic Village but the basic argument is the same).

Of course, there were also in-game coaching mistakes by Finch and Maher and general errors that they would confess to, if pressed. Finch, for example, freely admitted he should have been more actively involved in recruiting Ben Gordon over the past 12 months instead of leaving it to management, who failed to deliver.

And, it has to be said (although it’s pointless to say it, right?), but put Gordon on this GB team this summer and it’s a very different Olympic tournament with GB possibly handing Spain a third group defeat (although then Spain would not have then gone and (allegedly) deliberately lost to Brazil to avoid the USA in the semis) … see the problem when you start dealing in hypotheticals.

What is not hypothetical – but is purely personal opinion – is my belief that players on both men and women’s teams were too caught up in the whole Olympic “experience” from the moment they hit London.

You only had to look at various twitter accounts to see the excitement that being at London 2012 created for the players, how much they were enjoying the experience of being at the Games and how determined they were to wring every last drop out of the Olympics.

Quite right, too. For many of them this was the end of a four, five, even six-year odyssey and they had earned the right to collect memories of a lifetime as they went through it.

But I feel that the basketball became secondary. Actually reaching the Olympics was the gold medal for too many players that they forgot why they were there in the first place. Coaching staff were up into the small hours every morning preparing game plans, players were out, watching other sports events, meeting fellow athletes, wandering around the vast Olympic complex.

Why were the women marching in the Opening Ceremony less than 24 hours before their first group game? Why were Clark and Lenzly on their feet for three-four hours doing the same when they had injuries that were going to keep them out of the first group game in 48 hours time?

You can’t blame a young athlete for wanting to do it – and I know Finch did not want his two men in the ceremony – but why did management not put their foot down and stop them marching? Hundreds, if not thousands of athletes, missed the Opening Ceremony (most of our cyclists, all our track and field athletes who were abroad at a holding camp), why did our basketball players have to march in it?

It sounds a small point but google British Cycling’s “aggregation of marginal gains” philosophy and you will get my argument. Thousands of little gains across all areas can add up to one very big gain. And a professional athlete resting in bed 24 hours before a big game can be a marginal gain when compared to being on your feet for three hours and marching around a stadium.

I also think it sums up the fact that for many involved with GB Basketball, the past couple of weeks were all about the Olympic “experience.”

How much better would that Olympic “experience” have been if they had won a couple more games and got through to the quarter-finals and then started to enjoy the off-court sights, sounds and memories of being athletes at London 2012.

Those gripes aside, it has been an amazing ride although it is hard to know what the future holds, especially if funding is slashed next year.

Maher wants to return, Finch doesn’t, but with less funding is either job particularly attractive?

Patrick Baumann, the FIBA general secretary, hopes he will be able to convince the IOC to expand the basketball tournament from 12 teams to 16 in future and it’s expected that the newly-branded World Cup will have 24 places so qualifying for these tournaments in future will not be quite as hard as it has been in the past.

But all of this is irrelevant without the top-level players. Personally, I don’t expect to see Luol Deng or Joel Freeland at Eurobasket 2013 (and they have earned the right to a summer off the international merry-go-round) which makes that tournament look extremely tough for us and the new coach.

The women? The bar is lower because the global depth of the sport is lower than the men’s but the women’s team currently lacks a real world-class performer (“a famous player” was how Maher described it) like Deng so taking that next step will be hard.

I think Finch summed up the state of British national team basketball pretty well in one of his exit interviews.

“It’s like golf,” he said. “Getting from a 30 handicap down to a 10 is relatively easy. It’s getting down from a 10 to scratch that’s the really hard bit. That’s where we are. We’re a 10 handicap.”

You don’t need to understand golf to get his point.

It’s just a shame that we couldn’t have edged a little bit closer to “scratch” at London 2012.

And that’s why our home Olympics will always go down for me as a missed opportunity.

Ian Whittell


Photo Credits

Usain Bolt –

Opening Ceremony Rings –

GB Women –

Andre Iguadala –

LeBron James –


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