GRAY LINE – SHEFFIELD TIME WARP

MVP’s Niall Gray was in Sheffield last weekend for the Game On Tournament and as well as watching the basketball, took a brief trip down memory lane.

This summer I have had the pleasure of writing about the GB Women’s basketball team as they get ready for the Olympics and I could not pass up the opportunity to go up to Sheffield to see both them and the Men’s team in action.

On Saturday afternoon I was watching the GB Men take on Portugal and one thought I couldn’t get out of my head was the fact I was at the Arena and there was Nate Reinking out on the floor, being coached by Chris Finch.

If you’ve been a fan of the BBL for a long time, you probably know where I’m going here. If not, I’ll explain.

For a few years either side of the millennium, Sheffield Sharks were one of the best teams in the BBL with Finch and Reinking a big reason why the Sharks were so successful, and those years were spent playing out of the Arena.

I’m sure if there were any long-time Sharks fans in the crowd at the weekend they would have been reminiscing as well.

Afterward the game I got the thoughts of Finch and Reinking about being back in Sheffield.

“It still has the same feel,” Finch told me afterwards. “The building had a lot of great memories for us, lot of big games, lot of big shots and it’s really special to be back here, where it all started for me.”

“I thought I went in a time warp and was back in the 90s!” Reinking joked, when asked about the old days. “But it was fun to be back here, a lot of great memories from the past and enjoyable being in front of the home fans.

“I’ve a lot of great memories of all the guys I played with over the years.”

It’s pretty amazing to think that Finch began life with the Sharks (well, Forgers if we’re being pedantic) and he is now an assistant coach for the NBA’s Houston Rockets, as well as coaching GB.

It just shows how far you can go if you are determined enough.

Speaking of the NBA, on Sunday I headed over to Ponds Forge – another former BBL venue which holds great memories – and before the games I had a chat with Paul Mokeski, one of Finch’s assistants.

As you may know from my NBA blogs, I’ve been a fan of the NBA since the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to speak with someone who actually played against those guys for a good few years.

My plan was to have a brief chat and set up an interview for another time, but we got talking and Mokeski started telling me these stories of the famous players he played with and against.

I decided a couple of minutes in that the interview couldn’t wait for another day; I had to get some of his stories on tape.

Graciously, Mokeski was willing to do the interview there and then – you’ll read his amazing anecdotes soon.

Really enjoyed meeting Mokeski. He is delighted to have got the chance to work with Team GB and you get the impression he’d love to keep working with them as long as he can.

As for the Women, their clash against France on Sunday was the game of the weekend and not just for that wonderful buzzer-beater from Jeneya Wade-Fray, who launched the ball from way downtown!

There seemed to be a difference of opinion in the GB camp afterwards whether that basket was the catalyst for the huge fourth quarter that led to the win, but I believe it helped changed the momentum in their favour.

The GB players certainly looked fired up by it and I think it was what they needed to put them in control of the game.

Jo Leedham was immense at the beginning of the final period and then Natalie Stafford stepped up and made the baskets that delivered a fantastic win.

Although those two and Wade-Fray grabbed the headlines on this occasion, it is most definitely a team effort when it comes to the GB Women.

In describing the chemistry of the team, someone told me afterwards that the GB Women looked like a club side who have been together for a long time, and that’s something I agree with.

These ladies have picked up some great wins this summer and until Sunday, I though the one in the Czech Republic was the biggest this summer.  However, now I’m not so sure. I think the France result is more important.

Overall, I really enjoyed being back in Sheffield last weekend and the only disappointment was I had hoped more people would gone along to watch the games.

That aside, it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of seeing both of basketball teams enjoy winning weekends. Long may that winning trend continue.

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