MYOPIC SULLIVAN HAS SHORT-TERM VISION

Great Britain captain Drew Sullivan says his team must put thoughts of London 2012 to one side, at least for now, and focus firstly on enhancing their reputation at this summer’s European Championships.

Preparations for the forthcoming tournament in Lithuania will move into top gear on Tuesday when Chris Finch’s side meets France in their opening game of the Olympic test event in London.

With Serbia, Croatia, Australia and China also taking part in the invitational event, it is exactly the kind of tough build-up requested of the organisers by GB, who will include ex-NBA centre Robert Archibald in their line-up for the first time this summer.

And with just two weeks to go until their European challenge begins against the EuroBasket hosts, Sullivan – who plays for Mersey Tigers – is determined to avoid the distraction of looking too far ahead.

Freeland returns for GB this summer

“Everyone’s talking about the Olympics and that’s what we’ve been working towards for the last six summers,” he said. “But we have the Europeans to think about before that. Among the players and the coaching staff, that’s what we’re focused on. If we want to give ourselves any chance at the Olympics, then we have to do well in these two tournaments.

“It would have been nice to have gone to the world championships last year but the goal is to play in as many big-time games against good teams as possible. There are a lot of other countries who have done that year on year and that’s why they do well at the Olympics. So EuroBasket’s extremely important for us.”

Britain, who defeated Nigeria and the Netherlands is two low-key friendlies last week, are also boosted by the return of Malaga forward Joel Freeland who missed last year’s European qualifiers through injury. The 24-year-old, drafted by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers five years ago, has emerged as one of the best young players in Europe and looks poised to join Luol Deng as a spearhead.

“Joel’s improved so much over the past two tears and he’s made quite a name for himself in the Euroleague,” Sullivan said. “And the experience he’s gained is going to be invaluable for us. With his ability, he can carry a lot more of the load now than in 2009.”

His contribution will be all the more essential in the injury-enforced absence of Pops Mensah-Bonsu, whose presence around the squad in recent weeks has only served to underline how much he will be missed on the court – and off it.

Even above Deng, the Londoner has been at the hub of GB in recent years. Not having his rebound magnetism around is undoubtedly a loss, says Sullivan. Others, he underlines can fill that personality void

“Pops isn’t the only person who brings energy. That’s no disrespect to him but we’ve always had guys in the past who inject that into our team, and I put myself among them. I know how hard Luol works. Same with Joel. I don’t think Pops is the only source of that so I don’t think we have that role to fill at the moment”.

Focus or not, the six-day tournament has given the GB players and staff a taster of what they can expect at the 2012 Games, practicing at what has been dubbed ‘The Meringue’ while the organisational team, led behind the scenes by former Scotland international Joanna Sutherland, test out their own plans and procedures for the first time.

This week will test the 2012 Basketball Arena (Anthony Charlton)

Sullivan is already thinking about London, having signalled his willingness to take some role with the country’s youth teams in the future, building on the outreach work with which he has become heavily involved on Merseyside.

Yet in his home city and elsewhere in the UK, there are questions of what last benefit the Olympics will deliver. The GB captain acknowledges that he has no specific insight. “But I would like to say that there will be a legacy,” he states. “The platform’s there.

“Anyone who supports basketball in this country would love to see it become more mainstream. But I know representing the country is only a small part of it. I’ll do what I can and I think the sport deserves to grow but there’s no easy solution.”

What though of Sullivan’s own immediate future? The emotional fulcrum of Mersey’s treble run last term, he remains among those out of pocket as new owner Steve Brookfield – admirably eschewing the option to fold the team and re-start without its debts – sorts out the mess he inherited.

With Tony Garbelotto back on board, Sullivan hints that he will remain on home soil, until 2012 at least. “I’m still under contract with the Tigers,” he confirms.

“I enjoy playing for Tony, I’ve known him since I was 13 and he’s always treated me well. I consider him family because I have so much respect for him. Ideally I’d like to stay in the country because my family is here and my eldest is in school. And I have a contract with Mersey so there’s no reason to up sticks.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday at the London Invitational Tournament, China – coached by ex-Leicester and Derby boss Bob Donewald -faces Australia in the tournament opener while Serbia meets Croatia.

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