BBL INSIDER: FROM FOREIGN SHORES

It’s a common refrain among the old-timers following the BBL – wasn’t the league better in the days when we had loads of Americans?

Of course, there’s always plenty who argue that the domestic game has profited in recent times by having a lower import quota, members of UKIP probably included.

The truth is, well, that beneath claim and counter claim, not a huge amount has changed over the past 20 years between the British contingent in the league and those brought from across the Pond, save for a small quota landed from mainland Europe thanks to EU regulations.

MVP’s exclusive research suggests that over a third of rosters are still filled by players from outside Europe, a considerable reduction from the free-spending era of the 1990s when five Americans per team were permitted, plus some mainland European additions.

And a number of clubs are capitalising on UK passports to inject as much Stateside flavour as was ever available in the past.

We’ve gone through the current squads, based on the nationality info from the BBL or the teams, and draw up a map of origins.

While the NBA offers its ‘international’ players up without any real regard to current status (USA guard Kyrie Irving is Australian, really?), we’ve tried to be little more pragmatic about which bracket everyone should fall.

That means even if, like Fab Flournoy or Sterling Davis, you now carry a British passport, you’re still American.

Worcester’s Alex Owumi spent his teen years in the USA but he’s Nigerian-born so he’ll go in that box. Yet Leeds’ captain Armand Anebo is Ivory Coast-born but raised in London so he’ll stay in the homegrown camp, as will Sheffield’s Marko Backovic who’s listed as Croatian despite being as Yorkshire as those funny puddings.

There will be the odd inconsistency, no doubt, but hopefully those will be consistent.

And we’ve also divided our UK list between those wholly trained in the UK and those who have headed to US colleges for at least one year, excluding a small number – like Glasgow’s Jonny Bunyan – who had a trans-Atlantic stop for high school.

Bear in mind the BBL’s own current eligibility rules which allow “teams to play a maximum of five over-18 non-British players per game, of which a maximum of three can be work permitted. All remaining spots on the team have to be filled by British passport holders.”

So here is how the 13 teams – with a total of 148 active players – stack up.

 

  UK-trained UK-overseas EU American Other
Bristol 7 2 3
Cheshire 2 2 1 4 1
Durham 3 2 5
Glasgow 4 2 4
Leeds 5 2 3 3
Leicester 5 2 1 4
London 2 5 4 1
Manchester 5 4 2 1
Newcastle 2 2 6
Plymouth 3 2 1 4 2
Sheffield 5 1 5
Surrey 5 1 5
Worcester 4 3 3 2

 

Thus, we have exactly 50 Americans in the BBL, with seven from elsewhere – primarily Canadian or Australian.

16 – some 11% – come from other European nations, with the influence from the east unquestionably stronger than in past decades when London Towers landing Italian centre Marco Baldi was seen as a radical experiment.

Amid the numbers, we can see that Newcastle could still field an entirely US-born starting line-up, actually an increase on the 2001-2 season when they had four Americans – including Flournoy – plus the Trinidadian Shawn Myers.

While Durham, fortified by their university post-graduate programme, have also a quintet from across the ocean.

Averaged over the league, with Manchester not using up any work permits at all, it gives 3.8 Americans per side, illustrating the benefit of finding one with a UK citizenship through either parentage or a prolonged stay here.

Three holdovers – Davis, Flournoy and Rod Brown – remain from the 2001-02 season, the last campaign where there was a comprehensive biographical guide of all 124 players who appeared on the 12 top-tier teams.

And while that year, 53% were from abroad (although with only one from mainland Europe), that represents only a small change from 2014’s 49%.

What has certainly evolved is the additional British-trained players from the days when the only faces from these shores were those brought back from the States or from other foreign jaunts.

The proportion of those serving their apprenticeships here rather than in North America has barely shifted.

2001-2 season (source: BBL)

UK-trained UK-overseas EU American Other
39 19 1 55 10

 

However although 35% of the league’s rosters have now exclusively learnt their trade at home and while some will be no more than bench-fillers, it is much more common to see a starter or rotation performer emerge through the UK system than ever before.

13 years ago that figure was 31% but most of those were playing very limited minutes.

Not every team can tout their native line. With Gareth Murray’s departure, Cheshire are ever more resembling the famous JetWash crew which went only six deep but swept the board. Devon Bailey, one hopes, will get some opportunity to stand out.

But when next someone asserts: ‘there are too many Americans’ or ‘too few Brits’ in the BBL, then at least you can say their number’s up.

BBL Notes

– In past seasons, the advance scouting process in the BBL was based on horse trading of DVDs between coaching chums, a system known as ‘you scratch my back…’.

That has now changed with, for the first time, an online repository of video from each game that can be accessed by coaches and players to assist in their preparation.

New rules mean that every club must provide full game footage by Monday – providing a more professional approach, even if it remains light years away from the advance databases.

It means no coach can now cry ignorance. But still expect the better coaches to take full advantage while those lesser-prepared to be left behind.

– Without a great deal of fanfare, the league announced a partnership last week with Sportradar that will see another 15 games appearing on the BBL TV service this season.

But who they? A German-based company, they are among the main providers of game streams to online betting companies in Europe, as well as delivering the data mining that underpins odds and in-play betting.

So the deal, which starts in January, will see the extra BBL games – albeit without the production and commentary of the ones which are also screened on Eurosport –  also appear on such gambling sites with Sportsradar developing in tandem the league’s currently (very basic) statistical analysis.

“After football, basketball is probably the second sport and we want to have more of a presence in a core market like the UK,” Sportradar’s marketing chief Johannes Ranke told me. “This is a first start with the BBL and there will be the opportunity to develop statistical tools.”

It is, for now, a first pass and an experiment. But with even simpler advanced stats hard to come by in the BBL, we could finally be seeing the analytics revolution arriving here.

– For the second year year in a row, the BBL has altered the date of the Trophy Final after the start of the season with the showpiece moving to Sunday March 22 but remaining at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow. The reason? To accommodate a Davis Cup tennis clash between Britain and the USA. It’s just as well that fans don’t book far in advance and travel in huge numbers, otherwise many would be crying foul.

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