How Gavin Love became a Great Dane, plus Paul Guede Worcester-bound, Gareth Murray free, and the 2018 Commonwealths problem.


Here’s a piece of trivia with which to impress the relatives around the Christmas dinner table: how many current BBL head coaches are in situ at a club where they had no previous affiliations?

Answer: Precisely one – Paul James at Worcester. (Jack Majewski and Jeff Jones’ previous gigs were with London United and Manchester Giants v.1.1).

Which is one way of pointing out that, in a trend dissimilar to most basketball leagues, there is minimal recycling of playcallers. Lose your job and prepare to disappear into purgatory.

Yet when Gavin Love was relieved of his duties at Plymouth Raiders on the eve of last season, he was determined not to follow the same path into obscurity taken by so many others.

Finding alternative employment was a long shot, he acknowledged. “When you’re not coaching BBL, the opportunities are few and far between,” he recounts.

“Teams just like, if I’m honest, to take the easy option: take the local guys and give them an opportunity. It’s a cost thing. I understand that. Sometimes it works out really well. But you think you’re never going to get another position.”

Love watched and waited, did a little agent business on the side, made calls and polished up his CV. Just when it seemed he was to remain an ex-coach, the phone rang. And, he says, “when this opportunity came up, in a great city like Copenhagen, I jumped at it.”

Into his fifth month as the leader of the Wolfpack, the Danish capital – and their domestic top flight – has become an agreeable home from home.

Expected, due to their budget and past record, to be a struggling side in the Ligaen, instead his new project goes into the Yuletide break in fourth place with a 9-4 record and with their Englishman abroad relishing his chance to test himself on a brand-new stage.

Wolfpack, where Worcester’s Robert Thurman featured last term, have a set-up on a level beyond what encircled the Devon native before. “I even have a scout and an assistant coach,” he laughs, like the kid devouring the candy store.

“Having a scout is fantastic. And there are little things, like the statistical breakdowns you can get. The game flows, little things which are quite cool.”

At its highest end, amid rivals such as Bakken and Horsens whose ambitions regularly include European competition, Denmark edges above the upper reaches of the BBL, he claims.

That, proportionally, means that Love is punching at a heavier weight than he had been used to in the past.

“You absolutely have to raise your game – and I learnt that very early,” he confirms. “We’ve got guys who have coached in the ACB. The national coach of Iceland. Serbian coaches.

“Every game is different and you have to adjust. Which makes it more exciting and enjoyable. Over time, you can get bad habits. Here I’ve been challenged to learn and I’ve evolved greatly in both man management and technical ability. It’s far more in depth.”

Unlike the proud Serbs, British coaches are not sought out in numbers. Tony Garbelotto and Tim Lewis are among the few who have gone to foreign climes and extended their rep rather than buried it. Walking in, Love could hardly post his resume on the locker room wall and expect instant reverence.

“You just have to build a rapport with the players. I don’t think they look at where you’ve been before. They just judge you as a person and by your coaching ability, how you motivate them and teach them, or what the training sessions are like.

“We were predicted to finish ninth. Right now we’re in the top four and doing well. And a lot of that is because my guys are very coachable and the general manager lets me get on with things.”

It has given him a fresh perspective on the league he left behind. Reluctant to comment on the Raiders indifference since his messy exit, he sees much in Denmark that the BBL could learn from.

There is, he underlines, an expectation that you buy first at home before shopping elsewhere. “Teams that go out and get all-foreign players get criticised. You’re expected to rely heavily on Danish players.”

The TV coverage, on the equivalent of Channel 4, is free and plentiful. That helps, he enthuses. Plus the absolute conviction that the best teams in Denmark should enter into the Eurochallenge without hesitation.

“I’ve talked to people about it and don’t think it’s as expensive as people think,” he argues. “Newcastle could definitely compete. And I think that would raise the level of thinking about the BBL.”

The months ahead will be testing but also potentially rewarding to the max. Love and his wife, who remains in the south-west of England, are expecting their first child in March. “Which is going to be interesting because that’s playoff time,” he smiles.

“So I’ll jet back to join my wife and say hello to my daughter – and then return here.” Just one request has been made. “I’ve asked her to go into labour on a Monday Wednesday or Friday!”

Other than pints of beer costing eight pounds a pop, the downsides are few and far. And in the spring, he will get one opportunity which the BBL cannot offer: a best of five series in the first round of the playoffs, the real cut and thrust of basketball coaching – and the true assessment of just how good the Wolfpack can be.

“Personally I can’t wait to coach in a series. The whole two-leg thing doesn’t work. For fans, if their team is down 20, I feel sorry for them. We have best of five, best of five, then best of seven in the finals.

”I’m just loving it. And I’d be happy to stick around.”

In wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.

Guede times in Worcester

Weeks after his expected arrival at London Lions fell apart, Paul Guede has agreed a move into the BBL – but it’s Worcester Wolves who have made the once-capped GB guard an acceptable offer.

The 27-year-old, who has also had overseas tours in Slovakia and Germany, arrives in time to bolster the desperately short-staffed Wolves – perhaps as soon as Tuesday’s clash with Leicester Riders, with centre Robert Thurman not expected back until after Christmas.

Coming to Worcester ends almost six months on the sidelines for Guede whose agent had approached a number of teams in the UK and overseas over the past few weeks once a firm offer from London had been turned down.

Murray up for grabs

Expect a scramble to land Gareth Murray after the Great Britain international was freed by French club Challans.

The 30-year-old, who left Glasgow Rocks at the end of last season, started the campaign with Cheshire but invoked a get-out clause to accept an initial three-month deal across the Channel to cover an injury to the NM1 league outfit’s squad.

But with his services no longer required, Murray’s availability is certain to put a number of BBL teams on alert – with his most recent team, the Phoenix, the likeliest of several potential suitors.

“I don’t have anything else right now,” said the forward. “I’ll just fly home now and wait.”

Murray, a regular for GB since 2013, averaged a respectable 11 points and 3 rebounds in his Challans stint.

His international team-mate Devon van Oostrum is also looking for a fourth club of the season after his loan spell at Finnish team Kouvot was curtailed on Monday after only six games in which he averaged a mere four points.

The 21-year-old playmaker will now return to ACB giants Baskonia, having been let go from a previous loan stint at Cibona Zagreb after less than two months.

Rocks need mental charge

Kieron Achara has claimed he wants to help turn Glasgow Rocks into the dominant force in British basketball by sewing the secrets of success picked up overseas.

Achara: mindset (FIBA Europe)

Achara: mindset (FIBA Europe)

The Great Britain captain, 30, claims his side can use next month’s BBL Cup final to end their 12-season wait for silverware and as a springboard to move the club into the elite.

And after spells at the highest level in Spain and Italy, as well as pitting his wits against the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Achara believes turning around the Rocks – losers of seven major finals since their last trophy victory – is more than just about Xs and Os.

“A lot comes from having a winning culture,” said the Stirling-born forward.

“Sometimes, it’s not having a losing one. My first season in Italy, we had some great players like Gregor Fucka and Marcelo Huertas, guys who have played at the highest level, but we were relegated. There was just a losing mentality there.

“I’ve tried to instil a mindset here which is contagious and is about winning.

“Where we’re never content even when we win. And where, if we lose, we know how to bounce back. If everyone has that, it’s a massive plus.”

TV two-step

The BBL has confirmed the first ever double-header for its online streaming service BBLTV, following on from their deal with an online betting provider.

It means Dan Routledge will commentate on the January 3 afternoon clash between Surrey United and Newcastle Eagles – with yours truly handling the mic for the evening game between Leicester Riders and Leeds Force.

Gold on hold for 2018

As MVP exclusively reported earlier this year, organisers of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia could yet change their minds over their basketball tournament and switch to a 3 on 3 format.

The idea has long been advocated by FIBA as a means to showcase the derivate version of the game, despite its failure to gain a spot in the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020.

gold coast 2018 200The move makes perfect sense. The 2006 Games in Melbourne, the last in which basketball was included, were populated by sub-strength teams in the men’s competition because leading players were (understandably) not released to appear.

The next edition will have a similar clash, with the start date of 4 April 2018 likely to preclude the involvement of A-list recruits – with even the BBL likely to have difficulties in shaving a month off its season to accommodate that slot.

With no firm call from the organisers, it has had a knock-on effect for the home nations seeking to leverage funding to prepare national sides for Gold Coast – with uncertainty over the qualification process to be used and the costs involved (which would be hugely lower for a 3on3 option).

England has not appeared in an official senior competition since 2005 – so officially has no ranking. Scotland and Wales, while still alive, have hardly smeared themselves in glory.

It remains a possibility that the proposed Brit Cup might be employed as a European qualifier in 2017 if Gold Coast retains the original five on five format.

BBL Insider will return on January 6 – Merry Christmas from all of us at MVP

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