CEO of England Basketball leaves, Plymouth’s trust issues, Commonwealth cuts

The power struggle within British basketball has claimed another victim with the departure of England Basketball chief executive Huw Morgan, MVP can exclusively reveal.

In a move widely forecast due to the involvement of the one-time World Rugby and Arrows F1 executive in a bid to take over the country’s professional league licence, Morgan is understood to have cleared his desk at the governing body ahead of the Easter break, ending his 18-month stint at the helm.

Morgan had already been excluded from a number of his core functions at England Basketball after it was confirmed he was the registered owner of a third-party company through which a possible £30 million investment from American fund managers could be channelled if the vehicle, BBall UK, succeeded in its move to effectively buy out the British Basketball League.

Now, he is out the door, with an interim replacement expected to be confirmed shortly with current director Mark Clark lined up to take over.

“He (Morgan) was brought in to do a job and he did it,” said one Basketball England director, who claimed the parting of the ways was ultimately mutually agreed. “But we all realised there was a conflict of interest there. So he’s done the right thing.”

Morgan, who headed up a radical restructuring of the organisation, is now free to pursue his involvement with BBall UK without restraint in tandem with the three former EB directors who had previously stood down due to similar conflicts.

However, a number of BBL sources have told MVP that while they are continuing to pursue a due diligence process over the potential for a cash injection from New York-based Global Emerging Markets, there appears to have been a hardening of their stance against working directly with Morgan or his London-based partners.

Representatives from the BBL, the British Basketball Federation and the three home nations are due to meet later this month to agree on a joint position – with direct talks with GEM likely to be scheduled soon after.

If that avenue does not pan out, there may still be a Plan B, claims Glasgow Rocks co-owner David Low, one of the BBL’s designated negotiating team.

“The BBL hasn’t actively sought alternative investors but the publicity generated by what’s happened in the last few months has resulted in a few interested parties approaching both individual clubs and the BBL,” Low revealed.

“But we have not progressed any of those approaches whilst we have BBall UK on the table.”

England Basketball chairman Jan Hagen is understood to remain in post, despite calls for him to depart in tandem with Morgan and with Sport England publicly admonishing EB for its poor corporate governance in a recent review.

Fan Raid

The disconnect between Plymouth Raiders ownership and the club’s fans has been accelerating over the past 18 months, with the abnormally high turnover of players and what has been claimed to be a growing debt causing voices against owner Bob Widdecombe to be raised in anger.

Now, the campaign for change has a front end, with the establishment of the Raiders Supporters Trust along the same lines as those already in place within English and Scottish football.

The plan – according to its launch prospectus – is to formalise links with the club, ultimately leading to the majority of the shareholding in the Raiders being held by the fans – with, it is claimed, financial security “better secured by the supporters trust taking on a wider responsibility for raising funds and agreeing with the club how best to financially plan for the future.”

plymouth_raiders_568Leading the initiative is Richard Mollard, the former Guildford Heat director, who now works as a project manager in Devon.

“The loyal fans here in Plymouth have had concerns for some time now in regards to how the club is being operated by the current chairman but this is not a specific attempt to take over the club,” he outlined.

“The idea of a Supporters’ Trust is to follow the lead of other successful sport club’s supporters’ trusts in providing a single voice for all fans who care about their team. However, it’s also there to support the club and help organise events to raise funds for developing local talent who will have the opportunity to be the next Raiders stars of the future.

“This is not to say the trust will not look to ask the difficult questions in regards to the club’s running to ensure this city asset is sustainable long-term. More clubs have folded in this country due to the single ‘sugar daddy’ operator model than any other reason, and this is the model that currently applies in Plymouth.

“Constant turnover of playing and coaching staff (30 professional players used in just two season under Coach Marriott), talk of 5-year plans that the club refuse to publish and dwindling crowds are just some of the reasons for concern.”

The next move will fall to Widdecombe, who has yet to respond to the Trust’s initial approach. The supporters’ grouping will press on regardless – with an open meeting to discuss the pathway forward and to elect a committee and a chair.

“I see no reasons why they would not want to embrace a fan-led initiative that’s designed to help the club,” Mollard added. “So I’m sure the delay is merely down to the busy few days game-wise.”

If Plymouth’s fans make headway, it could be an idea which spawns replicas elsewhere.

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Cheshire Phoenix waited a month for Mike DiNunno to get healthy. Their patience, it seems, finally ran out.

The American guard, who had averaged 16.2 points in 23 games in the BBL, flew home on Monday with the club understood to have opted to cut their ties rather than wait for him to recover from a back problem.

DiNunno scored a season-high 36 points against Manchester Giants in January before earning a brief team-imposed suspension. But his return prior to the end of the campaign remained in doubt before the Nix allowed him to go back to America in what might be the last in a line of premature exits from the Northgate in a tumultuous campaign.

Meanwhile it looks likely that London Lions guard Rod Brown’s season is over due to injury with the veteran potentially pressing the buzzer on his career.

Commonwealth cuts

To go with five or three, that is the question. One which has been coyly batted away by the organisers of the 2018 Commonwealth Games as clarification has been sought over whether the programme in Gold Coast will be traditional basketball or its 3on3 variant.

FIBA, it was recently revealed, have been applying subtle pressure to opt for the latter in what would be a showcase for any repeat attempt to earn its inclusion in the Olympic programme.

However Gold Coast have finally confirmed that they are sticking with its original five-on-five version, telling InsideTheGames: “3×3 basketball will not feature in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games…It will definitely be the traditional five-a-side with our sport programme actually signed off by the CGF last June.”

The news will come as a relief to the three home nation governing bodies who will get some cash as a consequence – with Basketball Scotland’s core funding held up in recent weeks so that it could be determined whether public monies would be diverted to prepare teams for the event.

However, the Commonwealth Games Federation has signalled that any nation wishing to act as host post-2018 will be compelled to opt for 3on3 if they choose to include basketball in their programme.

In a revamped strategic plan entitled Transformation 2022, it is proposed that the number of core sports will be increased to 16 – but that basketball and wheelchair basketball will both remain optional but exclusively three-a-side.

“The Sports Programme proposals also have important operational benefits, including a higher degree of certainty in athlete numbers and more flexibility in the optional sports programme, which we believe will support future Host Cities and CGAs in their Games planning,” Bruce Robertson, vice-president of the CGF, said.

“We look forward to outlining and discussing our plans with the wider CGF membership, International Federations and our stakeholders.”

It remains unclear how England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland can qualify for Gold Coast 2018 with a resolution expected later this year – with the Northern Irish, who do not compete separately at any other time, posing an awkward conundrum over any plan to use FIBA rankings.

Junior to Senior

One of the final active links to the so-called glory era of the BBL hung up his boots for the last time (competitively, at least) on Saturday with Junior Williams calling it a career following what he termed his “last 4th quarter”.

The now 38-year-old point guard finished up at Westminster Warriors, back where he first made a name for himself (he originally came through Brixton as a junior) back when the NBL was almost as enthralling as the BBL.

Williams won a league title with London Towers in 1998, a season after coming into the top flight with Crystal Palace, and also had stints with Scottish Rocks and the Milton Keynes/London Lions, where he latterly spelled as an assistant coach.

In tandem with his long-time cohorts Julius Joseph and Mike Martin, he was part of the generation of British players who did so much to prop up the domestic game when boom turned to bust, providing brilliant role models to home-grown talent and willingly giving back.

The one-time England international was also never 5-11, his listed height. But as someone who you could only genuinely admire, it’s true to say kids could do worse than try to follow Junior.

Outside shots

Rocks guard Reggie Middleton under a gagging order

Alex Owumi says bring on a re-match for Worcester with Newcastle

Dunk of the season from TrayVonn Wright?

Britain should make a bigger fuss about Luol Deng

Georgia Gayle of Sheffield Hatters inspired by Gran

BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

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