The head of the incoming British Basketball Federation spells out his route to reform.

“This is the easy part: talking to people,” Nick Humby readily acknowledges. “The execution is the hard part.”

A lesson re-learnt countless times through myriad fresh dawns and new starts for basketball in the UK, the reason the label of British sport’s great under-achiever has been bound to its collar with super glue.

You could carve off a section in the library to house the cluster of reports and reviews that have been scripted over the past two decades alone, each outlining a revolutionary path, each forgotten and gathering dust. Rebrands and revisions, for no tangible again.

So, I ask, how will the ballyhooed invention of the soon-to-arrive British Basketball Federation prove a slam dunk when others have blown seemingly open lay-ups?

“What’s different this time, I hope, is the three home nations have been bold and brave enough to give up their memberships of FIBA,” says Humby, the BBF’s inaugural chair. “There’s nine months until the BBF comes into being. We’ve got a new board in Wales. A new chief executive for Basketball England and a new chair coming in.

“So with the new federation, with Scotland already being at the forefront of this change, we have the components to lead this change. We’ve got FIBA’s backing. That’s a start. It doesn’t mean it will be easier but it means the fresh start is genuine. We have people across the three home nations behind this.”

Of course, the track record of the trio of pre-existing governing bodies leaves many to suggest that they should be shoved without sentiment to one side to allow a clear path to reform. Humby, who arrives with executive spells at The FA and the Lawn Tennis Association on his CV, is no stranger to the political juggling act that he must master if the BBF is not to drop the ball.

Prior to the official start of his tenure of January 1, he had already reached out to those are currently in position of influence. When we meet initially, in a cosy committee room at the Houses of Parliament, he has begun a listening tour that will continue through to April when the new confederation, as some prefer to term it, will publish its strategy and engage fifth gear.

The impression is he has already clarity of purpose, of what is required. In due course, he and his fellow board members can pursue the minutiae of turning rhetoric into reality.

Humby: purposeful

Humby: purposeful

So far, he says, “all I can make is relatively high-level obvious observations. But I’ve seen so many excellent little examples of where basketball is used to good effect but they are all in splendid isolation. There’s nothing that unifies them towards a bigger picture. If you want to have the ability to sell and commercialise the story, it’s much harder due to that.

“So that’s what the consultation is about, how to create a unifying vision, an underpinning strategy and an allocation of accountability and responsibility for delivery between the various stakeholders. And see how many of these wonderful initiatives fit in and buy into creating a bigger whole.”

Having co-signed a contract that bound Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United, Humby is accustomed to the investor’s gambit of risk against return. Whatever concrete mission emerges will offer few short-term fixes. By necessity, he concedes, it will be a blueprint for 2024 and beyond, an attempt to move away from simply pruning at the edges rather than ruthlessly cutting at the core.

The Federation will provide leadership, he promises. Others will be asked to follow its lead. “And I think there’s going to be a lot of hard work by lots of people and groups and delivery partners to make that vision come true. There’s no quick win where you wave a wand and basketball is the sport it should be. That’s the challenge really. That’s part of the excitement: can you build this new model?”

Can you afford not to, critics will ask? A structure that reaches into every corner of basketball, from grassroots to NBA stars, from Southampton to Sutherland, steering all towards the same goal, if not by stealth then by force. “There is a massive opportunity,” Humby offers. “We have a divided nation here that needs to work together and build together.”

The framework will be critical, surely. Management consultants Deloitte have been retained via a grant from Sport England to join some of the dots. How the Great Britain teams – soon to extend down to Under-16 level – are managed is a live point of debate with confirmation that national team director Warwick Cann is vacating his role. Central contributors now, Basketball England, Basketball Scotland and Basketball Wales will retain the latitude to localise but not the freedom to deviate.

Naturally, economies of scale should be found. Why create three pyramid programmes when one will suffice? With Wales re-energised and England’s bruises from a damaging 12 months almost healed, sources attest to a greater dialogue and a willingness to pool resources. The only way surely, for both organisations, is up.

Dialogue, it is understood, has been re-started with UK Sport. Yet their in-built bias against team sports and long medal shots remains. Sport England and its Scottish and Welsh counterparts have only so much help to give. With little funding available, and with little chance a rich benefactor will emerge, leveraging the latent appeal is an area where Humby’s expertise and contact book could come into its own.

“There is a chicken and egg with money,” he confirms. “That’s a challenge. There isn’t a huge pot out there waiting for us. But we have a clear view of what comes first and that’s the vision.

“The home nations and ourselves are going to talk about the way grassroots basketball is organised in schools and in clubs. The coaching structures are really important over the long term. Getting the league structure right, and having that aspirational target to raise the bar, is also. And on top of that, having a joint approach for talent development through the GB teams.

“Money would help. But if we can take the money that’s there, and share it in a better way by using best practice to organise ourselves, then we can start there.”

What shape the professional league takes may become the first advance in this quiet revolution. Even before the BBF formally inherits power, it will assume responsibility for assessing the operating license currently held by the British Basketball League but which is due to expire at the season’s end.

There have, of course, been fanciful deals floated that would buy up the enterprise lock, stock and barrel. The numbers, quite frankly, have never added up. However few would dispute that the BBL and its clubs must be asked to raise their game if the sport is to truly lift off.

The BBL faces reform (Mansoor Ahmed)

The BBL faces reform (Mansoor Ahmed)

“Clearly, the senior professional league in this country has an important role to play in the whole vision: in talent development, in creating GB players, in promoting the sport,” Humby affirms. “We have to raise the bar for the clubs that are there now. There are some good clubs and we’re talking to them about what it all means.

“They want the certainty of the licensing so they can plan their business and I understand that. But at the same time, this is a one-off chance to look ahead clearly at what the aspiration is for the pro league in the UK. I’ll take views, I’ll look at other leagues and other countries, about how we get this right and over what timeframe we can create change.”

It may come by June. Likely, some time beyond. Humby and his cohorts can afford to be patient and play the long game. They will be judged on where basketball sits in ten years, not ten months, on whether they can break a cycle of mediocrity and convert brave words into bold action.

Mistakes and mis-steps will be inevitable. Let us not quickly judge. Once the talk has quelled, the chair senses, it is about arriving at October 1 – the designated Ground Zero – ready to run.

“We want to get this right,” he claims. “We’ll publish it by the end of April and that gives us to the end of September so that the organisation we put in place, and the linkages we put in place, work and underpin that.

“What we don’t want is to create an organisation that may not be aligned to the strategy, where we get in a rush. So there may be elements where we go ‘there’s the broad strategy and direction but these are areas where we’ll hold off and take more time on.’ One of the things I’m keen to get right is open communication. Because that is about building trust.”

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