Great Britain and Spain are A Tale of Two Different Ball Games, Alex Hinds writes.

In the last three major international competitions, only one nation has come close to conquering the mighty USA at basketball.

Spain has made it to two of the last three Olympic men’s basketball finals in 2008 and 2012, falling short by just 11 and 7 points respectively. In this year’s contest, Spain met Team USA in the semi-finals, and once again came agonisingly close to victory – eventually losing out by a mere 6 points.

Spain’s combination of ball movement, fundamentals and execution has at times over-matched the USA – who typically prefer to assert themselves with superior athletic ability and the individual prowess of stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony.

The Spanish team of the last ten years has its own solid core of NBA and Euroleague stars including brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez, Jose Calderon and Felipe Reyes – all except Reyes have been major contributors to both the NBA and the Spanish domestic league, La Liga ACB.

Aside from the national team, the ACB is one of the top basketball leagues in the world. Just this month, A Real Madrid rallied from 22 points behind to defeat NBA side Oklahoma City Thunder 142-137 in a pre-season game.

In the women’s Olympic final, the margin was not quite as close, Spain and USA faced off in the finals, with Team USA sealing the victory 101-72. But still, it was La Roja ending up on the podium.

Boasting domestic and international success, we wanted to find out what is fuelling this level of sustained excellence, and what lessons the UK basketball community may be able to learn from our neighbours on the continent.

The development of highly skilled coaches
Pedro Garcia Rosado has coached professionally in both Spain and the UK believes the development of talent at a grassroots level is crucial to the growth of the sport.

Garcia has seen both systems

Garcia has seen both systems

“Basketball in Spain and the UK are different for a number of reasons, but two factors are most prevalent. In Spain, kids can start playing basketball at the age of three or four years old and there are official competitions from the age of six.”

Garcia Rosado has worked at Unicaja Malaga in Spain and atLeeds Force and Reading Rockets in the UK during the last ten years.

“Currently in the UK, national league competition starts around 14 years old,” he said. “Some players can be left six years behind on crucial and fundamental aspects of the game, which are harder to recover later on.”

He also believes the supply of highly trained fully-paid coaches in the UK is falling behind what is needed, but recognises the challenges many volunteer coaches face when it comes to accessing proper development programmes.

“In many European countries, coaches are expected to complete approximately 150 hours of intensive training in a few weeks, or throughout an eight-month period. If coaches aren’t being paid appropriately, where are they going to get the money to attend more training events and clinics?”

Funding for the sport
The training and development of coaches and players at the grassroots level is deeply affected by the level of funding basketball has received in recent years.

Basketball currently receives just £10million in funding for 2013-2017 from Sport England and nothing from UK Sport – after the organisation cut its funding due to a perceived poor performance at the London 2012 Olympics, despite the men’s national team pushing the mighty Spanish team to within one point of victory.

Funding for so-called minority sports in the UK affects the ability for organisations to bring in the best coaches, access the top facilities and market themselves to new audiences.

Participation in the sport has been very high for a number of years, and there is no shortage of kids wanting to play. According to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, basketball is the second most popular sport played in the UK by 11- to 15-year-olds, with 32% of children playing. Only football – with 54% – was more popular.

Basketball’s Olympic legacy
The London Olympics was meant to provide the spark needed to create a basketball legacy in the UK, however many believe the authorities have not done enough to continue this momentum with additional funding and support.

This comes in spite of the fact that the most influential league in the world, the National Basketball Association, claims it is committed to growing the sport in the UK – showcasing six regular season games in London in recent years and providing community initiatives up and down the country.

Speaking in December last year, former Great Britain international and current NBA forward Luol Deng told BBC Sport that he was disappointed by the current state of the game.

“I felt that during the Olympics, we’ve done so much to try and inspire people and we worked so hard, but I felt that nobody had our back,” he said.

“We went from not really having a basketball team to being in the Olympics playing Spain, which has maybe eight or seven NBA players.

“Here we are competing with them to the last minute and we don’t win. Everything went downhill from there, but I really thought that we gave everything and dedicated everything.”

Deng, who was born in South Sudan and raised in the Brixton area of London has been an advocate for the game of basketball in Great Britain and Africa. He was awarded the NBA Citizenship award in 2014 and runs his own camp in London aimed at developing the next generation of basketball talent.

The Los Angeles Laker continued: “Basketball could be another outlet which gives kids a future and give these kids a dream and something to go after.

“There’s a lot of kids that are so talented, but they don’t have the support that they need.”

He is not alone and the British basketball community of dedicated coaches, executives and support staff working tirelessly to lay foundations for the sport to flourish.

With all the hard work that’s gone into this mission, hopefully many more will take notice and realise the potential of this sport in Britain.

If they don’t, they’re missing a huge opportunity to make a difference to the lives of many.

Alex Hinds is a freelance writer who writes a Business of Basketball blog at

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