Toni Minichiello is the latest to be thrust into a chair that has more resembled a trigger-happy ejector seat.

Instantly, he has required the capacity to simultaneously to cast his vision across the myriad and disparate fronts of British basketball.

That’s where a background coaching the multi-disciplined challenges of heptathlon comes in handy.

The man who guided Jessica Ennis to Olympic gold at London 2012 has had an affiliation with hoops just as long as with athletics. Ever forthright in his options, he was never destined to be a nodding dog when he joined the board of the British Basketball Federation almost three years ago.

Appointed for his performance expertise, he now finds himself as its chairman since Maurice Watkins’ decision to step down due to ill health.

The tag, officially, says he is in interim charge. Given the consistently temporal terms of the holders of the office, the Yorkshireman is as permanent as he can possibly be.

And hence he must deal with a direct line of fire in the BBF’s direction from the home nations of England, Wales, and especially Scotland in what seems like an eternal War of the Roses within the sport.

Basketball Scotland’s two appointees to the federation’s board, Stephen Ferguson and Doug Folan, resigned amid grumbles of discontent over strategy and pathways through the funnel which neither has sought to clearly spell out.

Politics. Twas ever thus.

Minichiello has observed similar familial disputes in track and field. For the benefit of no-one except those seeking sticks for a beating.

It is baffling, he signals, why instead of staying around to discuss and debate how the various strands of UK Basketball PLC should effectively knit together, there are empty seats at the table where once voices were heard.

“Let’s make it clear, I don’t have responsibility for the whole sport,” he underlines. “I have responsibility for the BBF which is fundamentally
the senior teams and part of our approach towards 3×3.

“So, it’s not for me to answer that question. There has to be a collective answer between various chairs and chief executives as to how the sport joins up. If it joins up at all.

“For my part of the sport, what I can say is, I think we’ve made progress to where we are. We’re pleased with the men’s progress. We would have liked a little bit more with the women. But that for the most part has been great.”

There has been a relatively rosy picture to emerge. Yes, Great Britain’s women let an opportunity to reach EuroBasket 2021 slip away but it is still less than a year since they were one functional quarter away from qualifying for the Olympics. Just the right sort of message to send to the number-crunching keepers of the Lottery purse at UK Sport.

The men, courtesy of this month’s majestic performances in Montenegro, are into the 2022 Euros with the additional perk of a pass into the main World Cup qualifying draw.

After the summer, basketball will regain its place on the funding list for the first time in over seven years. £1.5 million has been awarded in the cycle up to Paris 2024. Significant improvements. Some stability, at least. For context, however, it remains the lowest sum allocated to any summer sport.

On Minichiello’s to-do list, to try and leverage the kind of additional commercial investment that has proven elusive so for long. “Because let’s be honest,” he proclaims, “£1.5 million doesn’t go near far enough to pay for everything that we do.

“The more successful your team is, the more expensive it is. So we have to look at it. So it’s kind of: ‘put your ideal plan down on paper, cost it, see what we can afford. adjust accordingly.'”

Which is where some semblance of unity helps and disunity damages. There is an ample body of evidence over the previous four decades that underlines just why basketball has repeatedly punched below its weight.

With the prospect of a multi-million pound investment into the BBL, with shoots of promise elsewhere, there have been questions over why Scotland – who claim support from their brethren – have walked out of the room.

It is not a good optic. Not when team sports have traditionally had to go the extra kilometre to press their case, often by playing the grassroots card and the additional return any investment might bring.

A single voice, as other sports have noted, truly helps. It should not – cannot – be about partisan interest with so much at stake, Minichiello signals.

“When you’re on a board, it’s important to understand you’re not representing the home country. It’s a little strange. You kind of have to park that and go: ‘what’s in the best interest for the company, on the board on which I sit?’

“Does that make sense? Yeah. That’s how you’re charged under the Companies Act. So it’s about what’s in the best interest of the BBF.

“Now, unfortunately, I think there’s a disconnect there, and people come to the board, or have come onto the board, with the agenda of their own country, which is different.

“So participation is not an area of the BBF’s. I have no responsibility for the participation numbers or youth basketball or our schools, for example.

“It’s not in my gift to deliver it. That is dealt with and dealt with very well by the home countries.

“So this idea of buy-in … if you’re on the BBF board, you’re looking at the BBF’s priorities. And I think it’s sometimes difficult and been lost in translation.

“So going forwards, you know, I would hope that the home countries would
support the senior men’s and women’s programmes. And that’s because that’s the priority of what we as the BBF are trying to deliver.

“Sitting on boards is a tough thing, especially when you’re from a country because you can’t not know what you know. And you can’t go: ‘hold on a minute. That’s good for BBF but not great for England, Scotland, and Wales.’ That shouldn’t happen as we are dealing with different elements.

“Maybe there’s going to be points like that. And you just have to deal with the position.”

For now, he will multi-task and peer beyond this summer when he plans to be mentoring his small cluster of heptathlon pupils through Tokyo. Uncertainty surrounds GB’s junior teams. For the seniors, there is significant plans to be crafted.

Women’s head coach Chema Buceta has unveiled a wish list of some off-season competition to reinvigorate his team.

For the men, every little would help too. There is a sense, at least, of some harmony between the BBF and its leading lights, three years on from a very public rebellion when players accused the blazerati of undermining their cause.

Amid the feel-good factor to fly home from Podgorica, there was however a significant question repeatedly asked: was the decision to appoint Nate Reinking as head coach a miscalculation? Given his absence on the ground throughout an ultimately profitable EuroBasket qualifying push due to his commitments in the NBA G-League.

Give the job to his stand-in Marc Steutel, the Twitterati proclaimed. Especially with no guarantee that Great Britain’s primary shooting guard from London 2012 will be able to patrol the sideline in-person at the Euros next year.

The man who first made Reinking’s acquaintance when they were respectively
player and fan at Sheffield Sharks dispels the notion that there should be a change.

“You know what? Everything goes as planned,” he asserts.

“Like it wasn’t planned? We knew Nate wouldn’t be around. Do people think Nate had no part in what was going on? Marc and Nate work really well together. More importantly the players, the staff, bought into what was planned.

“You know, we’ve got an eye on the future as well, where that’s all concerned. But this is Nate’s team and it all went to plan.

“Now people are asking me to change it. It’s like: ‘oh, okay. What’s that about?’ I find it amusing. The plan went well.”

Look at the USA, he proclaims. And the way they deployed ex-GB boss Joe Prunty for their recent FIBA AmeriCup qualifiers but will restore Gregg Popovich once the Olympics come around.

“I appreciate it’s the USA but it’s an example” he adds.

“The Europeans are 2022 in September. We’re headed into March 2021. Things are progressing so we have to build from here. We’ve got some Progression funding (from UK Sport). We use that, we sit down, and plan.”

If the unorthodox, trans-continental approach that allows Reinking to play GM and Steutel to call the plays is working well, let us not attempt to fix it.

“The job was get through pre-qualifiers – that was done,” Minichiello underlines. “The next job: can we finish third in that group? I think we can.

“We actually finished second in that group. And we won some games. Fantastic.

“Now you plan the next phase, which is between here and then. And we’ve got World Cup, and there’s moving the team towards EuroBasket 2022.

“So it is step-by-step planning.”

Photo: British Athletics/Getty

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