By Jamie Thomas
To be an elite team you have to have an elite mentality, and what GB Men showed in securing their place at EuroBasket 2022 with two spectacular victories out in Podgorica last weekend is that their mentality and desire to win is as strong as any team around.
In conversation with veteran forward Myles Hesson following GB’s qualification for next summer’s showpiece tournament, he talked more about that mentality Marc Steutel’s side have and how their success has only added to the strong belief the squad has in its own talents.
“We go into every game with the mentality that we are the best team out on the floor and that we can win any game. This campaign has certainly added to our belief. We’ve always believed in ourselves, but we’ve proved even more now that we can compete and win against the top teams. We get better every time we get together, and we’re going to continue to do that.
“To win against France, Germany and Montenegro in the same group is a tough ask but we went out there with that as a goal and we came out of with the results we needed to qualify.
“To beat Germany and France in the same weekend in any sport for GB is a big achievement. The achievement of this campaign is right up there in terms of my career – it is no mean feat to qualify for EuroBasket in the way that we have. Nobody expected us to come out of the group, but we all thought that we could so to go out there and prove everybody wrong was a big accomplishment.”
With a significant task in front of them at the start of this latest qualification phase, GB were undaunted and secured second place in their group to book a place at EuroBasket 2022, despite the fact that they were painted as ‘underdogs’ by many due to the quality of opposition in their group.
30-year-old Hesson argues that his team never felt daunted by the challenge ahead of them though, and that when they cross that line onto the court GB can compete with anybody.
“I feel as though we were made the underdogs by other people rather than ourselves. We don’t feel like the underdogs when we go out there and compete. We play to win, we don’t worry about rankings or anything like that – we just go out there, deal with what’s in front of us and do our best to be the better team on the day, which is what counts.
“We’ve been consistent for the past three years in terms of who has been in the squad, so we all know each other, we’ve all played together a lot and we all like playing together, which shows in the way we play. We’re unselfish, we make the extra effort on both ends of the floor, and that goes a long way.
“The sentiment across Europe about GB Basketball hasn’t been great in recent years, but we’re trying to change that and getting these types of results is definitely going to help. Going into EuroBasket next year, we obviously don’t know who is in our group, but we’re going to try and win every game we can and turn a few heads.”
“We just had that undying belief that we could win.”
Luke Nelson’s spectacular game winner against Germany in the first of last weekend’s two games will have grabbed much of the headlines, and rightly so, but it was the extended periods of superb defence before that play which really gave GB the foundation for such a win.
Holding Germany to very limited scoring opportunities and getting many defensive stops in the closing stages of the game, GB bodies were jumping and diving all over the court to hustle their way to crucial defensive plays, as Hesson detailed what it took to see out the win in that manner.
“We just had that undying belief that we could win. We were determined, we played together, and as long as we stick together as a group and give 100% then, whether we in or lose, we can hold our heads high at the end of it.
“In moments like that you don’t realise what is going on as far as making a decisive play or anything like that – you’re just concentrating on taking the game play-by-play, getting a stop on the defensive end and scoring on the other end.
“We rely on our defence as a foundation for us to build from. If we get stops and manage to get out in transition then I don’t think there’s many teams that can cause us that many problems.
“It was frustrating to not get the score on the other end after a few of our big stops, but we stuck together and fought it out to the end – it was a really good feeling to be able to do that as a team.”
“I’d like young people … to think that they can achieve what we have.”
Many will have been inspired, both within the UK and surely beyond, by GB’s exploits in qualifying for EuroBasket, and Hesson hopes the team’s success can have a positive impact at home on future generations of aspiring players.
“It’s great to hear that we’re having a positive impact on the next generation. It is really important for them to see people from where they’re from being successful to motivate them to keep playing the game and improving.
“I’d like young people who have seen our performances recently to think that they can achieve what we have too. We come from where these kids come from and we’re out here beating teams who have more money, better facilities and things like that, and striving to be the best we can be and there’s no reason others can’t do the same.
“When I was a young player I probably wouldn’t have expected to achieve what I have. I was never the best when I was younger, I didn’t play for GB until I was at Under-20s, but I kept wanting to improve and I believe the sky is the limit if you think like that and want to get better every day.”