By Jamie Thomas
After a storied campaign spanning over two-and-a-half years, GB men’s team enter this final FIBA EuroBasket qualification window knowing that a place at the 2022 tournament is within our grasp.
There has been history made along the way, with record winning streaks secured alongside some unforgettable victories, and as the final two qualifiers approach, veteran Ashley Hamilton feels that if the team keeps approaching these games the way it has done, then the results will take care of themselves.
“We’ve shown that we can win, and we have a group that has won together consistently.”
“We’re 9-2 in our last 11 and we really should have won against Montenegro – France being the first team we felt truly beat us – but sometimes you need results to go against you to refocus and analyse where you can improve.
“We’re looking forward to getting together and we’re confident that we can get the job done. What got us here is our hard work, our unity, our unselfishness, guys being willing to play whatever role is required and everybody getting on well.
“It’s a really nice environment to be in. We’re all happy for each other, we all buy into what we’re doing, have great practices, pull in the same direction and if we continue like that in this window then the rest will take care of itself.”
“We know how we want the team to be and what GB Basketball represents.”
The 24-man squad for this qualification window is led by an experienced core group of players – including Hamilton – who have committed to every window of this EuroBasket qualifying campaign.
With so many leaders within the group, Hamilton wants to empower people to step up and lead in their own ways, as he discussed the culture developed by the leadership in this team that has enabled their recent success.
“A lot of us have played in the GB system and have either played together or known each other for a long time now, which is a big boost.
“I was in the team at a young age, competing against older players in my positions. I missed out on EuroBaskets, Olympics, and so on, but when it was my time to come back into the side I already had that chemistry with the group.
“I had great leadership from guys like Kieron Achara, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Luol Deng, and guys who led me, to the point where now when young guys are coming in, we know how to lead them, how we want the team to be and what GB Basketball represents, which helps keep that culture going.”
“It’s fantastic to see these young players taking their opportunities.”
Coming into this window, one of the biggest stories in British basketball has been how 18-year-old Cameron Hildreth stepped up to the BBL, stuffing the stat-sheet and bagging a game winner on his debut for Surrey Scorchers.
Highlighting how exciting a time it is for British basketball, Hamilton spoke of how he has enjoyed seeing young GB players taking their opportunities before stepping up to shine for GB too.
“It’s an exciting time for GB Basketball, but particularly in terms of the younger players coming through. I love seeing young talent in the British game and BBL, and what’s great about the GB squad is we can get to know and help nurture these players too.
“Just to see them, be around and try to help them as much as possible is really important to us. Cam Hildreth is a recent example, having a dream debut in the BBL with Surrey Scorchers, hitting the game winner, and now he’ll be with us on GB in this window and that’s great. It’s fantastic to see these young players taking their opportunities and we’re so happy for them and proud of them.
“As well as Cam, Jacob Round had an amazing senior GB debut against Luxembourg, Kareem Queeley was the first British player to win the Basketball Champions League, Kavell Bigby-Williams is doing great things in Italy … and that’s just four of them! There are guys all over doing so well and it’s really exciting to see and be a part of.”
“We want to win … and shine a light on the talent we have in this country.”
Should we be successful in this qualification window in securing our place at EuroBasket 2022, it would not only represent the fifth time that the men’s side had reached the competition, but it would also be a significant milestone for 32-year-old Hamilton and, he hopes, would help further boost GB’s profile, and leave a positive legacy for future GB teams.
“My goal has always been to make sure I help the team however I can to qualify for EuroBasket. I’ve never played at a major tournament at senior international level, and I want to achieve that before my playing days are over.
“I want to help establish GB as a high-ranking team, increasing our profile and impact on the international stage, and we’re certainly building towards that. We don’t want GB Basketball to be overlooked – we want to win, be noticed, and shine light on the talent we have in this country.
“Leaving the game in a better place for the next generation is our goal, and part of that is getting these big results and qualifying for major tournaments so that in future GB are regularly competing on the biggest stages, and our players are in the EuroLeague, Champions League and NBA consistently. We’ve got to take responsibility for helping to achieve that.”