By Jamie Thomas
As we near the first game of what could be an historic international window for our GB Men’s national side, thoughts will have undoubtedly turned to the games and moments that put Nate Reinking’s side firmly in control of its qualification hopes for FIBA EuroBasket 2022.
At the top of that list for many, as GB get set to face Germany in the first of two crunch qualifiers in Podgorica, will be the reverse fixture, which took place at the Eagles Community Arena in Newcastle almost exactly a year ago.
After what Acting Head Coach Marc Steutel described as a ‘nearly performance’ in the previous game against Montenegro, losing by seven in Podgorica, he discussed his feelings after an important and impressive win against 2022 co-hosts Germany by eight points on Tyneside.
“The biggest feeling after the game was relief.” Steutel said. “The game was back-and-forth, we had to take a couple of punches, and I was just so proud of our resilience – we stayed composed and ground out a really important win.
“I was proud for a lot of reasons, but none more so than because it kept our qualification hopes alive, and that has been brought into focus even more now as we approach this next qualification window. We have a significant challenge in this next window, but that win helped us towards controlling our own fate and that is really pleasing.”
“That last quarter was just amazing.”
With the Germans ranked 18th in the world at the time, compared to GB in 41st, Steutel’s side were up against it on paper and trailed by four with seven minutes to go before embarking on a 17-2 run to seal a vital victory.
The Newcastle Eagles hosted an unforgettable game of basketball, and no doubt the fantastic finish for GB was fuelled by the raucous sell-out crowd that just got louder and louder as the game rolled on.
“That last quarter was just amazing.” Newcastle Eagles Managing Director Paul Blake said. “Home advantage is such a big thing in basketball, particularly if you have a full house behind you, and I think that really paid dividends in the last quarter because it was a cauldron. It was really important for us to give GB that experience on their homecourt.
“Events like that really impact on younger generations – that’s why there needs to be more of them. I hope we get to a situation where we can find ways for GB to have more home games, and that it continues to have an impact. Not every town has a BBL club to look up to. I didn’t have one growing up, so I know how important it is and we need to continue to build that profile to engage people.”
“We’re definitely resilient and willing to fight.”
Luke Nelson led both teams on the night in player efficiency and he led all scorers too, as his 26 points helped power GB towards victory, but there were super performances across the board for the home side.
Back in the GB fold after a brief spell away, Bristol Flyer Ben Mockford had a super showing against the Germans, leading all players with a 15+/- and a string of vital plays on both ends of the floor down the stretch, as GB veteran Ashley Hamilton noted, speaking of the importance of that win:
“We have a team of guys who are capable of having ‘talent games’ like Ben did that night, for example, and sometimes you need that. I didn’t realise at the time the implications or impact of that win, but looking back on it I certainly realise it’s importance.
“That resilience and fight is always going to be there with this team. We’re not always going to have our best game, but we battled and persevered. Ovie (Soko) battled all game, Myles (Hesson) fought, Ben did, Luke (Nelson) did, everybody, but that’s what good teams do – they find a way to win, whether it is their day or not. We’re definitely resilient and willing to fight.”
“It was the most special game I’ve been involved in for GB.”
Mockford himself labelled it as the most special game he has been involved in whilst donning the GB jersey, also speaking of the qualities of this side and how this team has gone on to put itself in a strong position to qualify for EuroBasket.
“I hit some big shots, but Luke Nelson had a huge game too and so did others – everybody played their part – that’s what’s so great about this team. Everybody chips in and plays their part and that’s why we’ve had success. This team has the tools to compete with and beat anybody, really.
“That night is definitely up there for me in my career, and one of the best games I’ve been a part of. There was a lot of emotion involved and a lot of pride. I think I’ve had better personal games for GB, but in terms of the atmosphere and the togetherness in the group, all of us putting it all out there for each other, I would say it was the most special game I’ve been involved in for GB, definitely.”
“Saying it is one thing – we now have to put it into practice.”
After a storied campaign spanning over two-and-a-half years, GB know 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, Steutel wants the team to manifest its belief now and go and secure qualification for EuroBasket.
“At the level of competition we’re playing at now, we’re going to have to absorb some runs from good basketball teams, but if we’re playing the right way and the way we want to play as GB, this group absolutely believes in itself and that we should be at EuroBasket. Saying it is one thing – we now have to go and put it into practice and make sure that we earn it in a couple of weeks’ time.”