By Jamie Thomas
With the dust having settled somewhat following an emphatic few days of success out in Podgorica for GB Men, one of the many key cogs in Marc Steutel’s history-making side has reiterated how important it is that GB Basketball inspires the next generation of young ballers across the UK.
As GB Men qualified for EuroBasket 2022 with two stunning victories over Germany and France in the final qualification window last weekend, scorer of the game-winning basket against Germany, Luke Nelson, spoke on how vital it is that GB’s success motivates the next generation of talent.
“I saw a video on social media of a young kid practising his left-hand lay-up and doing his ‘best Luke Nelson impression’ which was really cool to see, but just seeing that shows how important our success was for a lot of people.
“Inspiring people at home is really important, especially in a country where we’re trying to develop the game as much as possible whether that be commercially, in terms of improving the standard, or increasing participation, that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We want to inspire people to play for GB so I hope seeing the success of our team this year and the Women’s team previously will have that effect and show that we can compete with the best teams in Europe, and we look forward to having the chance to do that at EuroBasket.”
“What we’ve achieved is what we expected of ourselves.”
Coming up against three sides in their group who were ranked significantly higher than themselves in the FIBA World Rankings, expectations from fans and pundits for GB to progress to EuroBasket from this group perhaps weren’t that high, but Nelson describes how the group felt differently.
The 25-year-old Londoner and his teammates weren’t shocked by their success, feeling they showed what they were capable of throughout the campaign to reach the 2022 showpiece tournament.
“From the outside looking in, people maybe thought we weren’t supposed to do what we did, but what we’ve achieved is what we expected of ourselves. We showed what we’re capable of, we weren’t shocked by it, and it was a great feeling to qualify, but we know we were capable of it.
“We put pressure on ourselves because we know what we can do, but felt no pressure from the outside. We just went out to disrupt teams and our defence was probably our biggest strength. Having the mentality that these guys didn’t know what we could do was a big motivator for us.
“We took the fact that we were underdogs and used it to boost our ‘team ego’. If you looked at the group objectively then France, Germany and Montenegro all ranked comfortably higher than us, but we knew what we could do from the start.”
With the summer of 2022 feeling fairly far away, the GB guard is trying not to look too far ahead, with other key international fixtures between now and then and plenty to look forward to at club level, but admits the positive is there is plenty of time for the team to develop further before then.
Lining up against the best of the best in Europe at EuroBasket 2022 is a tantalising prospect for any player, but Nelson argues that it’ll particularly be the case for GB as the players will compete without fear and show what they can do against the best.
“There’s always room for improvement, no matter who you are or how good you are. There is no limit for us right now and no pressure on us either. Nobody is expecting us to win at EuroBasket so we can go out there with the same mindset, enjoy our basketball, be aggressive, play hard and see what happens.
“We have such good chemistry, we all know each other really well and have consistently played together over some time. We’ve won a lot of games together and every window we just picked up where we left off in the last time. The more we play together the more we’ll learn.
“To play at EuroBasket will be really exciting. We know it will be tough, the best of the best will be there, but we’ve got a chance to show what we’re capable of now and we can’t wait.”
“The game was not won on that shot.”
If you’re a basketball fan in the UK, or indeed even further afield, you’ve probably seen Nelson’s game-winning lefty lay-up in the dying seconds of GB’s showdown against Germany last Saturday a fair few times by now.
What a basket it was – and one that the 25-year-old is rightly proud of – but he is equally eager to point out that whilst the basket itself may have sealed the victory, it was the five minutes or so previously in particular that laid the groundwork for such a spectacular win.
“Those five minutes at the end of the Germany game are a good representation of our qualities. We had had a spell before that, though, where we just kept turning the ball over and couldn’t score, which can snowball and hurt you, but we kept that defensive intensity and got through it.
“The way we played, it wasn’t just one guy – everybody was hustling all over the court – and the bench was so supportive, which people maybe don’t always see, but having their energy was so important.
“We look at ourselves as a team and not individuals. Whoever plays, whatever their role, it is about us and what we can do at any given time to help our team win the game. From the coaches, the physios, the managers, whoever was in the squad, there has never been any individual ego about this group and it was so special to be around that. “That lay-up was the shot that won it, but the game was not won on that shot – the way we had played defensively in that last five minutes is what won us the game, and I just happened to score that shot … which got a lot of attention because game-winners are always exciting.”