One of five players looking to win their first senior cap this window as he joins Marc Steutel’s side in training camp ahead of two FIBA World Cup Qualifiers against Belgium and Serbia, Kimbal Mackenzie has been in fine form of late and is looking to carry that into this week’s preparations for two huge games.
The National Team will take to the court at Newcastle’s Vertu Motors Arena on February 24th against Belgium before travelling to Belgrade to face the Serbians on February 27th as Steutel and his staff conclude what has been a historic FIBA World Cup Qualifying campaign, with GB reaching the second qualifying phase for the first time in their history.
“It’s a huge honour to be here, for sure.” Mackenzie said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time this week talking about the pride everybody in this group has to be here, whether they’ve been here for 10-plus years or they’re relatively new, so for me to be here I was honoured to get the call and I’m excited for this week.
“When I signed with the Riders, it was definitely a goal of mine to represent the National Team, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to come here and work with the guys and be part of this team.
“My time with Leicester has definitely fuelled my appreciation and love for the culture over here, without a doubt. I’ve watched a lot of the games for sure and especially recently the ones Patrick (Whelan) played in as he’s my guy, and yeah, just to represent the country is a huge honour.”
Settling into his new environment, Mackenzie has been joined by a number of new faces on camp but admits he has felt settled instantly as the coaches and senior players have brought everybody into the GB culture from the moment they arrived on camp.
The 26-year-old discussed how quickly he feels everybody has integrated, as well as the challenges that lay ahead of the group this week in their final two qualifiers of the campaign.
“Everybody has been super helpful and welcoming, and the coaches have made a big emphasis on getting us together and building that camaraderie from the beginning and the meaning behind why we’re all here and what we want to achieve.
“Belgium and Serbia are both high-quality basketball countries, so we know we’re in for a big test this week against those guys. Belgium in particular have been together for nearly 10 years and both teams have a great culture so we know we’ve got two tough tests ahead of us but we’re excited for it.
“It’ll be nice to step into Newcastle for a change with the crowd supporting my team instead of wanting us to lose as they do when I’m there with Leicester! It’s a great arena, there’s a great feel to the gym and the fans make an awesome atmosphere, so I’m excited to sample that as well.”
Canadian-born but with a British passport, Mackenzie has been flying for the Leicester Riders of late – notching a whopping 31 points in his final game for the Rob Paternostro’s side before coming to training camp – and discussed his rich run of form with the club as well as how he has enjoyed teaming up with players who are rivals at club level to compete for the National Team this week.
“Rob gives everybody the opportunity to play their game because he wants us to do whatever we do best, and we’re coming together really well. It has been a difficult season with injuries and so on to key players, but now we’re finding our rhythm both individually and collectively and seeing the results on the floor.
“To be here with guys from London and Bristol and other BBL teams has been really fun, actually, going back and forth discussing what we do at our teams and stuff, so there’s been a lot of curiosity in that sense and a lot of fun getting to know each other on and off the floor.
“We haven’t had much opportunity to play together as one team, but we all know how to play the game at a high level and I’m really enjoying being around so many great players. We’ve been working really hard together and learning what makes each other tick, so it has been awesome.”
GET YOUR TICKETS
Get your tickets to support Great Britain in their final home game of FIBA 2023 World Cup Qualifying in Newcastle against Belgium on February 24th by clicking here. The team needs your support and we can’t wait to see you in the stands cheering on the team this week!