Dan Clark reflects on historic World Cup Qualifying campaign
He’s lived and breathed GB Basketball every day for as long as most of us can remember, and ahead of the Men’s National Team’s final FIBA World Cup Qualifier of the campaign against Serbia this evening, the all-time record cap holder for Marc Steutel’s side Dan Clark has had his say on a memorable 16 months for the team in a qualification journey that started in November 2021.
GB qualified for the second phase of FIBA World Cup qualifying for the first time in their history almost a year ago, with Clark playing a prominent role on the court in the first phase of the campaign before stepping into a role as General Manager following his retirement from playing in September 2022.
Ahead of the final game of the campaign this evening in Belgrade, with GB unfortunately unable to qualify for the final tournament this summer, we sat down with the 119-cap legend to get his thoughts on the team’s growth and development.
“It has been a campaign where we’ve reached a level of competition and challenge that we’ve not reached before. There have been moments of pure enjoyment and satisfaction both on the court and within the programme throughout the campaign, even if results haven’t always gone our way.
“What we’ve shown and seen is the level of growth this programme is having, particularly in this last couple of windows, and although the campaign is over it is important we don’t lose all of this progress in the next few months and that we instead build on it.
“This window has been a very different one for everybody, with a lot of new, fresh faces in the team who haven’t experienced this level before, but the level of excitement and enthusiasm that we’ve seen from all of them has been inspiring and stands us in good stead for years to come.”
This window of games against Belgium and Serbia will have seen five new players earn their first caps for the Men’s National Team – Amin Adamu, Michael Belle, Noah Horchler, Kimbal Mackenzie and Jelani Watson-Gayle – and continues Coach Steutel’s run of bringing new faces into the group to evolve the GB family.
The quintet of new caps follows on from three more who made their debut appearances in November 2022 – Quinn Ellis, Aaron Menzies and Josh Sharma – as GB have taken the opportunity to welcome new talent to the team in the second phase of qualifying, which Clark discussed further.
“As a federation we’ve got to aspire to not have windows like this where it is commented on that we’ve brought so many new players through at once, and instead we need to aim to be bringing in these new faces on a more regular basis and for that to be part of the culture. That’s the sign of a growing programme and we will get there.
“That being said, each and every one of the new faces we’ve seen has shown that they can compete at this level, and if the result of giving these opportunities is that we realise we have a bunch of new players who can have long careers with the National Team then that has been very worthwhile.
“Looking deeper than the result and the superficial number that comes with that is one of the things we’ve got to start valuing more and having a much greater appreciation of what these players are showing out there on the floor. It is a huge learning curve to step up to this level, but players have to go through it and we’re here to support them and see what they can do.
“We are here to win basketball games, of course, and there’s no two ways about that. Part of doing that though today and in the future is giving talent a chance to show what they can do so that when it is their time to lead this team and take it forward that they’re ready and have the experience and confidence to do so, and I’ve been proud of how the players have taken on the challenge this week.”
With Clark himself recently retired, having come into the National Team as a very talented teenager who later went on to lead GB with distinction, he knows a thing or two about what it takes to make it in international basketball as a young player, and he discussed the ethos GB is adhering to when developing the future talents fans have seen in the rosters for recent windows.
“Every player has their own pathway and they’re going to learn and develop at their own rates both mentally and physically, but we’re here to support that as best we can and we have some very talented young players coming through who are capable of taking this team forward in the future.
“Our job is to make sure they get the best out of themselves at both club and international level and that they have the best experience with the National Team as they possibly can and that they enjoy this experience as much as I have and as other players have done and do.
“I say to everybody about my GB career that the level of enjoyment and fulfilment I’ve had from my time was the most important thing. I enjoyed every single minute of it, I loved it and that is all I want for the guys coming up next. We as a Federation have to find the way to support them in the best way possible and we’re working hard to do that.”
Tonight’s FIBA World Cup Qualifier against Serbia (7pm GMT tip-off) will be available to watch live and for free with a ‘Plus’ account on FIBA’s streaming service, courtside1891.basketball.