John Amaechi: NBA arrival cannot hide shortfalls in "dire" British Basketball

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The NBA's now annual pilgrimage to the United Kingdom is in full swing this week ahead of tonight's Global Games match up between the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks.

But while the NBA's latest attempt at Manifest Destiny shines the spotlight on the glitz, glamour and mega contracts of the league, former British NBA player John Amaechi has warned that the state of basketball on this side of the pond remains in near total chaos.

Tough talking

Speaking exclusively to GiveMeSport, Amaechi offered his perspective on British basketball, admitting that the NBA is at present an almost impossible dream for young talented players in this country largely because those in charge of the sport here continue to fail to provide an adequate pathway to success.

Amaechi appeared for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz during his career in the NBA but admits that any trail that he may have blazed for British basketball talent has turned out to be "dimly lit."

"The unfortunate part is that in this country the NBA and the Global Game is the highlight of basketball. We lack inspirational icons in British basketball."

Cuts to funding at the elite level have seen potential icons walk away from the game - just last year one GB squad member quit basketball to sign up for the fire service - meaning the NBA is at present the only place aspiring UK players look to to learn the game.

"Most kids...they mostly look to the NBA and so having the NBA come to their doorsteps, to their neighbourhoods...this is the way that they sustain their momentum. By seeing the best in the world playing the game on their doorstep."

For a country with a growing enthusiasm for the game, and the athletes capable of playing it at a very high level, this is an unfortunate situation.

Myriad of problems

The GB basketball team saw their UK Sport funding (£7 million) cut in 2013 leaving the top end of the sport in the UK in an almost impossible position when it comes to competing against the spending powers of not just the USA but European nations such as Spain, France and Greece.

The same funding issues, coupled with issues of infrastructure and organization, mean the grassroots level of the game is being starved of a chance to grow.

The NBA will always be the pinnacle but the severe drop off to the UK game is a worrying predicament. With problems mounting by the month, and seemingly no answers on the horizon, can you really expect youngsters to place their faith in basketball? Amaechi has his concerns on that front, so much so that he labels the current state of British basketball as "dire."

The main issues

"It is criminal. We have as much talent as any other country out there...We have kids that could absolutely be NBA standard players but they fall by the wayside because our infrastructure is poor, our coaching is genuinely terrible and we don't have a professional league that kids can aspire to."

Put together cuts, infrastructural issues and questionable leadership and you have a cocktail that would put off even the most fastidious aspiring basketball player.

"It's Saturday league type stuff. So all these things together just mean that our talent is frustrated and instead of playing basketball they end up sitting on a boat rowing. Instead of playing basketball they do the long jump.

"They do something, anything else, because everything else is more organised and has better infrastructure."

The British Basketball Federation, and GB Basketball, has come in for criticism in the past for its recent failings. Miami Heat's British born star Luol Deng has been one of the most high profile voices of dissent. While only a last minute £1.2 million injection of funds from Sport England in November 2014 staved of further crisis.

Sports minister Helen Grant made it clear when making the recent investment that British Basketball must put it to good use:

"The sport has a huge potential to grow and I want there to be a route for young people taking up basketball in this country to get to the top. British Basketball understands that with this funding and support it has to step up, but I am confident that the sport will do that."

Placing money in the hands of those currently in charge at the top level in the UK is a dangerous thing to do though according to Amaechi. The individuals making the decisions finding themselves firmly in his cross hairs.

"We still need a professional league (in the UK). We just need one that is quality, with great leadership. Not one that is bent as a three pound coin."

Building foundations

Whether those in control are "bent" is a fairly serious accusation but while that matter is up for discussion there is no denying that the current formula simply is not working.

Trying to compare the juggernaut that is the NBA with the British Basketball League is like putting Usain Bolt up against an out of shape, and apathetic snail in a 100m sprint and wondering who is going to win. There simply is no competition.

While the NBA attracts millions of fans to state-of-the-art arenas the BBL is played on multi-purpose courts in leisure centres throughout the UK in front of sparse crowds.

This is not the fault of the players themselves who put their all into every game on the schedule, and no one is expecting British basketball to leap to the level of the NBA, but the situation as it stands means players are battling against the odds courtesy of a lack of vision and provision.

As Amaechi puts it; "If your idea is (to eventually play in) the NBA then you cannot stay here (to learn the game)."

Luol Deng, the most successful British NBA player in the league's history with two All-Star appearances, made a similar point late last year:

"Right now for kids to make it to the highest stage they've got to get out of here early."

Fear of losing talent

Amaechi and Deng have both set up basketball camps in recent years in a bid to inspire kids and nurture potential talent in a proper basketball environment but there is still much to do to solve the puzzle of the British game.

"Our coaches aren't good enough. Our facilities are terrible. Our leadership is poor. Those three things mean that you can be an amazingly talent British player and in four years time you'll be the guy they said 'Oh didn't he have potential and now he's working in an office somewhere.'

Something certainly needs to be done to stop UK offices filling up with talented basketball players and Amaechi clearly has the knowledge and enthusiasm to offer some suggestions on how to do that. Whether those at the top of the UK game are willing to take heed however remains to be seen.

For now though the NBA remains king and their ambitions to bring the game to London do at least offer some high quality, well organised basketball on these shores.

The Milwaukee Bucks take on the New York Knicks at NBA Global Games London 2015 at The O2 on January 15. The game is live on BT Sport 1 and on NBA LEAGUE PASS. To follow the NBA in the UK visit

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