Edinburgh women’s pro basketball team tipped to succeed

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A ground-breaking new £200,000 plan to launch a women’s professional basketball team in the Capital might stand a better chance of success than previous schemes for men’s teams, BasketballScotland have insisted.

The announcement that a Scottish team based at “Oriam”, the new national excellence centre at Riccarton for football, basketball and volleyball, has been accepted for next season into the WBBL, the rapidly improving women’s British League, which will mean a frantic scramble for coaches, players and management over the next four months.

But BasketballScotland chief executive Kevin Pringle believes they can be ready in time.

“I’m really most excited about it – we hope to be announcing the team name and logo soon,” he said.

“This is about producing and improving Scottish players and in the long term playing for Great Britain.”

An ambitious project by an American entrepreneur Donald Sampley to develop a men’s professional basketball franchise in Edinburgh for the British BBL had to be put on the back burner last year due to lack of funds and there are no plans to revive it, though Sampley is now working as a local development officer in East Lothian, coaching young players.

Scotland’s only men’s pro team the Rocks, originally the Edinburgh Rocks and based at Meadowbank, are now the Glasgow Rocks and based at the Emirates Arena where they have been enjoying a relatively successful season, drawing average crowds of around 1500 and reaching the semi-finals of the BBL Play-Offs.

The recent WBBL Play-Offs final, staged in conjunction with the BBL final which was played before a a crowd of 10,000 at the O2 Arena in London, attracted a lively 3000 fans and the teams in the league have been making obvious progress in both playing standards and promotion, with Hertfordshire team Oaklands Wolves also coming in.

It was thought that Edinburgh University women, who under the direction of their Dutch coach Bart Sengers won all three major national competitions in season 2015-2016 with an unbeaten record, would be the obvious choice to move up.

But Pringle insists this new outfit is a “BasketballScotland team” though he believes both EU and Heriot-Watt University will benefit. “It’s an opportunity for them both to improve their current players and to recruit players.”

For a start it has the blessing of and financial support from the national funding agency Sportscotland and it will have a home at the new facilities at Oriam.

The idea is to bring together a group of the most talented Scottish players, some of whom will still be students, who will play for the new club and also prepare for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast Australia.

But the time frames are short. The new WBBL season is due to start in October and coaches have still to be appointed, although that process is already at interview stage and the favourite for the lead post must be Sengers whose EU team made remarkable progress in the American-stacked British Universities Northern Premier Division last season.

“We hope to make an announcement by the end of May,” said Pringle.

There are still many ifs and buts, not least if there is opposition from Scottish clubs who, understandably, may not wish to release their best players to the new team, a process which could also occur for the men with the Glasgow Rocks the conduit.

And some of the potential national team players – there has been no Scottish womens’ activity this summer – may not wish to leave their current clubs. Sarah Thomson for example played for WBBL Play-Off winners Team Northumbria.

City of Edinburgh Kool Kats women’s head coach Graham “Ben” Gunn said: “There seems to have been a lack of consultation and there are still a number of questions to be answered.”

One of these is certainly how teams are to “qualify” for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The last time basketball was in the Games, Scotland were accepted directly for the men’s tournament in Melbourne in 2006, though the women lost out to Malta.

There is also the question of what happens after 2018 as the SportScotland grant aid is performance-based and specific, so only guaranteed for two years.

Would BasketballScotland, or even GBBasketball, to which BS is now affiliated, continue to fund the team? Might the franchise even be put up for sale and return to the private sector at some point?

It might be the only way for it to survive long-term.