Basketball: Starlets excel at 3-a-side version

Picture: Number 4. Malcolm Winning 'Scotland''Number 5. Gregor Gray ' Scotland''Number 6. Dwayne LAUTIER-OGUNLEYE - England''Number 7. Joshua Steel ' England
Picture: Number 4. Malcolm Winning 'Scotland''Number 5. Gregor Gray ' Scotland''Number 6. Dwayne LAUTIER-OGUNLEYE - England''Number 7. Joshua Steel ' England
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Edinburgh basketball teenagers Malcolm Winning and Gregor Gray are still basking in the glory of being part of Team GB as they secured bronze medals at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney.

The 16-year-old duo, who were competing in the alternative 3-a-side version of the sport, were selected within a squad of 120 who travelled Down Under to represent their country across 17 different sports and disciplines last month. With a total of 66 medals won across the board for Team GB – 19 gold, 23 silver and 24 bronze – the success accomplished can only inspire a fast-growing generation of aspiring young athletes eager to build on the success of last summer’s London Olympics.

Winning and Gray, who play for Edinburgh clubs Boroughmuir Blaze and City of Edinburgh respectively, were joined by English team-mates Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye and Joshua Steel in the scorching heat as they beat China in the third-place play-off match to earn their position on the podium, an achievement even more remarkable considering it was their sixth fixture of the day.

Winning said: “It was great to have won the bronze medal as our performances were really good out there. The matches got moved indoors as it was so hot outside and one day they actually had to cancel all the games because the temperature hit 50 degrees. The heat and humidity in the hall still made it pretty tough but the Scotland national programme keeps us in really good shape.

“I’d never played against countries from Oceania so it was a completely different style of basketball. The Australians were very good in particular and both their teams took gold and silver. It was great to get the chance to play against them and we managed to defeat the Australian green team in the group match.”

The 3v3 version of the fast-paced sport has become increasingly popular on a global scale and it is now played in more than 200 countries. With the match duration a single ten minute period and played on a half-sized court, the level of intensity and speed of the game puts a severe demand on 
players’ fitness levels.

“It’s very different from the 5v5 game,” said Winning. “It’s really quick with no stoppages and you feel kind of isolated with no team-mates to back you up most of the time because there’s so much more space. Your skills are put on show a lot more as you find yourself in a lot of one-on-one situations.”

Winning may be hitting the heights as both a Scotland and GB player but it is America where the James Gillespie’s 
pupil envisages his long-term future in the game. In the meantime, there are more pressing matters for the youngster as he prepares to secure further glory for his club Boroughmuir before the season finishes.

Winning said: “I want to win the play-offs with my club in what has been a great year for us as both the under-16 and under-18 teams have won the Scottish Cup recently. I also hope to get picked for the Scotland team that is off to Macedonia for the Euro B tournament, so it would be good to get a couple of games out there. I would like to head to America once I have finished school and play in the college league but also study maybe history or maths. Playing professional basketball is my ambition, though.”

Gray, who attends North 
Berwick High School, added: “3v3 is a very different game and there is a lot more learning to do. To be part of 120 athletes from Team GB and compete along 1700 athletes from 30 different nations is a fantastic start to 2013.”