As the dust settles on a successful debut campaign for FIMBA GB, we start our review with the Men’s o40, Silver Medal Winners at the European Championships.
Nicknamed the Wolfpack due to their cohesion on and off the court in the lead up to the tournament, they came true to their name throughout as the bonds became even stronger and their teamwork on court pushed them all the way to the final.
With the numerous tournament postponements due to Covid, it hasn’t been the smoothest of journeys for the Wolfpack. A journey that started nearly 3 years ago has seen players (including the captain) move up to other age groups, some key personnel picking up tournament ending injuries and an entirely new coaching setup with less than 12 months to go.
The Wolfpack have taken it all in their stride, bringing them closer together as a group and epitomising their Wolfpack nickname. New players were welcomed with open arms and fitted in seamlessly to the on and off court set up as Coach Mac worked on giving the talented group of players an on court identity that suited their up-tempo style.
Heading to the tournament undefeated put them in a good place as a squad and they couldn’t have asked for a better game to get their tournament underway, a 47-111 victory against Jordan. Playing in the hugely impressive El Higueron Training Centre, with the Mediterranean sea as a backdrop through the floor to ceiling windows, every player got some good touches of the ball, got on the scoreboard and all the rust of tournament play was blown away ready for tougher battles to come.
Top Scorers: Gayle 34 (incl. 8 x 3pts); Wellington 20; Midgeley 15
Game 2 was very different as a physical Switzerland team tried to bully the Wolfpack, holding the lead midway through the 1st quarter, but again the cohesion on court came through as the GB team worked hard for each other on court and were encouraged loudly from the bench.
Top Scorers: Gayle 33; Wellington 14; Knight 10
The two days on court were followed by a rest day, but again the Wolfpack came together for perhaps their most memorable moment of the tournament as, to the shock of the hotel staff, the team turned up in the pool ready for the Acqua gym in the morning. The crowds gathered to watch the spectacle as the team, led by Coach Mac, put on a show for hotel guests with huge smiles on their faces throughout.
Slovenia were up next and the crowd of support for the GB Wolfpack continued to grow, knowing a win would secure a semi-final position. Despite the very hot and humid conditions in the sports hall, the boys came out firing with their fast paced aggressive offensive and limited their opponents on defence playing at a very high tempo. The game was won by halftime, with GB leading 40-14, allowing some good minutes for the entire team. The only dampener on a stellar GB performance was a knee injury to forward Bruce Lauder, but that didn’t detract from the impressive overall team performance, including a FIMBA record 51 points for Steven Gayle.
Top Scorers: Gayle 51 (incl. 9 x 3pts); Knight 14; Midgely 11
Another rest day followed allowing the team physio, Amanda, a chance to work on various niggles, including working hard with Lauder and clearing him to play. The next day saw the biggest challenge against home favorites Spain, who boasted Olympic Champions and ex-NBA players, to see who would top the group.
By far and away the toughest game of the tournament so far against a very talented Spanish team, the Wolfpack found themselves behind by 7 for the first time. Again, the team came together and stepped up to support each other in a very entertaining back and forth game that saw the lead change hands 5 times and remain close throughout with the Wolfpack eventually finishing 78-68 winners, cheered on by the continued growing GB crowd.
Top Scorers: Gayle 30; Knight 19; Estrada 7
It was almost inevitable that the semi-final opponents would be the GB Maxiballers team and an early 8am start. The day couldn’t have started any worse for the Wolfpack as Coach Mac was unable to attend due to illness. However, again epitomising the Wolfpack mentality, up stepped Assistant Coach Anton Fraser, who would have been playing were it not for an achilles injury, to take the reigns. A hugely physical and feisty game saw players hitting the deck hard including top scorer Steven Gayle and Maxi take an early lead, which they extended to 11 by the end of the 1st. Coach Fraser steadied his team during the break and despite the obvious pain, Gayle continued to do what he could for the team, but it was Marcus Knight who took over as point guard and controlled the offence as the Wolfpack started to chip away at the lead and it was Marcus who scored the free throws at the end of the half to take the lead for the first time in the game. Midway through the 3rd, a Gayle 3 followed 2 Estrada free throws and momentum was firmly on the wide of the Wolfpack. However, a Maxi timeout and a dubious call following a near altercation handed momentum back to Maxi and they tied the game back up. Again the Wolfpack took the lead, but missed free throws from the 34 fouls committed against them kept Maxi within touching distance and they took a 59-61 lead into the final quarter. A cagey final 10 minutes saw neither team able to pull away as the free throws continued to be missed by both sets of players before a nice move by Captain Adam Slater gave the Wolfpack a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The game looked done and dusted as the Wolfpack held a 76-69 lead with 1.36 remaining following a strong move by Roderick Wellington, but Maxi weren’t done. A 3 was followed by an And-1 and the lead was just 1 with 15 seconds remaining and Maxi in control of the ball. The Wolfpack defence stepped up a level despite the obvious fatigue and ensured Maxi had to force a difficult shot, which missed as the Wolfpack piled on to the court to celebrate reaching their first European Final.
Top Scorers: Gayle 28; Estrada 13; Knight 9
There were a few celebrations back at the pool with, the now recovered, Coach Mac, until attention moved to the next day and the final against reigning World Champions Italy, who had breezed through the tournament.
Again the day did not start well, with the news that top scorer Steven Gayle would not be able to play due to a meniscus tear from the semi-final, and big man John Jowers having to return home. For one final time the Wolfpack came together, realising that every single of them would have to step up. It was great to see a huge crowd with both FIMBA and some Maxiballers teams joining the family and friends supporting GB. Despite playing through the pain and discomfort of a damaged hamstring, Wellington scored first, but Italy answered straight back with a well worked move for an open 3. It was clear from the outset why Italy were the pre-tournament favourites as they were exceptionally well drilled and all very capable of scoring from anywhere. Again it was Marcus Knight who ran the point and orchestrated the offence, but for every basket the Wolfpack worked hard to score, Italy answered back with ease. The game remained close throughout the 1st, before a couple of steals at the end had Italy 23-15 up. Back to back 3s either side of a Knight 2 pushed the lead past 14, but the Wolfpack weren’t about to admit defeat and stepped up their defence, forcing some steals of their own and using a balanced scoring attack to bring the lead down to 7 with just over 2 minutes remaining in the half. Martin Yablsey immediately atoned for two missed free throws by grabbing his own offensive rebound and the lead was now 5. A couple of fouls and a technical sent Aitor Estrada to the line and he calmly sunk them all to make it a 1 point game. The momentum had swung to the Wolfpack as they tied the game up early in the 3rd, but both teams then went scoreless for over 2 minutes before a dagger 3 by Italy swung momentum back to Italy midway through the quarter. The team traded baskets until a disastrous final minute saw four turnovers be converted to 9 points and that was the lead Italy took into the final 10 minutes.
Despite some heroic defence by the Wolfpack, every time they went on a mini-run, Italy would hit a 3 to stop the momentum and left the Wolfpack having to force the game, with Italy running out 74-59 winners.
Top Scorers: Knight 15; Estrada 14; Wellington 11
I can’t tell you how proud I am of the Wolfpack in Malaga. We had no idea of the level of opposition but we went out to play our game and execute what we had practiced. And everyone made a great contribution. These guys were brilliant, 12 alpha males and not one crossed word on or off the court They are a real team. It was a wonderful experience and though we should have taken gold we can be very proud of the silver medals we earned.Coach Neil “Mac” McElduff, FIMBA GB o40 Men Head Coach
Following the final, Bruce Lauder was awarded the Wolfpack Award by Coach Mac. Arranged by partner AP Metalising the award was for the person “who contributed the most on and off the court to the teams’ experience from try outs, to training, to tournament and whose efforts made the pack stronger.”
The whole FIMBA GB o40 Wolfpack would like to thank our corporate partners who supported us before and throughout and without whom we couldn’t have achieved our first European Championship medal.