By James Jeffrey | BSU at the Games
Team Great Britain achieved a first in nearly 60 years on an Olympic basketball court – it claimed a victory. Team Great Britain beat No. 10 China 90-58 for its first win in the Olympic Games since 1948.
“Finally got that Win. So thankful to be a part of this GB team and so fortunate to have had such great support throughout the games,” Kieron Achara said via Twitter following the game.
Achara led the team with 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Nate Reinking —who is retiring from international competition after the Games — scored 12 points and Team GB captain Drew Sullivan scored 11. Both Pops Mensa-Bonsu and Mike Lenzly were out due to injury.
Only two Chinese players managed to hit double figures. Zhi-Zhi finished with 11 points and five rebounds while YI Jianlian, China’s only NBA player, finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
China grabbed an early 7-0 lead by making its first three shots, but it was the only lead they would have in the game. Joel Freeland, recently signed by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, helped Britain breech the initial gap with a hook shot over Jianlian. This ignited GB who ended the first quarter with a 20-5 run to take a 27-15 into the second quarter.
Britain outscored China every quarter the rest of the game and was never closely threatened due to the defensive efforts by Drew Sullivan and Kieron Achara. Team GB point guard Andrew Lawrence also helped space the floor with strong ball movement to keep them ahead.
Despite being the home nation, GB basketball did not claim automatic qualification for the games like in most Olympic sports. International basketball federation FIBA had to clear the team before it could compete in the event. This included proving they could be competitive at the Olympic level – which they did by winning FIBA group B. FIBA also mandated Team FB have a lasting legacy for basketball.
“I laugh when people say we were given our spot here in the Olympics because it sure didn’t feel like it when we were trying to get up through Division B and qualify for Europe. We really achieved something here,” Team GB head coach Chris Finch told the BBC.
“Our performances here, while they didn’t necessarily come with the results we were hoping for, came with a lot of potential to keep building the programme,” Finch continued. “I think we have a bright future. We’ve got a long way to go, but this is a good step. We answered every challenge that was thrown at us, but we fell a little short on this one. But it was incredibly satisfying professionally and personally.”
Finch and multiple other players retired after the game, including 38-year-old shooting guard Nate Keinking of the British Basketball League’s Sheffield Sharks and former NBA center Robert Archibald.
Despite competing in the 1948 Olympics, Britain’s current program only started in 2006.
“Great day for GB basketball, let’s make it the start, not the end of the journey,” basketball commentator John Amechi said via Twitter.
James Jeffrey is a junior journalism major at the University of Worcester in Worcester, England. He is a part of a team of British students contributing to BSU at the Games. Follow James and the program on Twitter @bsuatthegames and Facebook.com/bsuatthegames.