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On their guard - Brits must excel in backcourt to win at FIBA EuroBasket 2017
LONDON (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - There will be plenty of doubters about Great Britain's ability to progress from the Group Phase of FIBA EuroBasket 2017.
In previous appearances at Europe's flagship event in 2009, 2011 and 2013, the Brits played hard against very tough opponents but came up short of advancing.
At their last two EuroBaskets, Great Britain came up one victory shy of progressing. In 2011, they led hosts Lithuania on opening night by three points heading into the last quarter but ended up losing, 80-69, a defeat that ultimately cost the team a spot in the next round.
In 2013, Great Britain lost a nip-and-tuck affair with Belgium, 76-71, a result that prevented them from moving on.
So what's got to work for Great Britain to have success in Istanbul this summer against Serbia, Turkey, Belgium, Latvia and Russia? A lot of things. It will help if Myles Hesson, for example, is in the lineup. Hesson was having a terrific season with Gravelines in France before he broke his tibia (shin bone). His recovery has gone well and Hesson, who is almost back on his feet walking again, plans to play in Istanbul.
Without a doubt where the team has to be very, very good is in the backcourt. Without good guard play, the Brits are going to struggle. The guards will have to dictate tempo, score and stay out of foul trouble.
Which guards are the ones to look out for?
Lawrence led Great Britain in scoring in their qualifying campaign
Lawrence, 26, has done something that most of the players that will be at FIBA EuroBasket 2017 have not and that's play at an Olympics. After making his FIBA EuroBasket bow in 2011, Lawrence logged a lot of minutes at the London Games. The Brits played better than their 1-4 record and Lawrence revealed himself to be a big talent. He came back the following summer and averaged 10.2 points per game at FIBA EuroBasket 2013, having his best game when drilling all four of his attempts from behind the arc en route to 23 points in an 81-74 triumph over Germany. Great Britain didn't qualify for FIBA EuroBasket 2015 but the 1.91m playmaker averaged 14.3 points and 3.3 assists per game in the country's successful qualifying campaign for this summer's event. Now with Chalons-Reims in the French league, a team he joined in December, Lawrence has shot 38.6% from long range and played an average of 19.7 minutes per game. Lawrence, quite simply, has to be a star for the Joe Prunty-coached Brits to have a chance of winning games in Istanbul.
Okereafor scrambles for a loose ball in qualifying
If Lawrence is crucial to the chances of Great Britain, so is Okereafor. Improving in the sport ever since he set foot on the court at Barking Abbey Basketball Academy in London, Okereafor did well at Rider University in the United States and is now doing well in Italy's top flight with The Flexx Pistoia. Last summer, the 1.91m Okereafor played big minutes for the Brits in their qualifying campaign.
Okereafor helped execute Prunty's tactics in the victory at The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (MKD) that clinched a spot at FIBA EuroBasket 2017
Nelson made plenty of no-look passes for the Great Britain U20 team
A former star in the Great Britain team that played at the 2014 and 2015 U20 European Championships, Nelson looks to be a player that can give the senior side a timely boost. Though he can play point guard, Nelson was a shooting guard at UC Irvine. He is not shy about taking the big shot, either.
Luke Nelson hits the game winner from WAY downtown with 1 second remaining vs Greece! https://t.co/QtZDv2t9nJ
— Hoopsfix 🇬🇧🏀 (@Hoopsfix) July 12, 2014
While in America, Nelson made an appearance in the 2015 NCAA Tournament and nearly helped his school shock Louisville in the first round. The Cards won that game, 57-55, despite Nelson's 10 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. While he didn't make it back to March Madness, Nelson did leave an unmistakable imprint on the Anteaters basketball program, and the conference. He was named the Big West Player of the Year in 2016-17 after shooting 43.2% from long range and averaging a career best 16.9 points per game.
Former NBA star Gordon played for Great Britain in qualifying
At 34 years of age, Gordon is no longer at the peak of his career but the former star of the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons is good enough to help Great Britain with his experience and talent. After an NBA career that was full of huge moments, Gordon finally donned the British shirt and got everyone excited with a 17-point effort in a 96-79 triumph over The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the Copper Box. Now playing for the Texas Legends in the NBDL and trying to make it back to the NBA, Istanbul would be the perfect stage for Gordon to prove that he can still play the game at the highest level.
Devon Van Oostrum
Van Oostrum played on the big stage of EuroBasket 2011
A standout in Britain's youth teams and a member of the side that played at FIBA EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, Van Oostrum has to play the waiting game before he suits up for the Brits. He announced in February that he had torn his ACL.
Heartbroken to say that i've torn my ACL and will be out for the foreseeable future.— Devon Van Oostrum (@DevonVanOostrum) February 20, 2017
Van Oostrum last played for Great Britain in their unsuccessful FIBA EuroBasket 2015 qualifying campaign. He elected not to make himself available last year because he wanted to focus on his club season.
Van Oostrum looks up the floor in FIBA EuroBasket 2015 qualifying
Spain's LEB Oro is where the Shoreham-by-Sea-born Mockford plays for Palma Air Europa. The guard last played for the national team in their EuroBasket 2015 qualifying campaign.
Mockford (No. 24) played in Britain's FIBA EuroBasket 2015 qualifiers
Johnson's experience and 3-point stroke would come in handy
Another member of the 2012 British Olympic team, shooting guard Johnson has returned to play professionally in his native Canada but as a member of the British side that qualified for this summer's tournament, it seems a good bet that he'll be involved. He averaged 11.5 minutes per game for the team last summer.
Johnson helped Great Britain qualify for FIBA EuroBasket 2017
High-flying Adegboye took on the best, Spain, at EuroBasket 2011
A member of the EuroBasket 2011 and 2013 teams, Adegboye isn't a big scorer but he can lend speed and ball handling to the cause. Currently playing in Forli, Italy, it remains to be seen if Adegboye is called into the squad.
Adegboye could be an option for Prunty
Robinson played for Great Britain at EuroBasket 2013
A guard in the British side at EuroBasket 2013, Robinson played at Rider University and has a lot of experience on the continent. He is currently on the books of Saint-Quentin in the French Pro B.