The Standard Life GB men's team had a very successful 2011 which has now paved the way for the exciting year ahead in 2012.
On 13 March 2011 in Lyon, France, FIBA's Secretary General, Patrick Baumann announced that both the men's and the women's teams could take up their host nation places in the London Olympic Games. It was a historic announcement which means that for the first time since 1948 there will be a GB basketball team at the Olympic Games.
The preparation for the Olympics for the Standard Life GB men began in August at the Game On 2011 tournament hosted by Standard Life in Cobham, Surrey. The GB men made the perfect start to their summer campaign at the ACS School in Cobham as they defeated the Netherlands with a 96-70 victory and grabbed a 95-80 win against Nigeria in the two-game tournament.
The next big challenge for the GB men was the London Prepares series, held on the Olympic Park in the basketball arena where the team will play next summer. When the team stepped onto the brand new court in Stratford, next year's Games became a reality for all the players. As it was the first test event to be held on the Olympic Park, the media attention was incredible with reporters from around the world there to witness the games.
Of the five games GB played in the tournament, they won only one, however the final results did not truly reflect the progress made during the events.
Their first match up in the tournament was against a French side littered with NBA talent including Tony Parker. It was their toughest test yet, made even more challenging with the absence of their own NBA star, Luol Deng. However, despite the 82-60 loss, Joel Freeland stepped up and shone, as he did throughout the test games, and youngsters Devon Van Oostrum and Andrew Lawrence earned there senior team positions with decisive performances.
The following two games saw GB fight back. A narrow five point defeat at the hands of Croatia was quickly followed by a heart-breaking 97-95 loss against world number four side, Serbia.
Then, with Deng back on court, the GB men recorded their first win of the London Prepares series as they defeated world number 10 side, China, by 64-56. Joel Freeland again stole the show with an 18 point, 13 rebound double-double, of which 12 points were scored in the final six minutes of the game, to lead Chris Finch's team to victory.
The Standard Life GB men ended their tournament in the Olympic Park with an extremely close 91-90 overtime defeat against Australia in a thrilling game. The world number nine team were made to fight all the way before finishing strongly to steal the victory by just one point, following 14 lead changes throughout the game.
Against Australia, Devon van Oostrum had arguably his best game in a GB vest with nine points and five assists, while Joel Freeland rounded off his excellent tournament with a 22 point, five rebound haul.
The EuroBasket finals 2011 was the side's next major focus and they headed to Lithuania to tip off the event on 31 August 2011 where they faced the group dubbed by many as the strongest in the competition.
The Standard Life GB men showed their true colours in their first EuroBasket finals game with a spirited performance against EuroBasket 2011 hosts Lithuania. However, despite strong first and third periods, GB were unable to grab the win and went down 80-69.
Their second loss in the tournament came when they faced World Championship silver medallists, Turkey, who defeated GB 90-61. This was quickly followed by their third straight loss at the hands of eventual winners for the second successive time, Spain, who picked up an 86-69 win against GB on their way to the trophy.
After three straight losses at EuroBasket 2011 the Standard Life GB didn't let their heads drop, instead they fought back to show their true spirit. They went on to record their first ever EuroBasket finals win against Portugal on day four of their tournament. It was an impressive 85-73 victory which saw Luol Deng finish with a 31 point, ten rebound double-double. Standard Life GB head coach, Chris Finch commented at the time: "It was a small victory, but a meaningful one."
The Standard Life GB Men then rounded off their tournament with an excellent 88-81 win against Poland, who were ranked 18 places ahead of GB in the FIBA rankings at the time. Although many saw it as an early exit from the competition, the experience of playing in the EuroBasket finals tournament was hugely beneficial for the team. Finch said: "You get familiar with how other teams play, what Spain do, and the length of the Lithuanian team and that can only help. We were in a phenomenal group, and all of the teams played well. Unfortunately we couldn't do that against any of the big three, but hopefully next summer we will."
This month, Devon Van Oostrum was awarded British Basketball's inaugural Emerging Athlete award for the strides he made when he stepped up to the senior squad. Despite missing some key senior players this summer, the younger Standard Life GB men made their mark proving that the future of GB is brighter than ever as we head into 2012.
2011 has been an exciting and historic year for the Standard Life GB women's team and there are now high hopes for the side in 2012.
The year began in March with the announcement that both the men's and women's teams could take up their host nation spots at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Standard Life GB women's head coach, Tom Maher commented at the time of the announcement: "We are very proud of what we have achieved over the last few years and to be given the opportunity to step on court against the World's best at the highest level of competition will be the highlight of an enormous amount of hard work to reach this position. This will be my fifth Olympics and I'm excited to be accompanying the GB women's team at their first appearance."
Before the women could begin to think about preparing for their first ever Olympic Games, EuroBasket 2011 was their main focus and priority when they headed into training camp at Surrey Sports Park in May. Their first test in camp was the Game On 2011, 'British Basketball Invitational Tournament' which tipped off on 18 May. The four day event saw the Standard Life GB women face three top international teams - Germany, Latvia and Cuba. Although Cuba took the tournament title, the GB women came third against the top competition with a win against Latvia. The home tournament proved to be the perfect preparation ahead of EuroBasket, offering the side the chance to get to know each other and work as a team. Another two warm up games followed in Latvia and although the Standard Life GB women lost both games it was invaluable preparation for the impending challenge in Poland.
The women headed to EuroBasket hoping to win games and prove to Great Britain that they should be taken seriously as a basketball team. What they went on to achieve at EuroBasket 2011 exceeded all expectations.
The first round of the European tournament saw the women defeated by sides who reached the final four of the World Championships 2010, semi-finalists Belarus and beaten finalists Czech Republic. However, their commanding 74-51 victory over Israel saw GB clinch third place in Group B and move into the second round of EuroBasket Women 2011, a historical event for any GB women's side.
In the second round, the Standard Life GB women faced Lithuania, Turkey and Russia. The side lost by a single point against basketball powerhouses Lithuania and suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Turkey. They then came within just three points of defeating eventual European Champions Russia. In a fantastic European finals campaign the Standard Life GB women went further into the tournament than any other GB team in history.
To round off the historic year, Standard Life GB women's captain, Julie Page was awarded the British Basketball Player of the Year award and BOA Athlete of the Year for basketball. After a stand out summer leading the women to their historical second round place in EuroBasket 2011, during which she averaged 10 points a game and 7.5 rebounds, the award was well deserved. Page was part of a side who have now shown everyone that they are real contenders for 2012 and could throw up some surprises when they arrive in London in the New Year.