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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2007, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK
Huggins marks GB's big day
By Rob Dugdale

Roger Huggins
Huggins will be trying to help England reach the A division

Great Britain's crucial win over Belarus on Wednesday was a bittersweet experience for the team's veteran forward Roger Huggins.

Huggy, as he's known to his team-mates, reached the ripe old age of 40 on the day of the game - a grand old age to be playing professionally in Europe in any sport - and he and his colleagues marked the occasion in style.

He helped as Luol Deng scored 27 points in Minsk and GB won 83-51 to qualify for the play-offs in Europe's Division B.

Huggins, who started with Bracknell Tigers and went to college in America before returning to star with Sheffield, has spent most of his career in Belgium.

He is a permanently positive player, seemingly always happy with his lot and popular with the team, Huggins is never short of a sharp comment.

On the recent trip to Croatia, he welcomed a new room-mate by joking, as he picked up the key, "This way Chris - I hope you like porn!"

But the fact that Wednesday's game was in Minsk brought back a few memories for Huggins that wiped the otherwise-permanent smile off his face.

This is the icing on the cake, playing with this amount of talent on the squad

Roger Huggins

Last time Huggins was on international duty in Minsk, with England in 1998, he also had a win to celebrate but not a whole lot else.

The lead-up to the 60-55 victory saw the team unwilling to eat the unfamiliar food they were being served in the hotel. Sportsmen can be difficult to please at meal times, but Huggins remembers it differently.

"We do complain a lot - we are picky," he admits. "But the food was bad. A lot of it was cold."

One of the management team had anticipated the problem and packed more familiar foods - principally Pot Noodles and Penguin biscuits.

After the game, Huggins left immediately for the Lithuanian border, with the objective of getting a morning flight out of the capital Vilnius to enable him to be at his son's first birthday party.

But there was a problem when the train he was on was stopped at the frontier.

606: DEBATE
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"I was slumped down in the seat pretending to be asleep," recalls Huggins. "The train stops and these uniformed guys with guns are like, 'papers'. I showed them my passport and one said 'no, you need papers.'

"And he insisted I had to get off the train. They never actually stuck a gun in my face but the implication was 'give me some money and I'll let you travel on. I was like 'no' so they held me in this interrogation-type room.

Roger Huggins
Huggins has won 90 caps for England and Great Britain

"I don't want to dramatise it but they had me sitting there and they were walking around trying to call some people," he continues. "I just thought this guy could shoot me in the back of the head - cos no one knows I'm here."

Not only that, but Huggy wasn't going to get his flight.

After a night in the 'interrogation room' there was more bad news to come. "They said I had to go back because they wouldn't let me travel on anywhere," he said.

Huggins had to go all the way back to Minsk airport, where his team-mates were amazed to see him and shocked when he told them how he'd spent the night under armed guard. Some of the details are still a little hazy, he says.

"Some of the stuff I think I've like suppressed, man," he laughs. "Like I was traumatised. If I'd disappeared, what would have happened? Would they have sent someone after me?

"The next game was against Israel and my wife was like 'I don't think you should go, you know.' It sounds like I'm a bit of a wuss but it was a while before I played away for England again."

it's a huge game for us so it's going to be tough

Roger Huggins

Huggins now has 91 caps for England and GB, ranking him fifth on the all-time list and, under coach Chris Finch, is still in the starting line-up that contains the likes of Deng.

"When I got the chance to come back I thought I could still contribute," he says. "Now it's on the up and up. This is the icing on the cake, playing with this amount of talent on the squad."

Promotion to the A division depended on one more trip to Minsk and Huggins admitted after the win over Albania in Edinburgh last weekend that he was still slightly apprehensive.

He smiled: "In and out's good for me - play the game and leave!"

SEE ALSO
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03 Aug 07 |  Basketball
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