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Page last updated at 21:45 GMT, Saturday, 20 September 2008 22:45 UK

Next stop, Poland

By Rob Dugdale

Great Britain have come a long way from the disjointed outfit that took two heavy defeats in the 2006 Baltic Cup.

GB coach Chris Finch
Finch is now plotting GB's 2009 campaign
There was a majestic second season and runaway promotion from Division B to this season's triumphant EuroBasket qualification, sealed with the tough four-point win over the Czechs in Pardubice.

Next stop for Chris Finch’s team (excluding next season's warm-ups) is Poland and the 2009 EuroBasket finals, an experience Finch himself cannot wait for.

"I'm so excited I wish we could start now," he told BBC Sport. "I want to know what the group is right now!"

The draw is not until 8 November, but Great Britain's presence in it is a triumph for the nation's one sporting team that cannot be sure to get a hosts' berth in the 2012 Olympics.

"I've said this before, when I took this job I never really thought about the Olympics," said Finch.

"I always just wanted to get the programme up and running and accomplish what we had in front of us, and so far we have.

"And that keeps you interested. If it had been three years of tough results… then obviously that's a tough three years."

This summer has been a rollercoaster ride.

In the warm-up games, the team were humbled by Turkey, then came from 16 points down to beat Bosnia the next day and Portugal the day after.

All this came while the team were wondering if star man Luol Deng's insurance wrangles with the NBA would be sorted out in time for the qualifiers.


"As an offensive team we've only really been together since Israel because Luol wasn't there," said Finch. "So we’ve been trying to figure things out along the way.

"I think for the campaign we're still averaging 84 points a game so that's pretty good. With the old England team the story was it couldn't score - even in the last two years we've struggled to score.

"Scoring hasn’t been a problem (this summer). Consistent defence and intelligent play down the stretch have been our challenges. We've got a young team - never forget that."

With Chicago Bulls star Deng back in the mix, they suffered the agony of the overtime defeat to Israel in Tel-Aviv before closing out qualification with four wins in a row, the clincher coming in Pardubice, a classic example of how to 'win ugly'.

"I was just thinking to myself down the stretch 'I wish we'd have played better'," said Finch with a touch of regret. "Because they outworked us a lot of the time.

"We played like an underdog – we just hung around long enough to win it at the end. And we got real lucky – we got a few calls and they missed some really easy shots."

Luol Deng in action for GB against Israel
Deng's presence boosted Great Britain for their Euro 2009 qualifiers
The leading lights of the campaign have been Deng’s all-round ability, Pops Mensah-Bonsu's athletic rebounding and intimidating defence and Nate Reinking's ability to contribute points when they were most needed.

His 10-point cameo in the third quarter against the Czechs probably made the difference between qualification in Pardubice and a difficult final game in Bosnia with all to play for.

"We had no offensive rhythm in the second half," said Finch.

"Nate has the ability to create and make tough shots. And then he hit a big one later in the game to tie it."

With the final game against Bosnia - a meaningless 89-80 defeat - out of the way, the GB programme in effect closes for the year, although the work will still go on behind the scenes on Project Polska 2009.

For coach Finch, that involved balancing the day job at Belgian club Mons and keeping an eye on the players he has scattered around Europe, the USA and Britain. It's clearly a balancing act he relishes.

"I'm lucky to have the support of my wife, my club and also of course British Basketball," he said.

"But all of us who have been in the programme from the beginning have been away from our families for half a year if you add up those three two-month campaigns.

"But I don't have second thoughts about doing it at all," he added. "It's a hard job and it takes a lot of energy, sacrifice and commitment - not just these eight weeks but the rest of the year as well."

see also
GB defeated in final group game
20 Sep 08 |  Basketball
GB defeat Czechs to reach Euros
17 Sep 08 |  Basketball
George sparks GB win over Israel
13 Sep 08 |  Basketball
Great Britain too good for Bosnia
10 Sep 08 |  Basketball
GB overcome Czechs for first win
06 Sep 08 |  Basketball
GB slip to Euro qualifying defeat
03 Sep 08 |  Basketball
GB's Deng cleared to face Israel
30 Aug 08 |  Basketball
Deng agrees £40m Chicago contract
30 Jul 08 |  Basketball

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