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Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Monday, 16 August 2010 17:25 UK

Great Britain's men refuse to ease up

By Rob Dugdale

Luol Deng
Luol Deng has averaged 25 points per game despite opponents' efforts

Great Britain's men's team stand proud on top of their group, unbeaten in their four games at the halfway stage of their EuroBasket qualifying campaign, but coach Chris Finch insists there will be no letting up.

"Obviously we're pleased but we told our guys before the campaign started that you can't predict these groups," he said after the win over Ukraine in Birmingham on Saturday night.

"There's lots of twists and turns - the closer you get to the end it gets harder and harder and the games become more meaningful."

After losing four of their five warm-up games without NBA superstar Luol Deng in the line-up, GB have been transformed into a gritty team that has three times taken the lead in the last two-and-a-half minutes and gone on to win.

The talent of Deng and Pops Mensah-Bonsu were a given for GB.

Chicago Bulls forward Deng is the best player in Group B by a street and Londoner Mensah-Bonsu - who spent the first part of last season in the NBA before joining European giants CSKA Moscow - the best rebounder.

The next step in Great Britain's quest to prove they are worthy of a place at the 2012 Olympics sees them aiming to qualify for next year's EuroBasket finals in Lithuania.

There are three qualifying groups in action this month , with the group winners and the best two second-placed teams getting passed through.

As the groups currently stand, a record of six wins and two defeats is the very best a runner-up can hope for in either of the other two groups, suggesting GB should qualify if they win their two remaining home games.

But Finch is far from complacent and insists: "We've got to keep plugging away."

Although Finch would rather not talk about the group being a two-horse race, GB and Macedonia - the top two seeds when the draw was made - look increasingly likely to share the spoils.

Hungary's a dangerous team if we let them play their stuff so we've got to take a very businesslike approach

Andrew Sullivan, GB captain

GB's win in Sarajevo might be their most significant result to date, as it could leave third seeds Bosnia out of the running for second spot by the time the teams meet in Liverpool on 26 August.

Macedonia did their bit by crushing Bosnia in Skopje while GB were edging out Ukraine on Saturday.

But first, GB will end their stay in Birmingham's National Indoor Arena with a game against Hungary on Tuesday evening and their captain, Andrew Sullivan, reinforcing his coach's mantra.

"Hungary's a dangerous team if we let them come in here and play their stuff," said Sullivan, who has now played more than 50 times for GB. "We've got to take a very businesslike approach to this.

GB Basketball on the map - Deng

"The last thing we want is to do is slip up after putting ourselves in this position where we control our own fate and we have to remember that when we go to Macedonia."

That game in Skopje - said to be one of Europe's most forbidding arenas in which to get a result - will almost certainly decide which team wins the group and with that comes a higher seeding when the finals draw is made.

Other teams have been well aware of Deng's talent and some of the attention he has received from opponents has been questionable at times.

"The refereeing for the most part has been good - they're letting teams play," says Finch, who concedes his own team is better in an 'ugly' game. "They're letting teams go at each other and that's what they're doing with Luol.

"They get up on him and jam him - he doesn't really get a lot of whistle early on and he keeps sticking with it because eventually he gets the fouls called for him."

If the shot is there, Dan Clark takes it; he's made a huge step forward from last year

GB coach Chris Finch

During training camp, Finch called for the younger players on the team to step up and the response from Ogo Adegboye and Dan Clark has been impressive.

Nigeria-born point guard Adegboye - who spent time in London as a child before moving to the US in his teens - came through the GB Futures and England programmes this summer and has handled the ball with assurance beyond his 22 years.

"He was the most battle-ready," said Finch. "You've got to remember that every game he plays at the moment is the highest level of basketball he's played in his life."

Greenwich-born Clark - who moved to Spain as a teenager to join the youth system at Estudiantes in Madrid - will not turn 22 until after the qualifying campaign.

But his shooting performance in scoring 23 points in Sarajevo stunned an otherwise boisterous Bosnian crowd into passages of silence.

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"Dan's hugely instrumental in our success to date this year," says Finch. "He plays a very opportunistic game for us - if the shot is there, he takes it. He's made a huge step forward from last year."

Sullivan, who had his best game of recent years in the overtime win over Macedonia, describes the current unit as "very up and down, very athletic, very in your face defensively".

All of those qualities will come in very useful in Skopje on Monday week. But the next step comes against Hungary on Tuesday.



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see also
GB men stand out in double-header
14 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB Basketball's new star
13 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB secure late Sarajevo victory
11 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB earn gutsy win over Macedonia
08 Aug 10 |  Basketball
GB beat Hungary in Euro qualifier
02 Aug 10 |  Basketball
Superstar Deng spreads the basketball word
16 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
Deng back for vital GB qualifiers
31 Jul 10 |  Basketball
GB 'must work harder' for 2012
30 Jul 10 |  Basketball
Finch confident of Deng's return
12 Apr 10 |  Basketball
Coach calls for GB trio to commit
14 Feb 10 |  Basketball


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