Rollt. – Historic highs and lows for GB at European Championships | The GB Men have had a long and storied history at the European Championships and this year they are the heavy favourites in Poland off the back of their World Championship-winning performance last year in Hamburg.
The British squad first tasted gold at the second Europeans in 1971 beating France for the top spot that year, they then won gold again in 1974, defeating the Netherlands in the final. There would then be a 21-year gap until GB would reach the gold standard once again, this would happen in 1995 when they would overcome Spain by one-point (55-54.)
Following that narrow victory, it wouldn’t be for another 16 years for another gold to come GB’s way when they won it in Israel in 2011 following an 11-point win over Germany. This would be the first of three back-to-back European title wins as two years later in Frankfurt they won gold again after an electric final with Turkey ending (59-57.) The rematch with Turkey ensued two years later in Worcester and GB came away with the win (87-66) which was their last European title win to date.
On top of their six gold medal finishes they have also won five silvers (1993, 1997, 2005, 2007 and 2017) as well as four bronzes (1970, 1991, 2003, 2009)
1995 – Paris | Joe Jayaratne, Steve Caine & Dan Johnson | Beating the Dutch in the semi final and then winning GB’s first Gold of the modern era vs Spain in the final.
Joe Jayaratne – “This was particularly memorable for me personally as I made the last two free throws for GB to clinch the one point win in the final (although Spain did have two free throws of their own after that but luckily they missed them both!). The bigger story however was maybe beating the Dutch, led by van der Linden and Jansens, in the semi final though as they had been a bogey team for us for a few years, including losing to them in the 1993 European Championship Final. The Dutch, but more particularly France, had dominated the “modern era” (post 1980 ish) and we’d really struggled to find a way to beat them. For the semi final though we inverted our defence, playing whichever of Simon Munn and Calum Gordon were on Jansens side high, and our low and mid pointers on the baseline, so that our bigs could jump Jansens from high and defend him from behind whenever he got the ball. He was a knock down shooter with an unusual action where he shot almost from behind his head, making it next to impossible to guard him from in front. This win, and then the gold medal win vs Antonio Henares’ and Diego de Paz’s Spain side felt like a real breakthrough moment for GB having made the World Championship final in 1994, then Gold in 1995, and the Paralympic Final in 1996.”
Steve Caine – “1995 was really memorable for me too, but that started before the semi final. I remember we were playing our last group game, needed to win to get the better crossover and I felt really sick. I spoke to the coach John Stainton and told him to only play me if he really needed me. We were struggling in the first half so at half time he asked me if I would play. We ended up winning by about 16 I think but after the game I felt even worse. Gary Peel told our physio Sue that I was throwing up in the room and she came and found me passed out in bed so called the doctor, apparently it was bad enough that I could have died! She stayed the whole night trying to get my temperature down and when I woke up in the morning she was even asleep on the floor of my room. The doctor said I wasn’t allowed to play in the semi finals against the Dutch, which was really close, even with what a good job our bigs did against Jansens.
The final against Spain was just as close and we were 6 down with about ten minutes to go, at which point I hit a couple of 3s and a shot from the top to put us up. From what I remember it was only JJ and I who scored in the last 6-8 minutes. As JJ said, this was more than just a first gold medal for GB, it was a watershed moment which proved that making the final of the World Championships in 1994 wasn’t just a fluke.”
Dan Johnson: “Mark Cheaney had an unbelievable game too against the Dutch, scoring about 23 points, all most all from outside on the baseline. This was relatively unheard of for most one pointers at that time, and really Abdi Jama like levels of shooting.
My overriding memory of the 1995 Final, other than the free throws at the end, was Nigel Smith shutting down one of Europe’s all time great shooters in Antonio Henares despite being on 4 fouls. DJ – You can also look at 1995 as the start of a disappointing era for GB in the European Championships… It was our first gold medal and felt like it was going to be the start of a really special era for that group of GB players, but after losing the next Final in 1997 we didn’t make it to another European Final until 2005, and didn’t win another until a couple of generations later in 2011. So it could also be seen as a time where we promised more than we ended up achieving.”
2007 – Wetzlar | Joe Bestwick & Terry Bywater | Losing the final to surprise package Sweden
Joe Bestwick – “2007 was my first European Championships and my overriding memory was being just overwhelmed (in a positive sense) by the atmosphere in the gyms. Being hosted in Wetzlar meant that the RSV Lahn-Dill fan club were out in force and kept the atmosphere exciting even for games that Germany weren’t involved in. Against Germany in the semi finals though was something else all together. I remember that it was in the Rittal Arena, a complete sell out of around 5000 people, and every bit of extra space around was filled by spectators and players from other teams. At one point it felt like Terry for GB and Abdulgazi Karaman for Germany were having their own private game, just scoring back and forth with nobody missing, and the crowd getting louder and louder with every point. In the end we came out on top and went on to play Sweden in the final. Sweden were underdogs going into the game and we were so confident off the back of our win against Germany but they came out on fire. The sometimes streaky shooter Hadari was making shots offensively and shutting down Simon Munn defensively, while we didn’t have an answer for Peter Kohlström (a tall 2.5 pointer) who kept beating us over the elbow and ended up with over 20 points, or Joachim Gustavsson who was posting up from mid range over all of us. In the end we lost by 10, and despite in hindsight being proud of a silver medal, it felt like a real failure after the high of the semi final win.”
Terry Bywater – “My main memory of the semi final against Germany was that we just played great team basketball and the huge high after the game of winning in such an amazing atmosphere. Moving into the final though I knew it was going to be tough. Loads of people thought we had taken it easy against Sweden when we lost to the in the group as we had already qualified, but I knew they beat us fair and square and that the final was going to be tough. I think it was in the back of a lot of our minds going into the final and Sweden knew it and took a lot of confidence from that win. Maybe if we had beaten them in the group game it would have been different, but that on top of so many people thinking we were favourites to win our first gold since 1995 was definitely a lot of pressure. In the end Sweden played great and they totally deserved to win and it really felt like we missed our opportunity to take home a gold medal. Maybe that experience helped us though in the end, as we learned from it and went on a run of winning three golds in a row at Europeans from 2011-2015 before finally being beaten by Turkey in 2017.”
2013 (Frankfurt), 2015 (Worcester) & 2017 (Tenerife) | Gaz Choudhry spoke about some of his European Championship memories
2013: “The 2013 European Championship final was incredible, we were undefeated during the tournament, beating a strong Spanish team in the quarterfinal and then Italy in the semi-final if I remember correctly. The final was amazing in Frankfurt with Turkey really dominating us early and taking a double figure lead. I remember never feeling like we would lose that game even whilst being down and the benefit of being down early is you have plenty of time to come back into the game. I remember that game coming down to the wire and us being able to get the win in a close fourth quarter. Our defense was incredible in that game and it truly was one of the special memories I have in the game of basketball.
2015: The 2015 final was another absolute battle against Turkey although the circumstances of our team were different from 2013. We had lost a few pool games, so we weren’t in the top position going into the quarterfinals. I remember the tournament being at home and hearing a lot of people talking about how we wouldn’t be good enough to win the tournament. This proved as real motivation and that final against Turkey we came out to prove a point. We had lost to Turkey in the quarterfinals the year before at the World Championships and this definitely was a grudge match. We ended up winning comfortably but the score doesn’t reflect the intensity of that game.
2017 was when Turkey got its revenge against us in the final. They had some spectacular performances and made some huge shots at timely moments just as we had clawed back into the game after being down for most of the second half. That game really was a test of our heart we didn’t play our best basketball at all during that final but still made it a one possession game late on. None of us have forgotten that and it’s definitely motivation for this year’s European Championships.”
Text: Joe Bestwick & Dylan Cummings | Photos: Steffie Wunderl | Artwork: Christian Jakob