JUST days before his 21st birthday, Ali Fraser was facing a quandary.
Due to fly out to Germany for pre-season training, having signed his first professional deal with Oettinger Rockets, he was offered a late trial with Great Britain’s basketball team, with the long shot of making their European Championship squad dangled as a carrot.
Talks were convened, a club versus country dilemma was avoided and the young Scot has taken full advantage. He will win his tenth cap today against Germany in GB’s fourth group tie at EuroBasket in Slovenia. On Thursday, in a cameo against France, he went mano a mano with leviathans of the NBA. The experience has been all he could have wished for.
“It was amazing to come on, even if the game was done by that point,” Fraser said. “I could never have expected to be playing against guys of that calibre. I was up against NBA All Stars. That’s something I couldn’t have believed would happen a month ago. To even be in the same gym as them is pretty incredible.”
Britain have won one of their three games to date but no-one from their six-team pool is yet assured of a place in the second round. The Germans have an identical record but, arguably, greater talent. Joe Prunty’s side must dig into their reserves to preserve hopes of an unexpected advance. “I just hope we can go out and win,” Fraser said. “People didn’t expect us to do as well as we have so far. The first game against Israel we played so well. It was tough to lose against Belgium. Hopefully, we can rebound now and stay alive.”
All three of the Scots in Britain’s ranks have contributed. Both Glasgow Rocks’ Gareth Murray and the currently club-less Kieron Achara have been in coach Prunty’s starting line-up. The trio share a common history, all having emerged through the junior system of Scottish League sides.
In a sport where much of the financial backing is funnelled towards community programmes rather than skills development, theirs is a triumph of nurture. With more targeted support ahead of basketball’s inclusion in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, who knows what can be achieved, asks Fraser. “But it’s also about what we do with whatever we get and how it’s allocated,” he added. “You look at Gareth coming through Arbroath. Me and Kieron through Falkirk Fury. You have to look at what they’re doing right.”
Meanwhile, British Basketball chairman Roger Moreland, left, is confident that the sport will retain elite funding, even if GB fail to match UK Sport’s stated target of a top-six EuroBasket finish. Already on probation, with just one year of guaranteed National Lottery money, that quest looks doomed but Moreland claims assurances that a pragmatic assessment will be made.
“It’s not possible to say that, if we reach the second round, we’ll get funding, or we won’t,” he said. “We’ll be saying ‘here’s our path towards 2020’. And where we are in the development cycle, and in the depth of talent. All the things that we’re doing with the culture and the system.”