Solent Stars - Easy for England as Fleming Park hosts first basketball international


Most managers will tell you that there are no easy games any more - particularly at international level. And perhaps they are right.

Better organisation and defensive strategies have generally narrowed the difference between sides in many sports to the extent that the more accomplished team often labours to an expected but unconvincing win against even the weakest of opponents.

That stage may well have now been reached in basketball as well but there was little evidence of it on Friday as a packed Fleming Park witnessed the nearest thing to an easy win you are likely to get at international level.

In their final match before this week's European championship qualifying tournament, England were simply awesome as they pounded the Irish defence into virtual surrender with the speed, power and variation of their attack.

From the moment Neville Austin shot England into an early lead, there was only ever going to be one outcome to this, the first international basketball match to be played at Eastleigh's Fleming Park. In nearly every position on court. England had bigger, better and more experienced players than Ireland.

Just two points came Ireland's way in the opening six minutes of the match as they spent most of their time looking to frustrate the likes of Thames Valley pair Pete Scantlebury (14pts) and man of the match Steve Bucknall (17pts).

A better side than Ireland might have had some success with even this limited outlook but as wave after wave of attacks poured in, so their defensive posture crumbled. Ahead by 30 points at half time (53-23), England could have done little more to impress the thousand or so crowd.

Such was the dominance exerted by England that it was easy to overlook the fact that the squad had woken up on Friday in Hungary, spent more than six hours sitting on buses and planes and come straight to Fleming Park for the match.

In the two preceding weeks they had also been put through a rigorous training camp before taking part in a four-team tournament involving Hungary, Holland and South Korea.

Although England won only one match in that tournament, performances improved steadily and before leaving Hungary they put a 30 point defeat on the South Koreans.

An even bigger win seemed to be taking shape against Ireland as Moscow Spartak's Spencer Dunkley, debutant Jon Amici and Birmingham Bullets' Kurt Samuels posed all sorts of problems for the small Irish rearguard.

But for the impressive Frank Powell, Ireland would have had nothing at all to commend on their journey home. As England tired, he scored 16 points in the latter stages to at least impart some respectability to the score.

Despite all the travelling involved, Lazslo Nemeth, the Hungarian-born England coach, considered the visit to Fleming Park to be more than worthwhile. He said: "It was a very tough day for the side and they deserve a lot of praise for the way they responded.

"Although the match was decided by half time it was a useful run out for everyone. I was relieved we didn't pick up any injuries and now I am confident we can qualify in the European Championship"

In that event, England face Wales, Luxembourg, Denmark, Georgia and Poland. The top three teams qualify for the semi-final stages of the championship.

The Mayor of Eastleigh attended the match along with other council officers. It was organised by Mick Byrne, Solent Stars coach and England team manager, together with Paul Philp and Dave Owen.

David Ogilvie

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