Connect with us


London Lions women on brink of history, amid uncertain Euro future – Taipei Times



London Lions women stand on the brink of British basketball history as they prepare for their EuroCup final against Besiktas, but funding issues are already clouding the horizon.

Stella Kaltsidou’s team have dominated the British Basketball League with a 100 percent record from 13 games this season, but they have bigger fish to fry.

They became the first British club to reach a European final when they beat Venezia in the EuroCup semis and can claim another milestone in a two-legged final against Turkey’s Besiktas starting this week.

Photo: AFP

It would be the culmination of a project by Miami-based owners 777 Partners to mix the best of British with international recruits to mold a team capable of mixing it with the continental elite.

General manager Vanja Cernivec, who arrived at London Lions two years ago having worked for the Chicago Bulls as the NBA’s first female scout, believes victory could be a tipping point for British basketball.

“If we manage to bring this home and win the EuroCup, it’s going to be a great story for British basketball and hopefully a great inspiration for kids to pick up the ball and actually see the pathway to professional sport,” she said.

Lions play the first leg away on Wednesday before the second leg at London’s Copperbox Arena on Wednesday next week — their adopted home for bigger games.

“Our goal is to sell it out, because this team deserves that,” Cernivec, who hails from Slovenia, said. “We’ve already achieved our goals in terms of reaching the final, and we really hope we can write history.”

One of the aims of London Lions was to provide a platform for British players who traditionally had to look at Europe and the US to pursue their careers.

London-born guard Shanice Beckford-Norton returned in 2020 and is joined by other British talents such as Holly Winterburn and Savannah Wilkinson, who both excelled across the Atlantic in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. American-Brit Karlie Samuelson and Megan Gustafson, both boasting impressive WNBA careers, also joined last year.

Baltimore-born forward Temi Fagbenle, who grew up in London before returning to the US, where she played for the Minnesota Lynx, said the call from the Lions offered something special.

“There have been a more troughs than peaks for British basketball,” Fagbenle said at the team’s Loughton training facility in northeast London. “But what we are doing now is history-making and such a blessing. Kids recognize me walking around in England. It’s like: ‘Oh my gosh that’s not how it was when I was growing up.’”

Lions missed out on the EuroLeague this season as the new recruits bedded in, but Fagbenle believes the EuroCup is within their grasp, even if it will be tough against Besiktas, who have requested 2,000 tickets for the second leg.

Sadly, she said the team would probably break up as 777 Partners — whose investment in British basketball has been a game changer — scale back funding.

The US backers have announced they have undertaken a strategic review and would focus on domestic competition and the academy rather than continental competition for 2024-2025.

Cernivec credits 777 Partners for the faith they have shown in British basketball and has not given up on new investment, saying the EuroCup final is a perfect shop window.

“I’m still hopeful,” she said. “But we’re not thinking about next season. It’s now that we have to perform and then we’ll see what the next chapter is.”

Even if the Lions’ European adventures might be curtailed, veteran Belarussian player Kat Snytsina said she believes their exploits have raised the bar in Britain women’s league.

“I feel like compared to last season, teams are adjusting physically and getting more athletic,” she said. “Most teams don’t like us because we are winning all the time, but I think: ‘Just get better, don’t complain about us.’”

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

Continue Reading