I love the game of basketball. I started playing at the age of five, joined my first AAU team in third grade, started traveling in seventh, and played on Carleton’s women’s varsity team during my first two years of college. This is where I met my best friends from Carleton, including Anna Surrey who happens to be from the UK. Today I had the chance to watch one of her old teams play in the championship Women’s British Basketball League (WBBL) Play-Off game at the O2 Arena in Southeast London. Anna’s old team, the Seven Oaks Suns, beat the Nottingham Wildcats 70-61. I also stayed for the men’s BBL game, where the Leicester Riders beat the Newcastle Eagles in a decisive 84-63 victory.
Perhaps the most surprising part of watching these two games was learning that some of the rules are different than in American basketball games. The biggest differences were that there was a 24-second shot clock instead of a 30- or 35-second shot clock, as well as an 8-second backcourt count instead of a 10-second count, or none at all. Also, if you foul someone on a fast-break from behind and there’s no one in front of them it is an “unsportsmanlike” foul, no matter how unintentional it is. This results in two free-throw attempts for the person who was fouled, as well as their team’s possession of the ball after the free-throws. It’s basically like what a technical or intentional foul is in the states. However, I have never seen something like that called before for such a common play, whenever I have played we learned to lightly (or not-so-lightly) foul someone in front of you on a fast-break, as it would typically result in a normal foul on the floor. Apparently, this rule was put in the WBBL and BBL because teams kept using their bench players to foul people on fast breaks which would end up slowing the game down, but I don’t really understand that because it still seems risky to have a bench player in for that sole purpose.
While chatting with Anna’s parents, I was also surprised to learn how different the organizational structure of basketball is here compared to the United States. The women’s game I was watching had girls aged 16+ on it. The Suns had two former American athletes who played at Division 1 schools in the states, two former European athletes who also played at Division 1 schools in the US, four girls who are committed to Division 1 or 2 schools in the states for next year, as well as a few younger girls who did not play much. Some of the women are professional athletes, but not all of them, unlike the Wildcats team which consisted only of professional athletes. The Seven Oaks Suns are part of a club with the same name where there is a U14 team, U16 team, U18 team, and a professional team, this was a mixed team. I also learned that most schools in the UK do not have sports teams, except for the occasional rugby or cricket teams, which means that club sports are there to fill the gap. In the states, most schools (especially high-schools) have sports teams, and high-school athletes are often expected to play both at their school and at a club in order to be recruited by colleges and especially if wanting to reach the WNBA or NBA.
Many British players, such as the four committed girls on the Suns, play on their club teams to try and stand out in order to get recruited by US college coaches and teams. Some of the older women on the Suns play on the team simply because they enjoy the game and like to stay in shape, one woman on the team is a full-time professional architect and still plays on the Suns. The two American women are hoping to get picked up by better international teams where basketball is a bigger deal, such as somewhere in Spain or Italy (basketball is typically thought of being the second most popular sport in the world… outside of the UK (Swanson)). The US doesn’t really have any sports programs or teams that would fulfill this wide array of interests, but rather only have AAU and recreational (rec) teams (for under 18 players), college teams, professional teams, and rec teams for adults (although there are very few competitive women’s basketball rec leagues). From my understanding, the WBBL is the British version of the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association); however, it is not as competitive skill-wise as the WNBA (which is seen as the premier women’s basketball league in the world, the same goes for the NBA verse the BBL). This means that playing at a high level in the UK is more attainable for all players, unlike the US where playing in the WNBA is only accessible to the top tier of women’s players from around the world. Watching the women’s game was especially exciting to me, but it did bring back memories and really made me miss playing. However, I was really happy to see Anna’s old team win the championship. The energy in the arena was fantastic and the stands were packed, there was even fire! Basketball’s an amazing game, and I love how it can bring people together from all over the world.
-Kayla Frank, ’18
Swanson, Steve. “The Curious Case of Basketball in the UK.” Loughborough University London. Web. 14 May 2017.