Meghan Plummer, a Young People's Sport Panel member shares her experiences of Team USA v Team GB basketball!
As part of the warm-up to the Olympics the USA basketball team agreed to play Great Britain in Manchester. I went to see both the women and men games on the 18th and 19th of July.
On the 18th my family and I drove down to Manchester. After leaving at 10 in the morning we arrived at around 3 in the afternoon. After checking in and dumping our bags in our rooms we went for dinner at the Beefeater next door to the hotel. All through dinner we discussed the game and the likelihood of the men’s teams showing up. We didn't know much about the women’s team and so there was a curiosity for seeing who was in it and what they'd be like. I knew of the Scottish Rose Anderson and was so excited to see her play as I never had before. After dinner we left almost immediately for the arena.
The first thing you noticed was the level of security giving a sense of how important these athletes really were. For the women’s game I was sitting four rows back and had a spectacular view of all the players on court. Two minutes before the game started the USA men walked in to roaring applause from the crowd. They sat court side and supported the women for the whole game showing the unity of their team, as did the GB men. In that moment it sunk in just how special the opportunity was. I was sitting in the same room as NBA players like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James and I would be watching them play the next again night. The game started shortly after and the first thing you noticed was the speed at which these players play. From watching the national women's games for my local club I expected a slow and game, instead I got a fast and spectacularly brilliant game.
In the first few minutes of the game GB were in the lead and the crowd were cheering and obviously thinking “we'll be okay in the Olympics”. With 2.58 minutes to go of the first quarter GB were winning 21-10. USA then called a time-out and they were suddenly moving faster, going stronger to the basket, trapping and double teaming constantly on defence and getting turnover after turnover and fast break after fast break. I don't know about the rest of the crowd but I was speechless. The speed and precision of these athletes was unbelievable, it was as if they moved into position before GB moved. Due to this massive step up USA then scored the next 31 points, turning the score into 21-41.
During all the intervals and time-outs there was entertainment provided by cheerleaders or different 'cams' like the bongo cam where you had to pretend to play the bongos when the camera was on you. Luckily for me I was never on these cams and so missed the embarrassment. Throughout the rest of the game USA kept extending their lead with a half time score of 47-32. The third quarter showed the GB women stepping up their game; Jo Leedham ‘dropped’ many three's and the defence was fast and precise. However, it wasn't enough. USA had Maya Moore and her teammates many assists to her gave her the top scoring place and in the end USA won 88-63 with GB having tried their very best.
The next day my family and I decided to go shopping during the day and so headed to the Trafford Centre after breakfast. This was a shopping centre from another world. There were marble staircases, statues, a food hall shaped like a cruise ship and the most impressive part was a strip of the mall shaped like an street, complete with sign posts, lamp posts and buildings. The detail was unreal to the extent you almost forgot you were inside. The variety of shops was crazy as well. Think of any shop and it was probably there.
During the day we stopped for coffee and checked twitter which was filled with tweet after tweet about that night’s game. All my friends back home were talking about watching the game live at home which made it sink in just what I was going to be seeing. This match was a big deal and probably would never happen again and I was going to be there, watching it in the arena. I tweeted saying how crazy it was that I would be watching someone who had once coached me years ago and I got a reply from Keiron Achara saying that he hoped I enjoyed the game. It was such a lovely tweet and shows how modest and grounded he is and that he hasn't changed since he was playing and coaching for Falkirk Fury.
We had dinner in the centre after shopping and then left for the arena. The traffic was noticeably heavier, with lane after lane of crawling cars as everyone tried to get into the arena car park. In an odd way the extended and slow journey just built the anticipation that little bit more. We got to the security checks and where there had been a clear view of the security the night before, was a mass of people all swarming round the entrance doors getting searched and bags checked. To move around you had to dodge about 50 people before getting where you wanted. Finally we were through but the walk past the food and merchandise stalls was just as crowded and whilst weaving through the crowd we passed many people from Scotland. When we got to our seats, which were up the top near the ceiling, we realised my head coach was sitting 5 rows in front and 2 in front of them were my parents friends. It was crazy that out of the hundreds of people in the arena most of the people I knew that were there were sitting in the same block as us.
The men's game was even better. The USA warm up was dunking and shooting three's from an unbelievable distance. The crowd was bigger than it had been the night before and was going wild as they dropped dunk after dunk and three after three. For me it was a surreal moment. My role model is Kieron Achara who plays number 4 for GB. He used to play for my club Falkirk Fury and coached me when I was younger. All Fury players are told at some point of the influence our head coach had on his career and so to see him on the same court as all the NBA stars and wearing a GB strip made me unbelievably proud of how far he'd come. He's an inspiration to all us Scots and shows that anything can be achieved with the right dedication. Robert Archibald was also there showing the world that Scotland has many talented athletes.
The game started very much the same as the women's with USA seemingly taking it easy but still winning by a couple baskets. Britain's Pops Mensah-Bonsu held his own against USA, driving hard to the basket and even getting wide open dunks. Another Brit, Luol Deng drove constantly at the basket and GB's defence was without fault. I'd thought that the women's game was fast but this was something else entirely. There were times you found that you couldn't keep track of the ball and it would suddenly be through the net before you'd even seen the move that got it there. This was probably most apparent when Kobe Bryant got double teamed, faked a pass to an open player on the base line and both defenders and the whole arena looked to find that the ball had stopped mid-air and Kobe was spinning back round and sinking an extraordinary three in front of both defenders. As the ball swished through the hoop the arena went crazy with cheering and screaming, the USA bench were on their feet punching the air, proud of their team mate. It was pure genius and a mark of just how amazing these Olympian athletes are.
There was one point during the game where GB got fast break after fast break, many of which ended in Pops dunking and generally just putting on an unforgettable show. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. When USA got to around 90 points the bench stood up, including superstars Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Every attempt the USA team had at the basket resulted in the bench holding their breath and after every success there was some gesture to show their superiority in a hilarious way like wiping the floor to show that they just wiped the floor with the opposition. If anything they were slightly more entertaining than the game itself. Making you want them to score just to see the bench reaction. They hit the 100 mark with a three sending the whole bench into uproar with secret handshakes and high fives towards the end of the game. USA won 118-78 which was a great achievement for the GB squad as they showed that they could keep up with the best players in the world. They worked well as a team to stop USA getting easy open baskets and pressured the ball at all times. On offence they moved the ball and often found the open player.
The atmosphere across the two games was electric and nothing like I'd ever witnessed or experienced before. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm so grateful to my parents for getting us the tickets. It was worth the travelling and lack of sleep the next day. Now I get to say that I watched the USA and GB teams live and was in the same arena as some of the best players in the world.