By Rob Scott / @RobScott33
Great Britain 61 - 55 Puerto Rico
(London, England) Great Britain saw off a second string Puerto Rico team to begin the Joe Prunty era with a 61-55 win at the Copper Box, in London’s Olympic Park. Kieran Achara led all scorers with thirteen points, Kyle Johnson poured in eleven and Andrew Sullivan was the only other Brit in double figures with ten. Puerto Rico’s replacement roster was led by recent University of Oregon graduate Carlos Emory, who had an efficient twelve.
In front of an enthusiastic home crowd, which replicated the spirit of 2012 by cheering loudly, if not always at the right time, GB eventually pulled away in a scrappy game. New head coach Joe Prunty shuffled lineups around, after only a week of training camp, so the lack of chemistry on display was perhaps inevitable.
This is a new era in the Great Britain national team, but not the kind that anyone would have hoped for. Luol Deng, Joel Freeland and Pops Mensah Bonsu are all unavailable, Nate Reinking has shifted from backcourt to sideline as an Assistant Coach, and this young team will be thrown in at the deep end in Slovenia next month.
Prunty was keen to stress that this is a team in development: “I was trying to get as many guys as I could into the game, get their feet wet, and in a way where they could come in and not just play for five minutes, but get double figure minutes… We are nowhere near where we need to be, but I like where we are”, he said after the game.
Prunty has a typically American positive outlook, which is going to be necessary as his young team faces increasingly talented opposition in the run-up to Eurobasket.
GB turned up the defense after halftime, with Kieron Achara recording six blocks in total, as Puerto Rico’s small guards hurled themselves into the paint one, two, even three at a time. Early warm up games are a chance to install defensive principles, and it looks like most of the time, GB will have the big man stay slightly back on ball screens while the guard fights over the pick. Even though this is the more difficult strategy to take, GB just don’t have the mobile bigs who can hedge out and contain guards on the perimeter.
Early on, Eric Boateng, now starting at centre, got multiple touches in the post but couldn’t finish around the rim. He ended up 0-of-7 from the field, albeit with 10 rebounds. Quality post play was lacking throughout the game, which is going to make it very difficult to create shots at Eurobasket. Backup five-man Dzaflo Larkai showed a similar heavy touch on the ball, going 1-of-5 inside. When you can’t establish a post game, it makes it all the more difficult for your guards and wings to make the space to do anything.
Prunty brought in the second unit midway through the first quarter, and it’s inevitable that lineup combinations won’t be set at this stage of preparation. However, the unit with Justin Robinson, Ogo Adegboye and Alex Marcotulio went mostly scoreless. Depth will be a real concern, and when the real games begin in Slovenia, this will probably have to be a very short rotation.
On the plus side, Andrew Lawrence played a steady, assured role as the starting point guard, and showed signs of chemistry with Kyle Johnson, hooking up in the second half for a pair of nice scores. Devon van Oostrum forced things a little, trying too hard to make the flashy play, but showed what he can do on a beautiful drive, faking the pass to the corner and gliding in for the layup.
It was difficult to judge the quality of the opposition, a roster made up of prospects and domestic league veterans hoping to impress the second-string coaching staff in case of any drop-outs from the main Puerto Rico training camp in Florida. They were undersized and shot 1-of-18 from three point range. Great Britain will face a much more potent offensive threat in each of their following preparation games against Finland, Greece, Sweden and Poland, not to mention at Eurobasket.