Malaga, Spain 25 June – 3 July 2022
I met Tom at London City Airport, both wearing are Team GBMaxi travel kit and feeling slightly conscience of that fact, we boarded our flight to Malaga. I was just pleased that we were on the flight and it left on time. Having booked my flight weeks ago, less than 36 hours before British Airways had cancelled my original flight, which lead to a manic 45 minutes trying to sort an alternative. It could have been worse Tom had 2 flights cancelled.
City Airport worked a dream and the flight was calm and uneventful. We landed at lunchtime, collected our luggage, picked up the hire car and headed to our AirBnb. We made the decision to have our own apartment rather than stay in the hotel used by the majority of GBMaxi program as we were having friends and family stay with us for various parts of the tournament and the apartment gave us more flexibility. Once we arrived at the apartment we unpacked, did some food shopping but headed out pretty soon afterwards. We drove to pick up teammates Danny and Walid from their hotel, and headed to one of the courts we would be playing on for a shoot around. The court was extremely hot, and the hoops weren’t too forgiving. Not ideal as we were due to play there the next day.
Having not slept great, I woke up early and ran the short distance down to the beach front, ran and stretched on the beach front. Paddled in the cold sea before heading back to the apartment for breakfast.
We met the team at the team hotel at 1pm, where we given our tournament credentials, and went over some last minute logistics by Coach Liam. We also spoke about our first opposition, which was the GBFimba team. They were big, having two 7-footers on their roster, but we felt we would have more talent and athleticism. We headed to the venue for a 4pm tip off.
Once we arrived it was very obvious that the court was even hotter than yesterday during our shoot around, and the court we played on was narrow in the corners, not good for our 3-point shooters.
We started slowly, but so did the opposition, perhaps the afternoon heat, as well as the anticipation of the event being factors. The first half was tight and nervy, however in the second half we executed better and exploited our athleticism well and ended up winning by 17 points, nailed home by Simon ‘Spud’ Kierney who hit 3 big shots down the stretch. By no means a perfect performance but winning our first game was a great start.
We changed and headed straight to the official opening ceremony, which took place in the Malaga athletics stadium, all the teams from all the countries invited to walk through the stadium and make their way into the stands, where the tournament organizers and the Mayor of Malaga addressed us. Unfortunately for me it was all in Spanish, but the pomp and ceremony of it all was amazing. It was a ‘who’s who’ of British basketball, with so many friends, former teammates and opponents attending, it was a real treat. I was also able to facetime with my boys from the stadium, which was really nice. After which Tom and I headed to a local restaurant to have the biggest Paella we could find.
We were set to tip off against Team Slovenia at 7pm; due to the logistics of getting us all to the venue on time Liam decided we would have our team meeting at the venue rather than at the hotel. This suited Tom and I as it meant less driving around and essentially allowed us the majority of the day to ourselves. After a morning run to the beach and brief workout Tom and I headed out for a morning stroll and a coffee/smoothie. Tom’s fiancé, and her best friend were due to arrive at lunchtime so we made the short drive to Malaga Airport to pick them up.
We left for the venue to arrive in time watch the end of a previous game and see ex-NBA player, Rubén Wolkowyski, warm up and play in the 45+ age group, he of course looked a different class.
The venue was on a private estate in a court, which had a long glass window down one side, which looked out over the see. The floor was perfect and the baskets were NBA quality. This felt like the courts we had all been expecting to play on. The Slovenian team was older than us, and as the game went on our superior fitness levels pushed us through. I started the game well, not reliant on outside shooting I drove to the basket getting fouled a couple of times. Slovenia hit some outside shot keeping them within a couple of baskets, but we increased the defensive pressure allowing a number of fast break points, including a reverse dunk from Sam. We won the game 63-56, despite not playing our best.
After arriving home, the four of us headed out for dinner down on the sea front. As we headed out I received a message from my Mum saying she had landed safely. When we finished dinner we headed back to the apartment, on the walk home we passed my old friend Greg, I have known Greg for close to 25 years, he inspired me to go into fitness training upon leaving university, he was in Malaga playing for a GBFimba 45+ team, I sat with him discussing all things basketball and beyond.
The day started with my run along the sea front, however I slept a little longer so this run was hot! I had arranged to meet my Mum after my run and we went for a cold drink before walking back to the apartment where she joined us for lunch.
Today was the last of our 3 days of consecutive games, we knew that if we could win we would finish the group top and earn ourselves a bye into the semi final. I had arranged to see team physio Jamie Defoe at the team hotel as I was suffering with some knee pain. Jamie did his thing and I chatted to Liam in the lobby afterwards. At this point there was a strange atmosphere around the group, it didn’t feel quite right despite winning both games, maybe because we weren’t playing at our best. I certainly had put a lot of pressure on myself to play well, and was disappointed I hadn’t reached those expectations.
At the venue we had a team meeting, we all had our say and cleared the air. The game itself was against the 2nd ranked of the Spanish teams. From the off, the court was going to be an issue, it was like a greenhouse, the sun was low and was shining through the glass heating the court and it made shooting into one end almost impossible. We defended that end in the first half and I couldn’t tell the red of the opponent and the blue of our kit apart in the sunlight. It was laughable trying to shoot that way in the second half, there were times where whilst shooting players had to close their eyes. It was a real battle, low scoring and frustrating, but we played as a team and stuck together in the most unique of circumstances, we won 67-57. I had played well in the first half; I had stopped looking at stats after this game, nothing in the second half counted as far as I was concerned. Just pleased we had won the group and earned 2 full days off from competition.
I woke early and ran down to the beach; there was an outdoor gym where I worked out before running back. I had a couple of hours of work to do. So Tom and the girls headed to the beach for the day. I joined them in the afternoon promptly falling asleep on a sun bed, but I did manage a quick swim in the sea. It was nice to chill a bit and spend time away from basketball.
In the evening, Tom, his partner and her friend, as well as my Mother and I went out for dinner close to the apartment. The two girls were leaving the next morning, so it was nice to hang out with them.
Tom and I dropped the girls at the airport, nice and early in the morning, after returning Tom and I headed out for a beach workout.
After which my mum and I headed out to watch the GBFimba 45+ team play, Greg played on this team, so I wanted to support him. After lunch I headed to the main hotel to hangout with Spud and Rich Wellings (40+). We lazed by the pool for a couple of hours. The hotel was full of the GBMaxi teams, there were matching t-shirt and red backpacks everywhere. Lots of basketball conversations.
The big highlight of the day was going back to the airport in the evening pick up Julia and Isla who were flying out for the second half of the tournament. We went back to the apartment and dropped the girls’ bags and headed out for dinner on the seafront with the rest of the team, and various family members of my teammates. It was a great bonding experience and very timely.
I woke early, as ever, Julia and I went for a nice jog along the sea front. We then went bag and got sorted for the day. We had a team meeting set for early afternoon so Julia, Isla and I enjoyed walking around Torrelminos and doing some shopping. Tom and I headed down to the team hotel for the meeting; we were playing the Fimba team in the semi final, later that evening. Liam had decided we would change our defensive tactics, we would pressure their guards higher up the court, we felt our fitness levels would allow for easy scores. The meeting was short and precise, I felt confident, as did the group. We couldn’t wait to play. Tom and I returned to the apartment, Julia and Isla had prepared the nicest lunch for us, pasta, and salads, deserts, and the works. It was perfect. The 4 of us, and my Mum headed to the venue early. We changed and had a long warm up.
The game started well, we applied our game plan, and we got some easy scores by creating turnovers. As a team we hit some shots, Spud and Simon Payne both hit a number of big jump shots. Tom had a great game dominating inside against a very tall opposing front line. I again didn’t shoot great and my minutes reflected this, nevertheless we were all delighted to reach the final we won the game 78-54. I felt I was playing good defense but couldn’t buy a basket. I think with out Julia and my Mum’s support and Tom’s very logical thinking I would of gone crazy, I have a tendency to over analyze and be self-critical.
Julia and I headed to the beach gym for a morning workout. I wanted to take it easy so afterwards she and Isla headed down to the beach club for the day. I wondered down early afternoon to meet them, my mum made a brief appearance also. In the evening we ate close to the apartment and headed back relatively early.
As seemed normal by now, Julia and I headed out for a run. We then drove to Malaga town to the venue where we would play the final later in the day. We went to watch the GBMaxi v Fimba 40+ Semi final. It was a good game, with some fantastic players playing, many of which I had known well from years of National League game in the UK, the intensity was high and the level of play was fantastic. The game was played at the practice facility of UniCaja, Malaga’s ACB team. It was where our game would be that evening. The court and hoops were of ACB quality, the facility was already hot and humid, and this was 10am. After the game finished we headed back to the apartment for some downtime, before heading to the hotel for our pre-game meeting.
The team we were going to face in the final was a UniCaja ‘old boys’ team, who were representing Spain in this tournament. All of their team had played professionally in Spain, many in the ACB (Europe’s highest league). It was pointed out to us that their lead guard was Carlos Cabezas, had played on the Spanish National team that had won the World Championship in 2006, a serious player!
We arrived at the venue in plenty of time, it was hot and seats were starting to fill up. Tom started stretching and I shot on one of the side baskets, which separated the two courts. Isla rebounded for me, I had my headphones in, I lost track of time as I must of taken 250+ shots, before I knew it the entire team was there and we went and had our last team talk before the final. We went out on court and began our warm up. The crowd was a few hundred, but close to the court, which added to the atmosphere and temperature inside the building.
The game began at what seemed a very fast pace, the level of play was high, they seemed not to miss. Unfortunately for us our top scorer for the tournament, Sam Toluwase, got 2 quick fouls and had to head to the bench, Tom came in and was his consistent self, getting some easy scores and rebounding well.
Half time came and we were down but not out, we continued to fight, I hit two 3 pointers early in the third quarter which I felt gave us hope. However down the stretch of the game the experience and professionalism of the opposition just meant we couldn’t get a foothold and make inroads to the score, every time we went on a run they seemed to hit a timely 3-pointer or get to the free throw line and kill our momentum. The final score was 47 – 66, a tough way to finish an incredible journey. Sam scored 18 points in the final, he lead our team throughout the tournament, Carlos Cabezas scored 22 points in 21 minutes; his class was the biggest difference between the two teams. I hit my only 2 shots in the final, at last!
The entire team met up for food and drinks, and we headed out into Malaga town, many of us were tired and had flights home the next day but we all understood that whatever happened this group would never be together again, and we should enjoy what we had achieved. We stayed out until the early hours!
What an incredible experience, the whole process from the first training camp until the very last day in Malaga. So many people to thank, Sadie Mason and Jesse Sazant for leading the program with class and professionalism, Liam Jefferson for picking me and giving me the opportunity, Tom Adorian for sharing the logistics and being a great roommate, Simon Kierney for all the lifts to camp and all my teammates for sharing this madness with me. Rob Eddon and Coventry Flames & Georg Chernyak and Makkabi Frankfurt for letting me play at a high level again. John Collins for showing me how to train smarter, Darren Siggins for his workout advice, Asher and Chris at London Reign, Greg and Bonnie at Unit22 for keeping me in one-piece, my Mum for coming out to Malaga and always supporting me, Isla for being there and being a good rebounder, Jona and Noah for being an inspiration, and lastly Julia for her support, words of encouragement, I wouldn’t and couldn’t of done any of this without you.