Raiders get green light from FIBA
AIRWAVES Plymouth Raiders have been given the green light to play in Europe in 2009/10 – providing they finish in the BBL Championship's top-two this season.
Commissioner Will Jones, from governing body FIBA (International Basketball Federation, attended Raiders' home games against Guildford Heat and Leicester Riders, at the Pavilions on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
He met with Raiders officials before Sunday's contest and said he was impressed with what he saw.
Raiders vice-chairman Damon Lenszner said: "He left Plymouth fully satisfied we will be able to conform to the comprehensive regulations regarding entry to Europe."
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Raiders, who have never played in Europe before, are currently 4-3 and fourth in the BBL behind 4-1 Everton Tigers, who are second.
Raiders rejected a late invite to play in this season's third-tier EuroChallenge cup in June.
They had neither the facilities nor finances in place.
FIBA regulations stipulate clubs in their three competitions boast at least a 2,000 all-seater arena.
The Pavilions only seats 1,450.
But Raiders chief executive Dave Briggs said: "The commissioner said 1,500 was fine, he said we get really good crows and he said our set-up is fine.
"We need to have a new wooden floor, we need scoreboards at both ends of the floor and we need new 24-second shot clocks, which include the game-clock."
Only the teams who finish first and second in the BBL Championship are guaranteed invites to play in Europe the following season.
However, because last season champions Newcastle Eagles and runners-up Heat both declined invites for financial reasons, third-placed Raiders and fourth-placed Milton Keynes Lions both received 11-hour invites.
Briggs said: "We want to finish as high as possible in the BBL this season, but if we finish third again and get invited – and providing everything is in place in the arena and financially – we would look at doing it."
British clubs have perennially struggled to compete against richer clubs from Europe.
The last BBL club to make a real impact in Europe were Brighton Bears in 2003/04.
Heat were the last BBL club to play in Europe, in last season's second-tier EuroCup.
But they finished 0-10 at the bottom of their group and the rumoured £100,000 cost of that campaign has crippled them this season.
They visited the Pavilions on Saturday, but fell 83-79 with only one of their starting-five, forward Mike Martin, from the team who comfortably won the play-offs in May.
Briggs said: "We don't want to endanger the club and with the way the economy currently is, it's going to be tough, but in Europe we could appeal to a different sponsorship market. We'll see what happens."
He added: "Europe would be a gradual progression every year, like the BBL has been.
"You could draw anybody and you just don't know what the level will be really like.
"But we don't just want it to be a one-year wonder; there's no point doing that.
"In the Premier League Manchester United and Liverpool want to play in Europe every season.
"So do we – providing the infrastructure is there and the finances are there."
Raiders finished ninth and failed to qualify for the play-offs in their first two seasons in the top-flight BBL in 2005 and 2006.
In 2007 they dramatically improved and finished fifth, before clinching third spot last season.
Briggs added: "The FIBA commissioner has asked that a delegation from the club accompanies him to a European game in the next six weeks.
"This is essential for us to fully appreciate the scale of what European competition entails."
Lenszner said: "Now we understand the full extent of this commitment, we will sit down with (Raiders coach) Gary Stronach and formulate a budget for next season that will include European competition."
If the American NBA, the best league in the world, is akin to English football's Premier League, elite European leagues like in Spain and Russia are akin to the Championship.
The BBL is roughly akin to the bottom half of League Two or top half of the Blue Square Premier (the old Conference).
To measure the gulf, Heat were routed 113-53 away and 95-61 at home when they played Spanish powerhouse Joventut last season.
Teams entered in this season's EuroChallenge include Liege of Belgium, Zagreb in Croatia, Toulon and Vichy of France, Skyliners of Germany and St Petersburg in Russia.