Vanderwal not keen to dwell on EuroBasket disappointment

Rachael Vanderwal is urging her fellow GB women basketball players to dust themselves off as quickly as possible after failing to sign off their...


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Basketball is an unusual sport, in that one man created it – Canadian physical education teacher Dr James Naismith. He wanted an indoor sport to keep the students at the YMCA training school at Springfield College in Massachusetts fit during the harsh New England winters, and put together the 13 rules that form the basis of modern basketball in December 1891.

As the years went by its popularity spread around the world, leading to the creation of the International Basketball Federation in Switzerland in 1932. Basketball is now one of the mainstays of US sport alongside American Football and baseball, and plays a huge part in modern American culture, with the top NBA players some of the most famous and richly-paid sportsmen in the world.

Basketball’s appeal is truly global, however, with school children and adults playing the game from Europe to Asia.


Olympic History

After a trial appearance as a display sport in the 1904 Summer Games in St Louis, USA, basketball made its official Olympic debut in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, Germany. To mark the occasion, James Naismith threw the first ball of the first game of the tournament.

A women’s tournament was introduced for the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, Canada, while professional players were finally allowed to represent their country in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. A US ‘Dream Team’ included world-famous players Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and swept the board to win the gold medal without being beaten.

Despite not being allowed to use professional players, the US men’s team has dominated the medal table of basketball over the years, winning 12 of the 16 gold medals awarded in the event’s Olympic history.


The court

An Olympic basketball court is a hard, flat rectangular wooden surface measuring 15 metres wide and 28m long with elevated baskets at either end. On the floor are several key markings. The three-point line is a semi-circle of radius 6.25m around the basket. The other crucial mark is the penalty line, which is 5.8m straight from the basket at the top of a triangular zone, known as ‘the key’.


The baskets

The baskets are elevated 3.05m high over the court, 1.2m in from the end of the court. The hoop of the basket is 45 centimetres in diameter, below which there is a net to contain the ball after points are scored. The hoop is mounted on a backboard that measures 1.8m wide and 1.05m high.



Although a basketball match looks chaotic, players occupy key strategic positions.

The centre is the most forward player, and is there to defend the basket or pick up rebounds when an attacking player misses a shot. The forward and power forward are the main points scorers, while the playmaker is a smaller, quicker player who helps build an attack. The guard is the main defensive position and helps the team build up counter-attacks or takes long shots if required.


Current Olympic Programme



Team Competition

Team Competition



The ball

The skin of the ball is made of leather and its hollow centre is pumped with air so it can bounce. It is between 75 and 78cm in circumference and weighs between 600 and 650 grams. A referee tests the ball for suitability before the game.


Basketball players have two sets of coloured shirts and shorts to reflect their national team – one dark-coloured and one light-coloured so that opposing teams don’t match if the uniforms look similar. Shirts carry the player’s number and sometimes their name so that they are easily identifiable.


Basketball trainers have higher ankle supports than normal running shoes for added comfort during play.


In Olympic competition, 12 teams are allowed to represent their country in each of the men’s and women’s tournament after qualifying for the Games. They play in two groups of six teams. After every team in a group plays each other, the top four go through to quarterfinals and semi-finals, with the two semi-final winners facing off for gold and silver and the two semi-final losers fighting for bronze.

Scoring points

There are three main ways of scoring points. A player scoring inside the three-point line scores two points, but if he scores outside the line, he picks up three points. In the case of fouls and penalties, players throw the ball from a specified spot straight in front of the basket, and only pick up one point.



Two referees patrol the sides of the court to monitor play, while a scorekeeper records and fouls and the timekeeper keeps track of stoppages, time-outs and the re-setting of the 24-second ‘shot clock’.



Basketball players aren’t allowed to hold the ball or use two hands while running, and must ‘dribble’ it by batting it from one hand to the floor and back again. If they hold the ball for more than two stops while moving, it is called ‘travelling’, and control of play is awarded to the opposing team.



Shots can be made by either throwing the ball from a distance in a high arc into the hoop, or getting under the basket and jumping up with the ball to spectacularly ‘slam dunk’ it down into the hoop.



Attacking players have five seconds to dribble, shoot or pass the ball. Their team has eight seconds to get the ball into the opposing half and 24 seconds to make a shot at the basket. If not, possession passes to the other side. Players only have three seconds in the ‘key’ zone directly below the basket. Once the ball is over the halfway line, they are limited to play in that half, and can’t go back to their own half. Attacking teams can use players as shields, or ‘screens’ to block defenders and allow other attacking players to maintain possession of the ball, but they aren’t allowed to push defenders. If they do, it’s a personal foul.



The team not in possession of the ball has to prevent the attacking team from scoring points and ultimately gain control of the ball themselves. By blocking or intercepting a throw from one player to another, they can pick up the ball and go on the attack. A missed shot, or rebound, also allows the teams to fight over control of the ball. There are two main types of defence strategy – zone defence, in which defenders focus on specific areas of the court, or man-to-man defence, in which each defender sticks to an attacker.



A team’s coach is allowed to ask for a 10-second timeout to give advice to his players or make changes. They are allowed to make one time-out in each of the first three quarters, two in the final quarter and one five-second time-out in each period of overtime.


Free throws

If a shooting player is fouled, he gets a free throw from the penalty spot. Players from both teams can battle for the rebound if he misses. If a player makes five personal fouls, he is ejected from the game, and when a team commits four fouls in the same quarter, two free throws are awarded for each successive foul.

Team HeroesEntire Team

Andrew Sullivan has been part of the British Basketball programme since its inception in 2006, the same year he won Commonwealth Games bronze with England in Melbourne in a side that included British basketball legend John Amaechi.


One of the talismen of the British side since 2008, Pops Mensah- Bonsu is currently with powerful Turkish side Besiktas and he was this year’s MVP of the league’s All-Star Game.

He played in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks...

Luol Deng arrived in London as a child from south Sudan and his family settled in Brixton.

Aged 14 he moved to the USA, enrolling at Blair Academy in New Jersey. Following a successful high school career he joined Duke and after one yea...

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