London Lions seal British basketball first in overcoming Besiktas for European glory

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

London Lions became the first British basketball team – male or female - in history to win a major European trophy as they overturned a first-leg deficit to defeat Besiktas in the EuroCup final on Wednesday night.

The British outfit had begun the second leg 75-68 behind and were still trailing in the dying moments of the game before a three-pointer from Holly Winterburn and two free throws from Megan Gustafson sealed an 81-70 victory on the night and an aggregate win of 149-145.

But the night was partly soured by the fact that the team are unlikely to be able to defend that title after owners 777 Partners, the prospective buyers of Everton Football Club, said they were scaling back their spending on the women’s team next season.

The news looks likely to see a major break-up of a team which has gone undefeated so far this domestic season before capping it with European glory.

Karlie Samuelson proved the star of the night as she top scored with 19 points, earning herself the final’s Most Valuable Player award in the process.

Coach Stella Kaltsidou, who was lifted aloft by her jubilant players inside a packed Copper Box in the immediate aftermath, said: “We’ve put the British basket at the top of Europe. I just hope this country is going to use this result to benefit the sport here.

“We will not let this get lost. I hope this inspires more boys and girls to play the sport. I’m said this dream is now over but we will celebrate tonight, tomorrow and next week.”

London Lions lift up head coach Stella Kaltsidou after victory (PA Wire)
London Lions lift up head coach Stella Kaltsidou after victory (PA Wire)

Gustafson, a former WBNA star, said the European title ranked alongside her other career achievements and also admitted she was clinging to the hope the owners might perform a U-turn over halting a European campaign next season.

She said: “Hopefully this changes their mind. I’m definitely keeping the door open for London just to see what happens. I hope they can get it together because this was an amazing experience.

“For my professional career, it’s probably the highest I’ve been able to get to. Obviously playing in the WNBA has been great but I haven’t won a championship there yet.”

Winterburn has already confirmed she will be leaving the London Lions for the WNBA next season.

But she said: “The bond this team has created is something special. I don’t think I’ll ever play in a team like this again. With the funding situation, it’s not an option to stay. It breaks my heart that it’s the situation. I can’t thank London enough for what they’ve done for British basketball but it’s time to move onto the next chapter.”