SAFFRON STEALERS – Uttlesford’s only basketball club – is on the brink of folding at the end of the current campaign due to a lack of players.

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The team, which plays its home games at Lord Butler, has pulled out of the Essex League entirely but is trying to honour its commitment to the Cambridge League by playing out its last six games.

Coach Neil Clay told the Reporter the players had “more important” obligations to fulfil outside of the court, leading to a severely depleted squad.

“We just don’t have enough players,” he said. “Four or five of us have had things come up that we’ve had to put ahead of basketball.

“Plus a couple of the lads left at the start of the season and some have been playing for other teams so their time and money is a bit more stretched.

“The players that are left, unfortunately just don’t have enough experience or quality to be able to compete, especially in the Essex League, and it becomes somewhat soul destroying going down to Southend with a depleted squad.

“So with all that going on we just don’t have the funds to keep going.”

Clay explained that ex-coach Russ Haselton was trying to keep the team afloat by bringing in youth players, but a decision will be made in the off-season whether to carry on as a social club or to play competitively in one of the leagues.

The Stealers’ situation is not unique. The outlook for national basketball in the UK may be on the rise after an impassioned plea from Great Brittain’s Luol Deng, pictured, to PM David Cameron to reinstate the sport’s £8.5m Olympic funding was successful. The Chicago Bulls small forward wrote: “I refuse to sit back and let that legacy be completely demolished for basketball.”

However, Clay believes UK Sport was right to cut basketball’s funding for Rio 2016, saying it should be invested at a grassroots level.

“I’ve watched the GB basketball team a few times and in my opinion no amount of money is going to help them get anywhere near a decent level,” he said.

“The money needs to skip a few generations and go down to schools and clubs to provide decent facilities and coaching for kids aged 3-10, to get them interested in the sport from an early age, much like we do with football and rugby.”

Clay stressed the need for access to “quality” indoor basketball courts instead of a slab with two baskets – pointing out the court on Catons Lane as an example.

He also emphasised the importance of coaching and commending volunteers, but warned other clubs may face the same fate of the Stealers without redistribution of basketball’s funds.

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