Basketball: Hansell making his mark in Italy

STEVEN HANSELL, Hands-worth born but now a transatlantic and continental version of a Brummie, was back in the second city this week to play for England as one of four squad members currently plying their trade with Italian clubs.

Hansell was a member of the Bologna side last season when they won the European Championship. He now plays for the Serie A club Pistoia and is repairing the image in Italy that Englishmen cannot play basketball.

He has some help. Andy Betts, a 7ft 2in Leicester-born centre tipped eventually for the NBA, switched straight from his American college last summer to join Bologna, while Steve Bucknall plays for Fabriano. Spencer Dunkley (Avellino) was selected by the England coach, Laszlo Nemeth, but did not join the team.

Hansell, a 6ft 4in, 23-year-old guard, said: "I heard before I arrived in Italy that there was no respect for English players, but then English clubs hardly ever play in Europe so it's not surprising.

"I knew right from the start I would have to do extra well to prove myself. But that was exactly the situation I faced when I went to college in the States, so it was nothing new."

Hansell, a former Birmingham Bullet, achieved national TV coverage in America, playing for Illinois State then, benefiting from the Bosman ruling, going to Bologna on a short-term contract to help them with the league championship and then the European title.

He totalled 22 points in England's wins in warm-up games over Switzerland on Monday and Tuesday - by 80-67 and 84-71 - and made his European Championship debut in last night's game with Denmark in Birmingham before leaving with the squad to play Spain and the Ukraine.

Then it is back to Italy, along with Bucknall and Betts. "It's the best league in Europe," said Hansell, "and I aim to stay at the top level there."

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