Basketball: Amaechi's comeback helps to raise profile

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The Independent Online

John Amaechi's return to play for Manchester Magic is a massive publicity coup not only for his home town club, but also for the sport's governing body, England Basketball, and its English Basketball League.

The 6ft 10in Amaechi, 33, has returned from four years in the NBA after having his £3.5m contract paid up by the New York Knicks, and will make his debut in the sports centre bearing his name - and which he funded - next Saturday against London United.

Keith Mair, the chief executive of England Basketball, said: "John adds quite a lot as a drawing card to the league. People will turn out to see him wherever he plays. The sport sadly lacks English profile players, although there are others who are worth it, but he will help redress that."

England Basketball is entering two vital years in which it aims to raise its profile before the Commonwealth Games in March 2006, and emerge from the shadow of the American-dominated British Basketball League. The five-week Games programme falls within both the EBL and BBL domestic seasons. EB can restructure its own competitions and although the BBL has indicated it will also look at its fixtures schedule, the England men's team could, of necessity, largely comprise EBL players.

EB has received two applications to coach the men's team and one for the women's team, and plans to announce its choices during February.

EBL's eye-catching fixture this weekend sees the First Division champions, Teesside Mohawks, visiting Plymouth Raiders, who defeated them 89-82 in the National Cup Final two weeks ago and 86-75 in the league last weekend.

Tomorrow the Raiders will parade the Cup at the Pavilions for the visit of Ware Rebels, who need to pull off an unlikely win to maintain their own play-off qualification hopes. The Raiders beat them 95-57 two weeks ago.