Huggins feels the tug of Europe

Ian Whittell believes that a star Sheffield Shark may soon leave Britain
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ROGER HUGGINS, one of England's leading basketball players, suffered a painful excursion into Europe this week. Thanks to the Jean-Marc Bosman ruling in football, he and players like him could soon be enjoying far more profitable sorties abroad.

Huggins, who captained the England side outclassed 114-59 in their European Championship qualifier in Russia on Wednesday, spearheads the Sheffield Sharks side that defends their National Cup title against the London Towers at Sheffield Arena this afternoon.

This season Huggins has underlined his standing as one of Britain's three leading players - only the Towers' Steve Bucknall and John Amaechi, who is at present with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA, in the United States, can realistically compare. With the domestic Budweiser League upholding a salary cap of just over pounds 100,000 per team for the entire season, Huggins could lead a select number of Brits attracted by the offer of contracts from the Continent if basketball follows football's example in removing restrictions on foreign players.

"Sheffield played a lot of European games this season and, even though I could have done better, my agent received a lot of good reports from clubs there," said 29-year-old Huggins. There could be opportunities.

"I like playing in this country, but l think the league has to look at raising the salary cap. The simple fact is that this is our work and people are maybe going to look to other countries for jobs if the money is that much better. Who is going to turn down the chance of making pounds 80,000?"

After a solid if unspectacular college career in the arduous setting of Hawaii Pacific University, Huggins tasted one season of foreign basketball, with Ghent in Belgium. Many experts believe that in terms of talent, the superbly athletic 6ft 7in Londoner could have graced the ultimate stage, the NBA. His former England team-mate Amaechi claimed that Huggins would have been able to make the grade.

"I had a try-out with the Seattle Supersonics in '93," Huggins said. "But I didn't have a great four days and nothing came of it. I was overawed by some of the players I was up against and found the whole thing a bit overwhelming."

A place in the NBA would certainly have solved any financial concerns for Huggins. Amaechi will earn the league minimum of $200,000 (pounds 133,000) in the present season. But while Huggins' value to British basketball may not be reflected in his pay cheque - a conservative salary estimate would be around pounds 12,000 - he has been a key figure in the resurgence of the domestic game in the past two seasons, as well as Sheffield's special success. An expansion team last season, the Sharks stunned basketball by winning league and cup. This season, their duel with the Towers has been an absorbing feature of the campaign.

Huggins said: "We screwed ourselves up in many ways by winning too much in the first year. To do as well was always going to be hard and to play better would have been unbelievable.

"Things haven't worked out great for us this year but we're still in second place in the league behind the Towers and we fancy our chances of beating them in the cup final. Playing in Sheffield will be a big help. We normally play at a leisure centre but this will be the third time this season we have played at the Arena. We haven't lost there yet."