Butler, Naylor and Trailin eye sweep at inaugural 35+ Tri-Nations

“We are going to win the Tri-Nations,” said England 35+ Women's Head Coach Steve Butler.

“The players we've got are not there just to participate. They want to do the best and showcase the talents that they have.”

The Tees Valley Mohawks coach and chairman was speaking to Basketball England ahead of the inaugural 35+ Tri-Nations Tournament, taking place at the National Basketball Performance Centre in Manchester on the 1-2 June.

England take on Scotland and Wales in the new competition, which is part of a collaboration between the home nations and GB Maxibasketball – a masters basketball performance programme.

The tournament takes place at the same time as the U14s competition of the same name, showcasing the longevity of the basketball talent pathway and the chances players have to represent national squads through the age groups.

Helen Naylor (far right) helped the Hatters win the 2023/24 WNBL2 playoff title

Scratch the competitive itch

Sheffield Hatters legend Helen Naylor, who had a ‘really special’ swansong season in the Women’s National Basketball League, winning Player of the Year in Pool 1 and chipping in 15 points in the Hatters’ championship 77-66 win over Cobham Cobras in the WNBL2 Playoff Final, co-announced her retirement from the league along with teammates, Lisa Riches, sister Sarah Cooney and Steph Gandy, but she says to represent the flag of St. George is a way to scratch her competitive itch and help with the adjustment of retirement.

“[Masters basketball] is just a really great way for people that are sort of finishing their careers or wanting to get back into basketball, when they're older, to play at a competitive level again.

“It is competitive at the masters’ level. The [GB Maxibasketball] programmes I've been involved with have been performance programmes. They're not just turn up and scrimmage. It’s all been really structured, with strength and condition coaches and all that sort of stuff. So, I think that's really positive as well.”

Head Coach Steve Butler (centre) with Helen Naylor (left) and her sister Sarah Cooney (right), who won gold in Malaga as part of the GB Women's 35+ squad

Masters pathways a must

Naylor played under Butler’s direction at the 2022 European Championships in Malaga, Spain, where the women's 35+ team captured GB's first ever masters’ gold medal, after a 64-44 victory over Estonia in the final. 

Butler believes that it’s a must to have pathways for athletes to continue playing basketball and national representation.

“With the Maxibasketball programme, there's a pathway there for athletes to continue to represent the country.

“It keeps them involved and there’s great friendships to be made because, obviously, you were battling against your teammates domestically, but now you are representing the same country with the same goal.

“The camps are successful and have an elite-athlete focus. I think it’s a must and it’s good that it’s supported by Basketball England.”

Thames Valley Cavaliers' Helene Trailin (right) and teammate Kat Goldsby (left), who both won the Women's National Cup with the club in 2023

You can improve your game at any age

Considering herself ‘lucky’ to be selected to represent England is Thames Valley Cavaliers’ Helene Trailin, who was also part of that gold medal winning team in Spain.

“I'm glad to be part of this experience. It's a good squad. We have a strong team.

“You can improve your game at any age, so it's nice to see it evolve and change with time. It's great that GB Maxibasketball gives this kind of opportunity for experienced players.

“You're not getting faster with age and less physical, probably, and sometimes less strong. But for me, the [basketball] IQ is getting better; you know your strengths and weaknesses so you know how to play well to perform.”

Butler, who is a sports technician at Middlesborough College, says his national coaching call up is an ‘absolute honour’, and this summer will once again resume GB Maxibasketball coaching duties, with the women’s 35+ squad, which includes Trailin, leading them to Pesaro, Italy for the 2024 FIMBA European Maxibasketball Championship.

He aims to gauge his team’s dynamics at the Tri-Nations and even though he won’t have two of his GB players in Laura Shanahan and Sarah Wagstaff, who will compete for rivals Wales, the 47-year-old says he’s looking forward to two great games.

“We're definitely not just going there to participate and use it as a warmup for the Euros. We want to win both games.”