NEWCASTLE Eagles star Aaron Nielsen has been told he should be looking to break into the Great Britain squad despite the intense competition for places from players in the NBA.
Nielsen has made a big impression this season as a replacement for injured player-coach Fabulous Flournoy and the 19-year-old has won plenty of praise along the way.
And, while the teenager faces a struggle to hold on to his place in the Eagles side following Flournoy’s return the Northumbria University student is being tipped for bigger and better things by Newcastle captain Andrew Bridge.
“Aaron Nielsen has done very well,” said Bridge, who is keen to see the franchise produce its own international players as the game continues to develop at domestic level.
“He is still a little nervous against the big teams, but he did superbly against the smaller sides like Worcester and Plymouth and that will help his confidence.
“We can’t expect a 19-year-old to come into the side and dominate the best players in the league, but he is a very promising talent who, over the next year or so, should really make an impact in the first team.
“All of the experience he is getting is valuable. He has made mistakes in games and Fab has let him know about them, but it is only when something like that happens in a game that you understand why it’s important. It’s not the same in training and the more he plays this season the faster his progression will be.”
Bridge has never managed to force his way into the new GB squad and with NBA stars like Luol Deng and Pops Mensah-Bonsu competing with the European-based players for a place in the team he admits it has never been tougher to gain international recognition.
But that does not mean Nielsen should not aspire to playing at that level and Bridge feels his career will take a massive step forward if he is selected to play for England in the next couple of years.
Although Nielsen is relatively small for his position as a Guard, Bridge feels he has the ball skills and the shooting ability to advance his career.
He said: “He has got to aspire to play for Great Britain team. It’s not going to be easy for him. Most players in his position are at least 6ft five inches and he’s only six foot.
“He could do with growing another three or four inches but basketball players always say that. Another three inches would make them 10 times a better player, but hopefully Aaron will continue to grow over the next couple of years.
“It’s extremely hard for players in the BBL to get into the GB team because of the calibre of player they can call on. You’ve got top players from the NBA making themselves available in all our positions and that shows you how tough it is now. It’s a very professional set up and they have a lot of money behind them because it has been made one of the priorities for the London Olympics in 2012.
“The hope is, if we have a successful tournament then, it will kick on from there as a domestic sport as well.”
And, while attention focuses on the GB side which will look to claim an unlikely medal in 2012, Bridge feels the smaller England set up can be a vital stepping stone.
He said: “The good thing for Aaron and the other English players in the league is that there is going to be an England team again and they have a chance of getting in there as it will be playing at the same time as the GB side.
“That will give Aaron a chance to get some experience of international basketball which will do him the world of good. I certainly benefited from playing for England and that should be something Aaron is looking to achieve in the short term.
“If he can do that, pick up more experience and develop his game, who knows, he could go on to play for Great Britain as well. It’s very early on in his career, but he should be aiming high.”