Britain searches for 'Tall and Talented' athletes 

LONDON (AP) — Wanted: Tall people with athletic ability. Males must be over 6-foot-3, females over 5-11. Apply now for a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to become an Olympic athlete.

That's the pitch launched by British officials to locate and train potential basketball players and rowers for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

British Basketball and UK Sport are promoting the "Tall and Talented" program nationwide by advertising on radio and TV and in schools and universities for "exceptionally tall" candidates, aged between 15 and 22, who are competing in any sport at least at a county or regional level.

Applicants should be "quick, agile and skillful and/or fit, powerful and strong," as well as "mentally tough and competitive," the ad says.

"No prior experience in rowing, basketball or any specific sport is required," it says. "We are looking for raw sporting talent with the capacity to develop under the guidance of elite level coaches in a world class training environment."

Chicago Bulls star Luol Deng — Britain's standout basketball player — has lent his support to the program.

"This is a great way to identify and tap into talent which may otherwise go unnoticed," the 6-foot-9 forward said.

The domestic basketball league in Britain isn't as strong or well-supported as elsewhere in Europe. And Britain's national team still hasn't qualified for the 2012 London Olympics.

"Relatively in this country, (basketball is) perceived to be minor but there's a good participation base," said Warwick Cann, a performance coordinator with British Basketball. "There's a lack of facilities in the country, which limits the amount of training and playing time that basketballers can make, so comparatively they're a bit behind on the international spectrum."

More than 1,000 applicants who met the height requirements will undergo general physical tests at various locations across the country in January. After a six-month selection process, those that make the cut will be put into specific full-time training programs.

British Basketball is looking for athletes who can transfer their skills from other team sports. Cann said that females who have played netball, a sport similar to basketball, and exceptionally tall soccer players have the potential to be trained to become elite basketball players.

"I'm confident that if we find someone with the right age and physical attributes and the profile that we're looking for that we'll be able to immerse them in existing programs," Cann said.

He said officials are looking for athletes who have speed, power, desire and talent as well as height.

Deng acknowledged the importance of being an all-around athlete.

"There are many aspects to being a good basketballer, both on and off the court, but height is most definitely an advantage," he said.

While it's the first time that Britain has searched for basketball players, the same model has proved effective in rowing.

"We know that it's very possible to go out there and find athletes or even just individuals who aren't involved in rowing and convert them into world and Olympic medalists in a fairly short period if you put them in the right program with the right coaches," said Natalie Dunman, lead talent identification scientist for the "Tall and Talented" project.

Vicky Thornley won a gold medal at last year's under-23 world rowing championships despite only setting foot in a boat two years before, after being selected through 2007's Sporting Giants program.

"I thought I might as well have a go, and applied for it. I didn't think I'd be chosen for rowing," Thornley said. "I didn't really have a clue about rowers and didn't know that you had to be tall or that it was a benefit."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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