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U.S. basketball stars to visit Britain

LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant, center, was part of the gold medal-winning U.S. men's Olympic basketball team in 2008.
LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant, center, was part of the gold medal-winning U.S. men's Olympic basketball team in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Manchester will host the U.S. men's and women's Olympic basketball teams
  • The city will also stage NBA and WNBA pre-season matches in the coming years
  • U.S. basketball bosses hoping to boost sport's popularity in the UK
  • Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets to play first regular-season NBA match in London

(CNN) -- America's bid to spread basketball's popularity will continue in the next two years, with Britain to stage men's NBA and women's WNBA pre-season matches along with Olympic build-up games for the U.S. international teams.

London has hosted NBA teams for the past few years, with this week's double-header between New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors the first during a regular season.

However, the focus will soon move north of the UK capital to Manchester.

The WNBA's Atlanta Dream will launch the series of matches later this year, when they face an as-yet-unknown opposition in an exhibition contest on May 29.

It will be only the second match outside of the U.S. in the WNBA's history, coming seven years after the first in Monterrey, Mexico.

With every event we bring there will be an integrated plan giving more young kids the chance to get involved in basketball
--NBA Europe's Sophie Goldschmidt
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The U.S. squads will head into the London 2012 Games as gold medallists after both men's and women's teams emerged victorious from the 2008 tournament in Beijing, China.

The opposition for next year's preparation matches, which could see basketball superstars such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play at the 18,100-capacity Manchester Evening News Arena, have not yet been decided.

"It is a real 'who's who' of the basketball world. It will be fantastic preparation," NBA Europe senior vice president Sophie Goldschmidt told the UK Press Association on Monday.

"It will really tip off their 2012 campaign. Hopefully the people will really embrace them and support the team."

In 2013, Manchester will then become only the second British city to host an NBA pre-season match.

Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors, whose team reached the play-offs the last two seasons, is looking forward to the new experience.

"It will be terrific for us. This will be our second pre-season game and five days later we open our campaign," she said.

"It will prepare us for travel. It will prepare us for playing someone different. We will learn something from it."

Goldschmidt said the matches would help boost basketball in one of its developing countries.

"It is great to showcase our events, but it is about the legacy we will leave behind. With every event we bring there will be an integrated plan giving more young kids the chance to get involved in basketball," she said.

"We feel very positive about the future of the sport in Manchester and throughout the UK."