The new British Basketball League season gets under way this weekend. Here’s our potted guide.
The recent EuroBasket has helped ease the withdrawal symptoms somewhat ahead of what promises to be an exciting season. BBL TV launches, British Eurosport are the new league broadcasters, Spalding are the official kit sponsors, no fewer than 5 coaching additions and an influx of BBL rookies and overseas stars. So who’s in the reckoning?
Birmingham Knights – the BBL new boys will aim to be competitive in their first season and Coach Paul Douglas has based his squad around local talent whilst adding imports Brent Benson and Armond Battle. Emile Hopkins and Michael Gayle have minimal BBL experience while brother Martyn Gayle was the top points scorer in the EBL Division 1 last year with Derby.
Verdict: May surprise a few on the way but play-offs will be out of reach.
Cheshire Phoenix- on the rise following near-extinction last year, John Lavery returns as coach with high hopes of success. With the wily veteran Shawn Myers joined by the 6’8″ trio of forwards Masse Doumbe, Yannick Crowder and Calvin Clemmons expect a physical Nix side to dominate the boards this season.
Verdict: A return to the play-offs is more than achievable but starting 5 can expect heavy workload.
Durham Wildcats- another side with a leadership change as Dave Elderkin steps down and Lee Davie takes the reigns aided by player-assistant Ralph Bucci. Former Rock and Scotland international Danny Huffor returns to the BBL after a long injury lay-off while Italian-American Kirk Crecco scored 41 points in a pre-season game last week with Americans Devin Ginty, R.J. Evans and Mike Allison also at the Wildcats’ disposal.
Verdict: Improved last season and will hope to continue doing so in search of a top 8 finish. In contention.
Glasgow Rocks- player-coach Sterling Davis will hope this is the season, BBL silverware returns to Scotland after a 10-year exodus. Gareth Murray represented GB at the recent EuroBasket while Chez Marks and EJ Harrison form an experienced scoring combination. Antonio Di Maria is a late addition after the departure of Croat Marin Zelalija, while his compatriot Fran Urliadds depth along with rookie Patrick Manifold.
Verdict: Strong bet for top 4 again. They would love to be playing at the Emirates in the Trophy Final.
Leicester Riders- tasked with the defence of three titles, the Riders were quick to make a statement of intent by re-signing the core of their treble-winning roster bar Worcester-bound Zaire Taylor and Pavol Losonsky. Drew Sullivan is another player to come off a GB EuroBasket summer while 2013 BBL Cup MVP Jay Couisnard has now arrived in the UK to complete the squad. Fellow Americans Anthony Downing and Rashad Hassan have impressed in pre-season as has Jamell Anderson, who is on GB’s radar.
Verdict: They have a tough act to follow but definite title contenders again with improved depth.
London Lions- Vince Macaulay has continued the recent trend of recruiting from nearby Surrey after capturing Julius Joseph and Albert Margai. Along with the return of club captain Mike Martin, the Lions will hope to have enough experience to avoid such a tense finish to the regular season like last campaign. Rod Brown was the hero in helping the London side into the play-offs and is set for his first full season with the team.
Verdict: Outside bet for the top 4, moving into the Copper Box is a good move for the league and should generate plenty of support. Darkhorses.
Manchester Giants- disappointed not to finish in the top 8 last season despite it being their first season back in the BBL. The talent was there and Jeff Jones wants to avoid a repeat failure, bringing in Yorrick Williams and Keith Page along with the main core from last season. Spanish signing Iker Amuchastegui breaks the all-British mould while Nick George would be a key signing if a deal can be worked out.
Verdict: Expect another close fought battle for the play-offs.
Newcastle Eagles- a second trophy-less season in three years wouldn’t have gone down too well in the North-East but the Eagles have a nack of bouncing back with their ‘clean sweep’ in 2011 evidence of this. Losing Joe Chapman to Japan is a big blow but Fab Flournoy has brought back Paul Gause and Drew Lasker from past with the influential Charles Smith and Darius Defoe the only two main returnees. Malik Cooke is higly rated anhould do well with Scott Martin alongside him.
Verdict: Never rule out the Eagles, title contenders as always.
Plymouth Raiders- the late sacking of Gavin Love has left new coach Jay Marriott with difficult decisions to make with an inherited roster. Garrius Holloman and Jarvis Jones have since made way for fellow Americans Tom Setty and Matt Pressey while Raiders have added Tom Woods and former GB u-20 Louis Sayers. Donald Robinson will be key while Gabe Haskins and Ben Eaves made solid contributions in the BBL last year for their respective former clubs.
Verdict: Marriott has tried to add depth lacking under Love- driving aim of a united group. Should keep up play-off tradition.
Sheffield Sharks- the surprise Trophy winners will look to get off to a better start in the league this season to improve their fortunes. Brian Barbour is to return to the US for family reasons which is an unfortunate loss but German Patrick Horstmann comes in high regard while the Sharks will look for their imports Jeremie Simmons and Da’quan Cook to hit the ground running. Captain Mike Tuck’s re-signing was vital while Olu Babalola is reportedly revitalised after post-season ankle ops and returns along with Sheffield youngsters Nick Lewis, Colin Sing, Zach Gachette and George Brownlee.
Verdict: Potential is there for a top 5 finish.
Surrey United- all change for Surrey this summer with new ownership resulting in the sacking of Creon Raftopoulos, despite guiding the then-called ‘Heat’ to a top 4 finish. Jack Majewski is the new man at the helm and brings a number of talented youngsters from his Division 2 side London United. Americans Kevin Fleming and George Williams are set to arrive next week as the young squad nears completion. Elvisi Dusha will be one to watch and hopes United can be a threat despite their lack of experience. Bleak hopes from onlookers desperate to avoid witnessing another side go 0-33 (ala Mersey) but youth and exuberance should help the side to pick up a few victories.
Verdict: Play-offs probably too soon in the club’s ambitious journey. Basement battle with Birmingham.
Worcester Wolves- yet to win a BBL trophy since joining the league but coach Paul James has assembled a very strong roster. Alex Owumi, was one of the stars last year and is one half of a very imposing back-court duo along with Defensive Team of the Year member Zaire Taylor. Will Creekmore and Ian Salter form the frontcourtand while the likes of Jamaal Williams and Caitlin Raftopoulos have BBL experience and provide valuable options from the bench.
Verdict: Go in to the season as genuine title contenders.
5 BBL Rookies to watch out for: Patrick Horstmann, Masse Doumbe, Malik Cooke, Kirk Crecco & Rashad Hassan
5 Youngsters to keep an eye on: Jamell Anderson, Louis Sayers, Nick Lewis, Elvisi Dusha & Caitlin Raftopoulos
Read an extensive BBL preview in the new issue of MVP Magazine
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