BBL INSIDER: THE FINAL ASSIST

Aid relief for hoops, the BBL Playoff Final opportunity, BJA Awards

“It’s a bit crazy right now,” Lance Haggith acknowledges with the hubris of chatter and phones ringing in the background. Busy, he notes, has become the default.

This Sunday, in front of up to 19000 fans at London’s 02 Arena, the latest and greatest edition of Hoops Aid will take place ahead of the BBL Playoff final, just one more stop in a journey that has taken the charity’s founder from opening up a single store to raise funds in Bedford to grand plans to go national – and international.

Basketball was the obvious beneficiary when Haggith – a fine player in his prime for various teams in the Hemel and Watford area – decided to set up Sports Traider, selling both second-hand and new kit and equipment which, in turn, would syphon funds back into the community.

After six years in operation, he has seven stores now. “But we want to go up to 150,” he adds. The more outlets opened, the more outlets created, especially for disabled and disadvantaged youths.

“Getting more people participating in sport, of whatever kind, is always a good thing,” Haggith declares. “That’s the main goal, to give kids opportunities. Especially with basketball, we want to help get them involved, even in wheelchair where the costs are higher to get a chair. Everyone needs facilities, more equipment.”

The initiative was recognised with the BBC Sport Unsung Hero award in 2010. Exposure to a huge TV audience and a bank of influencers brought valuable benefits. Scholarships have been funded for the under-privileged. Raw cash handed out for the deserving.hoops aid logo 250

“We’re always looking for sponsors and grants,” he admits. There are no targets for sums raised, just an appetite to achieve more. “We don’t hold onto any money. We put it into another project or help another kid or put it into a club.

“It’s about making sure we can do as much as possible and the more funding we raise, the more we can help.”

Amid the daily grind of looking after the concoction of enterprise and events, Haggith has a personal project to nurture and oversee.

His son Ellis, now 18, was a talented basketballer, good enough to line up a scholarship to Loughborough and the chance to train with Leicester Riders. Two years ago, the family was hit by the news that he had been diagnosed with leukaemia, leaving the teenager immersed in a different regime.

Daily chemotherapy and over 30 tablets ingested for a drug treatment have left him well enough to travel to London this week to support his father’s work. Cancer or not, Ellis told him, the Hoops Aid show must go on.

“I had the first one in the diary before he took ill,” Haggith reveals. “Everyone was saying they’d understand if I cancelled it but I told them: ‘I’m not a quitter.’ It was something Ellis was looking forward to. And with cancer you need a goal.

hoopsaid“He came out of hospital after getting some injections. He had a good time, even with no hair, and then went back to hospital. This time, he’s in a stronger state. His hair is back and he’s looking forward to it.”

He will join a cast list for the Hoops Aid games that will firstly see a Help for Heroes team face a squad of Paralympians – and then a Pro-Celebrity contest featuring the likes of former NBAer Priest Lauderdale, Bond actor Colin Salmon and ex-athletes John Regis and Andy Turner.

“Having it at The 02, that was my goal,” the organiser-in-chief affirms. “And I never give in until I get my goals.”

This, however, remains merely the next stop. There is always another kid in need, another assist to dish out. What next, I ask?

“Hoops Aid USA,” Haggith reveals.

“Already I’ve got people interested. Everybody in the USA has been saying what a great event we have and how there’s nothing like it there, involving disability sport and people of all abilities.

“The NBA All Star is fun but ours is a charity-driven event. We’re getting a lot of exposure and the Americans want to embrace it. And when we get there, it can make it bigger and better.

“We’ve got to keep this momentum going and hopefully, eventually, we’ll get Hoops Aid in every country.”

To donate, text HOOP15 £5 to 70070 (substituting the amount accordingly) or visit JustGiving here

 

One final push

So it is Newcastle Eagles contesting the final game of the BBL season – with London Lions standing in the way of their completion of yet another clean sweep

The importance for the league of holding a game in the UK’s top venue cannot be over-stated, even with TV coverage hidden away on the BBC Red Button and Eurosport.

You’d hope that the league will leave no stone unturned to use the occasion to sell their wares to influencers, like potential sponsors and media partners. On recent evidence, raising the bar in the area of driving inward investment and maximising exposure has not been its strongest suit.

Miss it, miss out. Sunday is a huge unguarded basket – and a chance they cannot afford to blow, especially with Lions making precious little headway in carving out an audience in the capital.

If there aren’t people leafleting their season ticket availability or big screen announcements flagging up their website, then heads should roll.

Newcastle (1) v London (6)

Whatever Zaire Taylor’s been taking, give him more. The Lions guard, frequently AWOL this term, has been the revival act among London’s run to the final and the nature of his forceful leadership means the capital outfit won’t be cowered by Newcastle.

Eagles, even with Fab Flournoy and Andre Jones sidelined, were simply superb in stepping up in the second half of the second leg of their semi-final with Sheffield Sharks. This is, quite clearly, a special team.

It could be a classic if London keep rolling, especially with the emotional charge from what will likely be Rod Brown’s final game.

But, for me, it’s a sweep.

EDGE: Newcastle

MVP has teamed up with the BBL to offer readers 10% off tickets for Sunday’s Play-Off Final at London’s 02 Arena. Click on the image below – and enter the discount code MVP247.

 

BBL Playoff Final Banner - MVP247

 

Charles tops Bucket List

Newcastle Eagles forward Charles Smith has been named as the BBL Player of the Year for the 2014-15 season.

The 39-year-old veteran (pictured below) edged out Demond Watt of Cheshire Phoenix for the prize in the Basketball Journalists Association’s annual awards – with Eagles team-mate Rahmon Fletcher third.

“This season has been a very special one for me, not only because we have won trophies but also the way we have come together as a team through everything that has been thrown at us,” he said. “And we are now one win away from our goal. It’s been a great honour to lead this group of guys and it’s a season I will never forget.”

Charles Smith Newcastle 568

Bristol Flyers coach Andreas Kapoulas has been confirmed as the Molten BBL Coach of the Year for the first time, in recognition of a brilliant debut season for the club in the British Basketball League where they finished eighth in addition to reaching the Cup semi-finals.

Kapoulas narrowly beat out 2014 recipient Fab Flournoy of Newcastle in the voting among BJA members – with 2013 victor, Rob Paternostro of Leicester Riders, in third.

“This has been an historic moment for the club to come eighth in our first year,” Kapoulas said. “It has made a really positive impact and been great for the players, the city and basketball here.”

The Pete Jacques Award for best British player in the BBL has gone to Newcastle’s Darius Defoe who had the best defensive rating in the league this term.

He saw off Glasgow Rocks’ Great Britain captain Kieron Achara with Sheffield Sharks’ GB Under-20 international Nick Lewis in third.

The Syd Lipski International Award for top British performer on the global stage goes to Great Britain forward Myles Hesson following an outstanding campaign with German Bundesliga outfit Bremerhaven where the Birmingham-born player averaged 12.2 points and 4.9 rebounds.

He pipped another senior internationalist, Matthew Bryan-Amaning – who helped Soles to lift the Mexican League championship.

Third place goes to GB Under-20 cap Luke Nelson after the prospect led University of California-Irvine into the NCAA Tournament in his freshman season in college – with 2014 recipient Johannah Leedham of Bourges in fourth.

 

Achara wants Rocks to roll over

Kieron Achara might yet quit Glasgow Rocks if Sterling Davis opts to clean house this summer and undertakes a major overhaul of his squad.

Re-signing the Stirling-born forward is expected to be Davis’ number one priority after extending his own stay at the Emirates Arena and opting to retire from playing.

But Achara, who has begun initial talks on a new deal, has urged the American to keep a nucleus together headed into next season in order to replicate the continuity enjoyed by the BBL’s leading clubs.

“I’m happy to be here and settled with my family but I have to look at my options like anyone else,” he said. “I believe we have a good group and in this league, if you have a system and some continuity, it helps so much. It sets a culture.

“In the past, when I’ve gone to teams overseas, they made me fit in and buy into what they were doing. I don’t feel we have an identity like other teams, especially Newcastle and Leicester, where you have a core group bringing it every night. That’s what you need to find consistency.”

 

M&Ming

BBL legend Mike Martin is to get a special testimonial game to celebrate his career later this month. A special exhibition contest has been arranged on Saturday 16 May at ACS Egham. Tickets are £6 for adults and £3 for kids – but numbers are limited so email jbb.heat@gmail.com with the subject line “MM TICKETS”.

Outside shots

Josh Wilcher wants to help Plymouth Raiders bounce back 

Neil Watson moves quickly to agree Leicester Riders return 

Paul James claims Worcester Wolves failed to live up to potential

John Coffino proud of Cheshire Phoenix despite exit in Northgate farewell

BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

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