Leicester Riders start their Basketball Champions League odyssey tonight against Bakken Bears.

It’s a bold new venture for the BBL champions who become the first UK side in a decade to try their luck within European competition.

They start in the initial qualifying round, three stages removed from the league stage, with the potential Plan B of dropping into the FIBA Europe Cup should they fall short.

But it is an opportunity. says coach Rob Paternostro, which will be worth any growing pains, including a delayed tip-off to their domestic schedule.

“It’s strange to be playing such a big game this early this season,” he said, speaking to the MVP Cast. “But I want, by the time we finish playing in European competition, whenever that is, that we are much better than where we were when we started. I want to bring fans of our team and British basketball over to our arena to watch some really good basketball – that’s what it’s all about.”

The Morningside Arena will witness a home side with a positive but tough pre-season under its belt, with Riders set to hope for some home comfort before Saturday’s return in Denmark.

But they will have to overcome the Bears without Swedish forward Pierre Hampton who has become the latest injured player following the knock sustained by Niem Stevenson that forced his replacement.

Hampton, Paternostro admits, is a huge loss.

“That’s been a devastating blow for us,” he said. “A couple of days ago he landed on someone’s foot and hurt his ankle. Right now it’s not looking too good for him to take the floor against Bakken Bears.. Pierre’s as tough as they come and he’s a warrior but right now, we’re looking at that he’ll not be able to play a part.”

But the show must go on, he adds.

“It has been disruptive because of the injuries, not only Niem but Alex Larsson … we really like where we are now. We’ve come a long way and we feel we’re a much better team than when we got together month ago.”

Listen to the full interview with Rob Paternostro here.

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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