Mersey Tigers coach Tony Garbelotto believes his team can challenge for the British Basketball League title, even without the reinforcements he claims are required to give him the depth he covets.
Garbelotto’s men, who host Plymouth at the Echo Arena on Friday, have suffered only one surprise loss so far to Milton Keynes as their status as pre-season favourites has looked justified.

Or at least, as one wag put it, there’s one team in Liverpool who are living up to their billing.

And they could still add Great Britain international Nate Reinking as well as swingman Jerome Gumbs to their squad in the next month to strengthen their hand still further.

James Jones is one of several Brits shining in Liverpool

In either case, with Drew Sullivan and Tafari Toney in blistering form, Garbelotto believes there is much more to come.

“We’re not over-achieving,” he said. “In fact I think we’re only scratching the surface. This group, they’re a great chemistry between them. But more importantly, there’s a great balance. We have most of the boxes covered.

“The only one missing is that we don’t have great cover in the one and the two-guard slots behind Perry (Lawson) and James (Jones). And that means that, at the present time, Drew can’t be utilised in his specialist position which is playing some four. That would change the whole look of our team.

“But our guys are committed, they’re intense and they work really hard. There’s a desire to be good. I think we have the ability to beat teams with our inside play. Tafari has really stepped it up in the last week and a half. And we believe we have a great outside game.

“Maybe we don’t have enough penetration but Perry is doing a great job defensively. I’m content with where we’re at. We practice twice a day. We do it in what I think is the right way. And we have the opportunity to be very good.”

Lawson has been an effective starter for Mersey after being picked up following his release by Sheffield in the summer. The London-born point guard has responded to Garbelotto’s calls to accept greater responsibility and so far there are no complaints.

“I felt in the last two years that Perry Lawson had grown up from the player I sent to Newcastle from my Academy in London,” the Tigers coach said. “I felt he’d matured as a person. I thought he’d showed he was able to make plays, and we saw that last year that Sheffield put him in at the most important times. So I wasn’t scared of that.

“The only thing I was scared of was: ‘are we over-playing him?’ The answer is yes, and we saw against Glasgow that he got tired and made a couple of mistakes. But he can defend American players so he is an asset.”

Running just seven players deep, Mersey have looked for contributions down their bench, pending extra arrivals. And the biggest surprise has come from David Aliu. Returning for a second spell after being discarded midway through Garbelotto’s first season in charge, club sources talk of a player reinvigorated – first to arrive at practice, last to leave, determined to seize his opportunity.

“I always knew David could play,” Garbelotto declared. “He shows a spirit which is missing from some foreign players and he’s showing he’s one of the best players in this league.”

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