Tony Garbelotto was shell-shocked when Mersey Tigers found themselves blown out by Sheffield in the BBL Cup final. He’s determined not to suffer the same indignity at the hands of Guildford when the Trophy is on the line on his own personal doorstep on Saturday afternoon.

This is where his life all began, 42 years ago. “I grew up not far from there,” he reveals.

“It’s going to be a special moment for me, to coach in a final there. I have an apartment just a couple of miles away in Hackney. It overlooks The 02. So it will be an extra proud moment for me to be in a game in the best arena in Europe.”

The capital is also where his coaching education took shape, parlaying his way to an assistant’s job with London Towers, then negotiating his way through the ranks, via a two-year spell in Iceland, before returning to the BBL with Newcastle.

There were further unhappier stints in the league, with Birmingham and London United. It is in Liverpool where he has been given the greatest freedom to instil his own vision, taking over the Tigers in its second year and turning the club into a major player.

Even though Mersey’s all-British line-up has topped the league for most of the current campaign, Garbelotto has had to contend with issues behind the scenes. The Tigers financial problems became apparent early on. Sources say it was the head coach who urged the players to unite in adversity rather than become distracted by the uncertainty.

The exposure of a major showpiece, at The 02, on an NBA court is good for business, he admits.

“Bringing our club to there is a big deal for us. It’s our second final this season and we’re excited about that prospect. Hopefully, we can put in a better performance than the one we produced in the Cup in January.”

It still hurts. Ask any Tigers player about their horror show against Sheffield six weeks ago and witness a world of pain.

Mersey was favourites. Supposedly unbeatable. Nate Reinking was a doubt, eventually a DNP. Not a problem.

It all went so wrong. Garbelotto pulls no punches. “We went into that game trying to be as prepared as possible and got absolutely annihilated by Sheffield.

“Any team can play well on any given day but we were destroyed.”

Hence, there is no hint of complacency headed into the Trophy finale, even though Mersey has extinguished the Heat in both their prior meetings this term.

Once more, there is an injury concern, although Drew Sullivan is expected to be fit. Guildford, recently reinforced, has won three games in a row. Still, surely, the Scousers should be taking the smart money?

“If it was a seven-game series, like they have in the NBA, maybe we’d be favourites,” the Londoner acknowledges.

“But Guildford has two new Americans in. They’re ready.

“The court is going to be extremely difficult to play on. It will be massive. It will have different markings. It’s going to be tough. But I think it will be a great final.”

Holding Court no issue for Jones

The enlarged NBA court being used for the Trophy final is a shooter’s dream. Step forward James Jones.

Saturday will be the first time the 27-year-old Jones has had the chance to play at The O2. It us not a prospect which intimidates him.

“I’ve not played there, but I’ve seen GB play there and I’m really looking forward to it, as are the rest of the guys,” he said.

“It’s a great place to watch a game, and it’ll be good to find out what it’s like to play there.”

Jones will face his former side but with the raft of new faces which Guildford have imported in recent weeks, he admits there is a touch of uncertainty in preparing to nullify their threat.

“We’ve played them a couple of times, but they’ve made some changes and signed a new point guard and big man. I’m sure Tony will have the well-scouted.

“Mike Martin and Julius Joseph know this league well, though, and they’ll be out to win the Trophy.”

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