Leeds Force’s talisman has a thirst to travel the high road. Plus signing strategies and Fraser’s fight.

As he ventured along the banks of the river Thames for the first time, Armand Anebo felt a sensation that pierced the updated reality of the latest upheaval of his 13-year-old life. “It was just cold,” the Leeds Force captain recounts of his arrival in London with a family of three sisters and one younger brother.

“It was getting near the end of summer so it was getting grey and getting dark earlier. It was raining a lot as well. I thought: ‘oh my god, what is this place?’” He gazed around, with a view of the skyscrapers and the noise of the hubris floating through the cool air.

“I thought to myself, this is somewhere I can see myself living and having fun. And I soon joined in.”

The capital became home. An itinerant immigrant put down roots, a world away from where he was born and initially raised in the Ivory Coast. Eventually to earn the shot at being a professional basketball player, to seek out a career, to forge ambitions, to keep moving forward.

For Anebo, now 27, learnt early that standing still was futile.

On the western tip of Africa, his father Thomas had turned his young family into nomads, his job as a headmaster taking him from town to town, region to region, before his personal thirst for exploration spirited him away for further studies in Austria.

Armand, like his siblings, was left behind in the care of his grandparents, in the country’s largest city Abidjan, where there was tension on the streets and in the air. “The war hadn’t really kicked in before I left,” he recalls. “But the situation wasn’t perfect. The couple of years before I left brought the coup d’état and then it got worse. The war started. The country was divided into two.”

Yet his own existence was sheltered from the political storms, the innocence of childhood preserved. “Despite the fact there wasn’t much money, and the whole constitutional situation wasn’t great, people were still happy, always smiling. That’s what I remember the most.”

At the age of 12 came the summons to re-join his father, initially in Paris – a smooth passage from its shared language with his birthplace – but then into the wholly challenging terrain of south east London.

Lewisham, near Greenwich, was a contrast in styles, and not solely because of the climate. “It wasn’t easy, coming to Europe and acclimatising, especially into education,” he acknowledges.

There was, however, one thread of common ground. One day, back in Africa, his uncle had put an arm around his shoulder and invited him to try basketball. “I was like, ‘all right’, and I stopped playing football after that,” he laughs. “But my family, all of my uncles, all seemed to play sport at one time or another. And so it seemed natural.”

Without a computer in the home, he would go into the local Internet café in search of local intel. There was the occasional pick-up contest in the park. But it was only when he migrated into college that the opportunity to formally lace up his boots presented itself to the raw teen.

“A couple of friends said you should go and try playing at London Towers. They said they were one of the best teams in the country.” His father drove him to Crystal Palace. Both liked what they found. “So they became my club. When I got there, a few guys were playing for England. Plus Ashley Hamilton was the year below me.”

It unlocked the door. One which served as a diversion through his time at South Bank University and then led to a fortuitous switch up the M1.

Matt Newby – now the Force head coach – and Anebo became acquainted through games for England Universities. There were training weekends in Leeds, where Newby was based. Yorkshire held some appeal. It was a setting, the younger man felt, where he could pursue his Masters in Business but also still test himself out on the court.

By chance, Leeds Carnegie had applied to move up from the largely-amateur EBL into the British Basketball League. A pool of full-time players would be created. A debut campaign in the top flight, he reveals, has meant the full breadth of his educational learning has been placed on hold.

“I’m giving myself a couple of years of a break after studying for so long, so I’ll focus on basketball and then decide what I want to do next. Eventually the aim is to set up a business on something. Hopefully you’ll see me on the Apprentice. I’d love to do that.”

Don’t rule it out. Leeds, who host Sheffield Sharks this weekend at Headingley in a restoration of the BBL’s long-dormant Yorkshire derby, have had to paddle furiously just to stay afloat in their initial two months in the league after which they sit, as most expected, in 13th and last place.

James McCann has impressed for Leeds

James McCann has impressed for Leeds

Yet they can boast two victories, more than hapless Birmingham or Mersey have managed in the past two seasons. On a number of occasions, including against talent-rich London Lions last weekend, they have been within sight of further scalps.

Reinforcements have arrived in the shape of American guard Giordana Estrada, a rookie out of the delightfully-named Chico State University in California, who has landed a contract after a week on trial.

It can but help cement the foundations already in place, the team’s emotional leader, who is averaging 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds, affirms.

“We can see we’ve made progress, right from the beginning. We believe in ourselves even though we knew it would be hard to go straight into the league and make some noise. Sure, some people have got frustrated but we know the point we want to get to.

“We always knew we could cope with this. At the start, we’re making a lot of mistakes in not running the plays efficiently. We’ve managed to reduce that. We’re working on it.

“We’ve been in a lot of games but just lost out so we know we can compete. Mostly though, it’s the mental side, being able to hold things for four quarters.”

It is all a journey, a concept Anebo understands better than most. Despite the chills, and the toils and the occasional aside lost in translation, a little patience can take you a long way.

“We want to make the playoffs,” he states with no fake bravado. “I’m optimistic we can make a run for it.”

Inertia, you sense, is just unthinkable.

On the move

With the initial two-month cut-off for guaranteeing contracts passing by, it’s left a few gaps to be filled around BBL rosters as those who haven’t quite worked out are moved on.

– London Lions are still attempting to plug the void left by the cutting of Joe Ikhinmwin and Adrien Sturt but it has taken longer than expected. Eric Boateng is already practicing at the Copper Box with the team prioritising a deal for the Great Britain centre.

However Paul Guede has rejected an offer to potentially join him with the GB cap claiming “Lions wasn’t a good situation for me”. With the guard now cleared to play, his agent is actively shopping him around other teams, both in the BBL and in mainland Europe.

Paul-James-200– Donatas Visockis had been a poor fit with Worcester Wolves since his off-season arrival with the Lithuanian struggling to fit in with Paul James’ play-heavy offensive system. After a concerted effort to accommodate the big, it was almost inevitable that he was freed last week before the mutual frustration reached the point of no return.

Now James is back on the recruiting trail to bolster a team which still lacks an edge despite just two league losses to date.

“I think we need a stretch four,” he admitted. “We’re a bit soft inside. We need someone who’s going to be a bit more physical, getting us 12 points and some rebounds per game. That’s what would help us.”

– Plymouth Raiders have yet to bring in a replacement for Gerald Robinson who wasn’t a good fit in a reshaped frontcourt once DeAndre Medlock had replaced original recruit Daveon Boardingham. And it looks likely they will have to find a further body with player-assistant coach David Evans requiring a foot surgery that would effectively end his season.

The Devon outfit have lacked floor leadership so a vocal veteran would seem an obvious target. But coach Jay Marriott will bide his time on an incomer, saying: “We have to be careful, because it has to be right for everybody.”

– Bristol Flyers have been forced into a switch following the season-ending injury to Doug Herring, who underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus last Thursday and who will be out for 4-6 months.

It’s understood that the surprise packets – who meet Glasgow in the BBL Cup semi-finals this month – could opt to bring in two players to sustain their challenge, even with his fellow American Doug McLaughlin-Williams, likely to return from a hamstring injury by next weekend.

“Hopefully, we will have someone in soon,” coach Andreas Kapoulas confirmed. “It’s not so much about the position, as fitting our system on and off the court. We want the best player so we can be flexible.

“It’s not just for the Cup. We want to make the play-offs. In past seasons, you’ve needed about 14 wins for that. This year, I think you’ll have to win around 16. I still think finishing 18-18 is achievable for us because of our schedule. In the rest of the season we have more games at home than on the road.”

Fraser on mend

ali fraserAli Fraser is targeting a spring return to the sport after undergoing the knee surgery that ended his spell at the Rocks after just one game.

The Great Britain forward, 21, has begun his rehabilitation at Hampden Park, the home of Scottish football, and believes he is on track to play again this season.

“I’d like to be on the court by February and the doctors have said that’s not totally unrealistic,” Fraser confirmed.

“I might look at going back to Germany because even if I only get a short-term deal until the end of the season, it at least would allow me to show I’m healthy before the summer.”

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