Who deserves the BBL awards? Plus Demond Watt’s stellar year and WBBL rises.


It’s the awards season. So bringeth that eternal dilemma: who’s worth more: The most vital cog in the smoothest machine? Or the snazziest, most dazzling gadget?

As this column has pointed out previously, stats do lie. There are intangibles that don’t show up in the rather basic box scores in the BBL, as well as those which do but are over-played in the acclaim process – one reason why the league’s own Team of the Week is nothing more than a numbers game rather than a true reflection of who has been stellar and whose star is in the wane.

There is, literately and figuratively, no I in Newcastle Eagles. Yet others would flounder if one individual stepped away.

Same for coaches. It’s tough to judge the work of some, based on low budgets or a lack of assistance from within their own organisations. We can only try.

So with that in mind, the week before the BBL and the BJA unveil their annual awards, here is who I feel deserves due recognition.

There’s a three-man short list and any of the trio would be deserving. One coach I spoke to last week put forward the age-defying Charles Smith of Newcastle Eagles, who has defined the ability to come-up-big-when-it-counts. He would surely be the oldest MVP ever but also the most revered.

A populist choice is Demond Watt of Cheshire Phoenix who was not only second in scoring but tops in Player Efficiency, according to, with an offensive rating that was off the charts good.

Yet – and this is where those intangibles come in – I’m plumping for Rahmon Fletcher, the string puller extraordinaire of the Eagles. The American is the main reason Newcastle have blitzed (almost) everybody this term while exploiting their depth to the max. And his leadership has been consistent.

Winner: Rahmon Fletcher (Newcastle)

Coach of the Year
First, a few honourable mentions. Cheshire has been chaotic, yet they have rarely dropped a notch. Kudos to John Coffino. Leicester Riders came so close to a double with a starting line-up under 25. Nice work Rob Paternostro. And no-one can dispute Fab Flournoy’s ongoing will to win.

But who in their right mind would have thought Bristol Flyers would make the top eight in their debut BBL season, especially after losing their mainstay, Doug Herring, so early on. The rookies weren’t huge on talent but had enough, plus a system, and competed time and again. For that, Andreas Kapoulas and his assistants are to be highly commended, underlining the value of having coaches who, you know, can coach.

Winner: Andreas Kapoulas (Bristol)

Team of the Year
One small secondary round of applause to Leeds Force who competed ridiculously hard every night despite being over-matched. But this is an easy pick. Even if they don’t complete another clean sweep, Newcastle have been a cut above: competitive, consistent and clinical. And hence, the champions.

Winner: Newcastle Eagles

Most Improved
Given the turnover of imports in the BBL, this list inevitably focuses on some of the young homegrown talent in the league who have made some noise. The likes of Greg Streete and Will Hall have done wonders in their rookie top-flight terms. More to come, we hope.

Consolation mentions also to Glasgow’s Jonny Bunyan and Sheffield’s Nick Lewis, both of whom have earned a shot at greater prominence next year. But for me, the outstanding improvee is someone who I felt was a bizarre call-up last year for Great Britain training camp but who, 12 months on, will fully deserve a summons. He’s matured into a do-everything guard, trusted with big responsibility in crunch time, a product of a club that has nurtured him rather than left him on the end of a bench. Conner Washington, we salute you.

Winner: Conner Washington (Leicester)
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High Wattage

Cheshire go into this weekend’s Playoff semi-finals as the higher seeds and, arguably, favourites (even if I were the league, I’d be utterly rooting for London Lions to make an appearance at The 02 as a means to let the good folk of the capital know that, yes, there is a team who play there all year round!).

Much of it will hang on Watt who admits an unexpected tilt at the last silverware on offer would trump being the MVP. “It’s flattering,” he said of his consideration. “It would be a good thing if it happened but my main concern is winning the championship. That’s all I really care about right now.”

Numbers, of course, count. But for those hoping to make the leap to mainland Europe, trophies are huge on any CV that will go out from agents to coaches and GMs in the weeks ahead.

For Watt, his performances with the Nix could open doors abroad with coach John Coffino insisting both his guard and scoring leader Taylor King are good enough to step up the ladder.

“Personally, the season’s been a lot better than I expected,” Watt said. “I’ve done well. It’s been a big step in hopefully playing a lot longer in the future. I’m not sure where that will be. I don’t look too far ahead. I take it day by day. But hopefully something good comes out of it.”

Does he, however, see Cheshire able to match a Lions side suddenly rampant after destroying Worcester Wolves last weekend?

“There is a confidence. We think we’re a pretty good team. We’ve been playing well all year. I’m glad we’ve got it together around playoff time so now we want to make a good run.”


Semi slices

Newcastle Eagles (1) v Sheffield Sharks (7)

Anyone who thinks Newcastle are going to roll into the final – and a shot at the clean sweep – is ignoring how good Sheffield have been over the past six weeks, when they’ve gone 10-3.

Yet with Andre Jones returning to put the Eagles almost at full strength again, it’s still tough to see the league champs slipping up.

ADVANTAGE: Newcastle

Cheshire Phoenix (4) v London Lions (6)

Will the real London please stand up? Zaire Taylor switched back into action and showed up to blitz Worcester over two outstanding games and if Lions get more of the same, they’d be hard to stop. But Cheshire are nothing if not consistent and with a 2-1 advantage in the regular season, this could be really close to call.



Hats off

Well done to Sheffield Hatters for clinching the treble – and clean sweep – in the inaugural WBBL season with an 84-69 win over Nottingham Wildcats in the Playoff final in Worcester behind a MVP showing from GB call-up Helen Naylor.

I’m not close enough to the league and its teams to give a categorical verdict on how much of an effect this campaign has had on women’s basketball in the UK. Until it lands some TV coverage, it will remain adrift of the smart thinkers and political players in netball.

But compare it with the dismal attendances reported at Basketball England finals and you sense a raising of the bar. There has been more of a semblance of professionalism while other teams have applied to join for next term, which can only be a positive.

Hatters have been a cut above (Mansoor Ahmed)

Hatters have been a cut above (Mansoor Ahmed)


Sterling service

Glasgow Rocks player-coach Sterling Davis is in talks over a new deal, even though his seven years in the post have yet to deliver a major trophy.

At 36, Davis – whose side exited the Playoffs at the hands of Cheshire – has already revealed he will consider whether to retire from playing but appears set to remain in charge at the Emirates Arena.

“We’ve been talking,” he said. “We’ve just not come to an agreement. I now have some idea over the direction the organisation wants to go in. So I’m somewhat confident we can work something out.”

Outside shots

Leeds Force confident of further gains to come

Plymouth Raiders have started their now-annual bid to sign everyone before the end of April

Mike Cook (finally) bringing out the best of BJ Holmes at Sheffield Sharks

Here’s an interview I did with the Atlanta Hawks president Steve Koonin – with, hopefully, a few lessons for the BBL


BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

Main pic: Mansoor Ahmed

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