BBL Playoffs previewed, Majewski’s United front, GB come home, Farewell Northgate

The post-season is upon us. Or as banged-up Newcastle Eagles might see it, the time to finally get some recuperation is only three weeks away.

But the state of the health of the quadruple-chasing Tynesiders could be a major factor when the BBL Playoff quarter-finals are held this week – with Leicester Riders particularly keen to steal one trophy away by the time the confetti falls at The 02 in London on May 10.

Playoff holders Worcester Wolves and hosts-with-the-most London Lions might also fancy their chances, especially with Rod Brown back on court and eager to end his fantastic career on a high.

But who will prevail in the last eight?

Newcastle Eagles v Bristol Flyers
First things first, Bristol deserve every gramme of praise going for making the top eight in their debut year in the top flight amid a rash of injuries. But even if Eagles are short-handed beyond Fab Flournoy, the Flyers will struggle to put up enough points to see off the league champs. Flournoy, sensibly, threw on a reserve squad once the title was clinched. Banged up and bruised, could a clean sweep run to London be a bridge too far?
WIN: Newcastle

Leicester Riders v Sheffield Sharks
Sheffield have been the in-form team in the spring – if only they’d started a little sooner. They’re also a master of throwing up close games which should make this a little harder to call than you’d expect. But after ultimately losing the league by one win, and melting down in the Trophy final, the Riders have bigger chips on their shoulders than anyone. And their consistency merits a tangible reward.
WIN: Leicester

Worcester Wolves v London Lions
Drew Sullivan has publically bemoaned the Lions inability to match the sum of their talented parts. Can they really turn it on at this point in the season? Probably not. But nothing would benefit the BBL more than hometown heroes repping the capital when the final tips off. Worcester, with Paul James again doing a masterful construction job, will rightly be favoured. The Wolves, however, may need to generate a little extra offense to be safe despite the contribution of Robert Thurman, whose absences probably cost a league tilt.
WIN: London

Cheshire Phoenix v Glasgow Rocks
For drama, go to the Northgate this term. Despite everything, despite changes and quarrels and fistfights, the Nix have kept winning by piling up points at a rate second only to Newcastle with MVP favourite Demond Watt and scoring champ Taylor King as good a one-two punch as anywhere. They’ve also dominated Glasgow, who – a Cup final apart – have disappointed despite a late-season surge. The Rocks have the tools to upset the seeding but it will need something above their norm to progress.
WIN: Cheshire

MVP has teamed up with the BBL to offer readers 10% off tickets for May’s Play-Off Final at London’s 02 Arena. Click on the image below – and enter the discount code MVP247.


BBL Playoff Final Banner - MVP247

Jacked Up

Surrey United may have been the best last-placed team the BBL has seen in a while – and been uber-unfortunate with injuries, but their on and off-court performance is to be placed under a review by the league once the season is done.

In truth, it’s a process that has been ongoing for quite a while with officials less than impressed with the downward direction the Guildford franchise has taken since it morphed from the Heat two years ago.

There have been some subtle changes since, with Surrey Sports Park – the joint owners – taking over full responsibility for the management and business side of United’s operations. The basketball side, however, remains in the hands of head coach and joint owner Jack Majewski – who I caught up with after the completion of a 5-31 season.

MVP: Sum up your thoughts on this campaign

JM: It absolutely didn’t go how we planned. There are quite a few things we couldn’t predict. We didn’t plan this at all. We started OK then we had to make some changes which were forced on us… It promised a lot and delivered a little so we have to learn from it.

MVP: The player turnover was high but would you have done better if it had been the same squad you had at the end all year long?

JM: When you run a business, it all starts with you and stops with you. I won’t discuss publically what happened behind the scenes but Surrey-Unitedthe situation was one in a million. We couldn’t predict this. Some players we brought in were my fault. But if we had this group from the very beginning, maybe it would be different. I made some bad decisions in recruiting at the beginning even though it looked like a solid group. And we didn’t upgrade as well as we could – and we had horrendous problems with injuries. Each one had a catastrophic effect.

MVP: Will you be sitting down with Sports Park chief Gavin Baker to look at changes?

JM: It’s huge to sit with the Sports Park people and other people and see how we can improve. We looked so close but somehow we didn’t deliver on so many occasions, starting with close games we should probably have won.

MVP: Is it a lock you will remain as coach next year?

JM: We need to change plenty of other things but not that. I’m not saying I’m definitely staying as a coach. But that’s not an issue. The conversations are about different subjects and how we structure that. Because playing with six players is not a great idea.

MVP: People have claimed that the buzz that was around when it was Guildford Heat has been lost with Surrey United – is that fair?

JM: Perhaps, there is room for improvement. But in terms of the crowd and atmosphere at the games, even in the games where we won or lost closely, like the win against Manchester or our comeback against Leeds, the atmosphere was terrific.

What buzz are we talking about with the Heat? Every three months, they were having a public action to donate money. There was no buzz. That is an idiotic conversation. There was a different owner every day and every couple of months, they were calling to save the team. There was no buzz.

“In terms of community programmes, Surrey is divided between too many small programmes. We didn’t come into a super-healthy organisation. If it had been, we wouldn’t have come in. If we start winning, do you think people will come and be more excited? Even with the season we’ve got, people have been pretty noisy and the arena has been pretty full. That doesn’t concern me.

“If we start winning, and start getting into schools, we will replace one fan with another one. Who cares about what was perceived as a buzz? New ones will come.

Box to rock

There is, after all, to be a Great Britain home fixture this summer.

British Basketball have finalised plans for a one-off friendly featuring the senior men’s side at London’s Copper Box Arena on Saturday 25 July against the New Zealand Tall Blacks with MVP understanding the game will adjoin a closed-door scrimmage on the same weekend following a mini-camp held by head coach Joe Prunty.

With no competition this year, the focus is likely to be on building for the future – and the next hurdle of the qualifiers for EuroBasket 2017 which will take place next summer.

It is thought unlikely that NBA duo Luol Deng and Joel Freeland will be persuaded to make themselves available for selection. However the contest – which may attract an overspill crowd from athletics Diamond League meeting, held that same afternoon at the nearby Olympic Stadium – could see long-time GB captain Drew Sullivan become the first man to win 100 caps.

It is also expected that Prunty will select a GB Futures squad of younger players to take part in a three-way tournament in the Netherlands against the Dutch and Portugal, slated for early August 14-15.

One last time out

Glasgow Rocks’ Danny Huffor spoke for almost every player who has passed through the Northgate Arena when musing on the long-time home of the Phoenix/Jets. “It shouldn’t be allowed,” he declared. “It’s awful.”

The notorious cement floor. Changing facilities which make getting dressed on the bus seem an attractive option. Bleachers that would shame an American high school gym.

But should the Rocks knock the Nix out of the Playoffs on Sunday, then it will be lights off at the Northgate after 30 years that have seen its residents go from the nowhere mean of the BBL to a club punching well above its weight.

I’ve always had a sneaky admiration for the decrepit venue, even if it passed its use-by date almost as soon as it opened. It was a total anachronism in the 1980s when many of the then-Jets rivals were playing out of gargantuan state-of-the-art arenas. It still is, and surely no season has passed without some player bemoaning a surface that is decidedly unsprung.

It did, however, give Chester a huge home advantage – even if those on the home side were forced to endure its charms more than most. And while the Phoenix will look forward to their move into the compact but bijoux surrounding of the newly-built Oaks Arena (pictured below), take a moment over the next fortnight to remember the Northgate with a little fondness at least.

Cheshire Oaks Arena


Outside shots

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BBL Insider appears every Tuesday on MVP

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