Bristol Flyers family stay strong under father figure Andreas Kapoulas, but Plymouth Raiders still struggle after rebuild

There are pivotal moments in our private lives when we must put family first.

Professionally, Bristol Flyers coach Andreas Kapoulas feels no different and everyone under his wing at the top-flight Bristol Basketball League (BBL) club is enjoying the tangible benefit.

Kapoulas, following an 88-77 road win at South West rivals and relative BBL neighbours Plymouth Raiders, said: “The bench are in the game and I think that’s a very big thing. We talk about Flyers family and you’re going to have tough times and adversity.

“It’s our second year in the league now, so everyone knows you.

“The addition of (big-man) Ty Lee has helped our paint presence, but it’s a team effort and every huddle we had tonight we talked about playing together.”

Flyers were the surprise package in the 2014/15 BBL season, clinching the eighth and final play-off berth with a 13-23 record in the 12-strong standings.

That feat for league rookies – pushing more established clubs like Raiders down into 10th spot – was not lost on BBL peers and Kapoulas, 34 and from Athens, Greece, was impressively voted Coach of the Year.

“It’s a day-to-day process,” said Kapoulas, who talks engagingly but warmly and with a smile never far from his features.

“We did well last year, so then people have expectations of you and expect you to do well again.

“For me that’s good, because then people respect you and that’s what we want to build on in the future.”

Tonight, Flyers are at Raiders, who they swept 4-0 in all competitions last campaign, in the first round and last-16 of the regular season BBL Cup.

Neither team are flying in the league. Kapoulas’ squad are 1-5 and 10th, while Raiders, following a major summer rebuild, are 0-3 and rock-bottom and 12th.

Those struggling records are in evidence in the opening half, which Raiders edge 44-43 before going up by five, 52-47 early in the third. Time to pull clear for good?

Wrong. Raiders are now in a third year on the spin of a horrible downward spiral, while Flyers remain in a good place, despite that ultimately losing record last season and a 1-5 start this year.

Their long-serving captain, homegrown and Bristol-born guard Greg Streete, steps up and drills a three from the left perimeter, igniting the pivotal 11-0 run of the night and helping build a 58-52 lead Flyers never seriously look like relinquishing.

Raiders quickly rally back to within two at 58-56, but inexplicably leave Streete open at the top of the three-point arc. Streete takes the shot, buries it and immediately makes it 61-56 late in the third.

Soon the gap is in double figures. It’s a relative procession after that.

Bristol continue to enjoy life in the BBL, while Plymouth look likely to struggle. Photo: Plymouth Herald/JOHN ALLEN

Streete, after showing composure and taking responsibility beyond his 27 years, says afterwards: “We’re definitely a team who feed off momentum. When we see an opportunity, we try to take advantage and build a gap. It’s then about maintaining and building on that gap.”

Kapoulas adds: “We want to build a team here who can compete for a BBL championship. That’s always been our aspiration and this is part of that overall process.

“Yes, you can talk about last season, but last season has gone. It’s about living in the moment and living in the present.

“As a club, we have to stay in the moment. Yes, let’s enjoy what we’ve done, but let’s build on it and learn from it, and let’s get better.”

Rivals Raiders once proudly boasted and articulated such compelling long-term visions.

But, for their large fanbase by BBL standards, that feels like another lifetime under successive former coaches and club legends Gary Stronach and Gavin Love, who helped them flex that real muscle and land blows with perennial league powerhouse and current British champions Newcastle Eagles at the business end of seasons.

This summer, Raiders tried to put behind them two sorry campaigns under Love’s successor and now third-year boss Jay Marriott by recruiting an entire roster from Australian basketball, a roster crucially who would know how to gel on the court and also off it.

Time might help this new-look Raiders line-up transform fortunes, but the early exit of one face, Bennie Lewis, and arrival of yet another, Richie Edwards, only promises more misery and turbulence in form.

Marriott, who is certainly likeable when you speak, says after the depressing Flyers loss and BBL Cup exit: “A lot I feel is down to mentality: 50-50 balls go against you and we can’t afford to let that happen.

“We have to go and take a win from opponents, instead of saying, ‘Oh, things have been going nicely, let’s wait for things to happen’.

“Yes, things have been going great for us in practice, but at the end of the week you only see the zero against you in your record.”

Raiders have work, a lot of work, to do – so what do Flyers have?

They have Streete anchoring them in key moments; they have a blink-and-you-miss-him, spinning top of a new point-guard in the rugged Cardell McFarland; they have an athletic and explosive, fire-in-his-gut new big-man in Tyrone Lee; and they have a dangerous outside shooter in second-year wing-man Mathias Seilund.

They need more, of course, but they are legitimate and happy foundations.

Kapoulas said: “Obviously we hadn’t had a very good start in the league, but I think we’re turning a corner now. Defensively we’re coming together and offensively we’re starting to flow more. Today we saw that.

“At the end of the day basketball is about getting stops defensively and consecutive stops so you can build momentum.

“Obviously it’s tough when you’re losing games – confidence goes down. But the core of this group has been with me for a long time and they believe in the system. That belief has never gone away.”

Streete said: “We took those early losses on the chin and said, ‘You know what? We need to man-up and pull it together’.”

That’s what families do when life threatens to derail them: come together. With Kapoulas vibrantly calling the shots, you feel there’s an awful lot more to come from Flyers too.