Leicester Riders and Sheffield Sharks are the final two combatants left as the British Basketball League season comes to a thrilling climax on Sunday with the two sides meeting in the Playoff final at the O2 Arena.
The league champion Riders will begin as favourites as they aim for a triple crown of titles this season having scooped the BBL Trophy on top of domestic honours. However, in their bid for a second treble in the last four seasons, Leicester have already claimed a hat-trick of individual awards.
Riders talisman Drew Sullivan was named the Basketball Journalists Association’s Player of the Year as he has led Leicester to glory this season, averaging 12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds a game along with plenty of clutch showings late on.
“I’m extremely happy to have been named the BJA player of the year,” Sullivan said of the award.
“It’s a massive honour to be recognised with an award like this. The most important thing is that the writers that voted for me have looked passed numbers, as usually this is what most individuals focus on.
“I’d also like to add that while this is great for me personally, I hope that young British players trying to make a name for themselves understand it’s not always about stats, or shots or how much they play. It’s about playing hard, trying to get the most out of the players around you, but most importantly helping your team be as successful as it possibly can.”
Riders play-caller Rob Paternostro won the BJA Coach of the Year prize as the American led his side to a fifth straight 30-win season.
“It’s been an incredible season for our club,” Paternostro said. “Our team has competed at a high level from start to finish. Our players have been incredible to work with. They have been hard working, unselfish and they have been big game performers. It’s been an honour to coach such a wonderful group of guys.”
The three-peat was completed with Jamell Anderson winning the BJA’s British Player award, given to players that show improvement and always help the team play to their potential.
“Didn’t expect anything like that,” admitted Anderson. “But I’m nothing without my team, these guys are paramount to anything good that I’ve been able to achieve over the course of the season.”
Individual awards though are nothing without the championships to match and while Leicester might have collected three player awards, the main goal is to claim a third trophy to put in the cabinet.
“At the beginning of the season our goal was to play for all four trophies, and fortunately enough we have been able to do that,” said Riders guard Tyler Bernardini. “To lose that first one [BBL Cup final] was so difficult to swallow, and then to come back and win the next two was really special.
“This is why we work so hard and why everyone has bought in the way they have. To win the Playoff final would be the culmination of all the effort we started in August. It would be crushing to have the success we have had, to get to the final and not win it, so it is hard to even think like that.
“We don’t have to sit here and think about Sheffield too much and figure them out because we have seen them so much this season. We played them in the Cup, in the Trophy and obviously three times in the league.”
SHEFFIELD PLAYING IT COOL BUT LOOK TO POUNCE
Sheffield Sharks will look to end a 12-year cold spell on Sunday at the O2 Arena but while Leicester are claiming the accolades ahead of the final, the Yorkshire outfit are taking the big game in their stride.
“They’ve [Riders] been in this position before,” said Sharks coach Atiba Lyons. “It’d be silly to think we’re not underdogs but we’re a proud team and on any given day, if we put it together, we can do it.”
Sharks are still without Colin Sing and Patrick Horstmann for Sunday’s final so Jerrold Brooks is calling for Sheffield to be superhuman when they hit the O2 hardwood this weekend.
“Having two less big men against the Riders is a big miss and especially as they are so big as a squad,” bemoaned Brooks.
“I’m sure they will try to capitalise on that, but to be honest, we have adjusted as well as possible. Therefore we just need a superhuman performance from the guys we have left.”