After three seasons of holding the reigns at the bottom of the British Basketball League, the sleeping Manchester Giants are ready to wake up and climb back to the top.
That is the opinion of current Giants coach Danny Byrne, who wants the team competing near the upper end of the BBL table ending nearly five years of having to look up at every other team in the standings.
Byrne wants the team to return to its old days when the Giants back in the late-1990s and early 2000s claimed BBL titles and reached the country’s National Cup finals.
The franchise went into hibernation in 2001, only a year removed from winning the BBL championship when it was told that just after the team were celebrating their league success, a senior director, representing the owners at the club informed them and management that Cook Group, the owners of the Giants could no longer afford to fund them.
After a decline in fortune that led to the Giants’ demise, the mantle was passed on to the Manchester Magic, who played in the second-tier National League. However, they seemingly had no interest in entering the BBL, instead choosing to focus on nurturing their excellent youth program.
After ten years in exile and the need for a professional basketball franchise in Manchester growing, the Giants were revived in 2011 under Jeff Jones, who built a strong team that made the playoffs in its second season back, after agonisingly missing out in their debut season after a narrow loss to the London Lions on the final day of the regular season, who would snatch that last post-season spot.
Once the opening two seasons went, the Giants have gone into a mini decline, with this season under Byrne no different as they are set for their worst finish ever, currently with just three wins to their name and 17 losses alongside it.
However, don’t judge the Giants just by their win-loss record. The team is moving forward, and they are not fading away either.
Plus Byrne is keen to stick around.
“I would love to stay long term,” said Byrne who juggles being a head coach alongside his three-day-a-week job as a lecturer at Blackburn College.
“This first season, I kind of have a get out of jail free card as I am learning the ropes and this franchise is rebuilding. But we have a promising future with the new venue, a solid fanbase that I believe will grow and a core of players to build a team around. It’s exciting times.”
Plymouth-born Byrne joined the Giants first team in the summer, having helped its second team win the NBL Division 4 title last season. It was seen as a desperate choice of appointment back then with many critics saying that the 41-year-old had no real experience having arrived from the country’s fifth-tier.
However, despite the current record, the Giants are looking to its future already with an exciting new basketball arena to move into in 2019 and potential sponsorship deals to help sustain the club, long-term.
“We will have our venue where we will be able to train two to three times a day which will be a luxury compared to what we have to work with at the minute,” Byrne admits.
“We can have players in and actually have them as professionals, as a lot of us work other jobs along with our duties in the BBL.
“I feel though that once this is completed, it will shoot us up there with the top teams as far as off-court work is concerned, with the likes of the Leicester Riders, Newcastle Eagles and Plymouth Raiders I feel up there as those professional sides all-over.
“I feel that sponsorship will be easier to attract. Manchester itself is a great area for that and with all this, ultimately it gives us a better chance of competing for regular playoff spots.”
And Byrne’s main goal, alongside those playoff spots, is keeping the core of the squad in Giants colours.
“Right now, this is my rookie season and I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve learned from them,” he admits.
“I will say that things will be done differently for the next campaign, especially with the recruitment process. I think this season, our recruiting has been okay considering our budget. David Kadiri has been a real find for us this season, but while I would love to keep him for next season, I feel that we might lose him.
“But in terms of Jack Crook, a local lad, Callum Jones, who I’ve got for another season, Ingus [Bankevius], also for another season and Jerelle Okoro, who I hope can stay too, we do have a core there that I hope will remain and we want all those players back.
“Already we are in discussions for new players for next season and also I will look to take advantage of our junior set-up and bring those kids in for the experience.”
It looks like the Giants are planning their rise to compete with the BBL’s elite.