In his third season as a coach at the Leicester Riders, Rob Paternostro has turned the British Basketball League’s oldest club, from persistent basement boys, to main-stay playoff challengers.

In Paternostro’s first season as a coach in Leicester, he took the Riders to the Playoff Finals Weekend – BBL’s own version of the Euroleague Final Four – but now has been scrapped to a single-day final. Unfortunately, the journey was brought to a halt by the Everton Tigers (now Mersey Tigers). For the Midlands club though, it was their first experience of a Finals Weekend since they won it in 2001, and they had Paternostro, as one of reasons to thank for that.

The New York native is enjoying life in Leicester, and is relishing every minute of being apart of the Riders furniture and he has no plans to move away just yet.

I’m thankful to the Riders organization for giving me the opportunity to start my professional coaching career,” Paternostro said: “There are challenges that you have to deal with when coaching at a smaller budget club, but we feel like we have put together some talented entertaining teams over the last few seasons that our fans can be proud of.”

Leicester have had a middling start to the league season, they secured their first wins of the season last week, at home to the Milton Keynes Lions and away to the basement club, Essex Pirates. Leicester had before built quite a formidable record at home. Undefeated for nearly nine months, before succumbing to the Cheshire Jets in late-October.

Visiting the John Sandford Leisure Centre, the home of the Leicester Riders, is quite the experience. It almost resembles walking into a old boxing gym, that is days away from demolition, the ceiling is much lower than your usual basketball arena or gym, so three-point attempts are taken with caution, bleacher seating is within mere feet from the court, probably the most intimate venue in the league. The gym is without-a-doubt, one of the more unique playing areas in the BBL, but for the Riders fans and Paternostro – it is home.

The Riders coach commented: “There is a great atmosphere on Saturday nights at the John Sandford Centre, and we as a basketball team have benefited greatly from the fans tremendous support. There are challenges that you have to deal with when coaching at a smaller budget club, but we feel like we have put together some talented entertaining teams over the last few seasons that our fans can be proud of.”

This season’s preparation started off positively, a good core of talent signed and re-signed, plus comfortable wins over USA Select and EBL Division One side, Derby Trailblazers in pre-season was just what Paternostro’s side needed to get ready for the new BBL season, but with big-man, Andrew Bennett sidelined for the first two months of the season (was later released by the club) and high-scoring forward Anthony Simpson deciding to play in Korea instead, Rob has had to change his team around, having no choice but to un-settle the team rotation. Riders lost their first two league games and were knocked out of the BBL Trophy by Guildford Heat, over two legs.

“It has been a strange start to the season. The first two months of the season have been filled with Trophy or Cup games so our league schedule has taken a long time to get going. We also had a few things happen that set us back, including the injury in pre-season to Andrew [Bennett]. We were expecting big things from him so when he got injured it was blow to us as a basketball team. Also the departure of Anthony [Simpson] was a blow, it was awful timing (he informed us right before the trophy semi [just before the 2nd leg]), but we feel like we have now recovered and are very happy with the changes that have been made to our roster,” Paternostro explained.

Leicester were no doubt reeling from two big departures and a loss of form. But the signings of veteran, Robert Youngblood from bitter rivals, Milton Keynes Lions, Phil Missere, who returned for his second spell with the club and free-scoring, Jo Harris have given the BBL’s OAP’s a new lease of life.

In his always positive tone, Rob said: “Robert [Youngblood], Jo [Harris], and Phil Missere are all intelligent basketball players who have added a lot to us on both ends of the floor. We feel like we are built for the long BBL season, we have a lot of depth (especially in the frontcourt) and believe that as the season goes on we will be in good shape.”

Away from the BBL, Rob is a massive NBA fan and does punditry work for numerous companies. Paternostro was recently a pundit for the NBA Europe tour game in London, when the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Lakers in early-October – and with the upcoming NBA regular season games between the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets, Rob had plenty to say.

“I was fortunate enough to broadcast the Lakers and Wolves for the BBC at the o2 in the pre-season and the atmosphere there was fantastic.” Rob praised.

“I think there are a large number of people in the UK who are desperate for more basketball and events like that and the Raptors, Nets game should do wonders for the popularity in the UK. I have been here ten years now, and have watched the sport grow as a participation sport and really believe that the game will continue to develop and grow in the UK.”

John Hobbs for