Is the BBL Championship moving house or will stay comfortably in the nest of the Eagles in the north-east?
With the squad they have right now – and with supposed imports to come, the newly-named, Mersey Tigers (formally Everton) have the best shot at dethroning the ever-present Newcastle Eagles at the top of the BBL summit.
The Tigers sent a chilling message to the BBL fraternity, with a convincing victory over the Eagles in the BBL League curtain-raiser at the Echo Arena. Newcastle player-coach, Fabulous Flournoy though, is a coach who never backs down from a challenge, and has beaten the odds before. Of course there are ten other sides who could stake their claim. Here are my views on this season’s British Basketball League teams…
Cheshire Jets – The Jets will be a force on their home court, and will be hard to beat. It’ll be their away form that gives us an indication of if they be genuine front-runners. If they can step-up away from Northgate – you are looking at a top-four team in the BBL.
Few players from last season have returned for the second act – and Jets fans have celebrated the return of Colin O’Reilly. A versatile player, who can play a number of positions, but can play them fluently – probably the smartest player in this league, and when he is on form, Cheshire are at their best.
Coach Smith has gone for a younger approach this season, and I certainly feel that if the team stays healthy, the Jets will amongst the teams fighting for a home playoff spot. They will also look to do one better in the Cup and Trophy (eliminated 9/10/10) competition(s). With the earlier start to the season, that is very doubtful.
Essex Pirates – In their second season of existence – and despite coach, Tim Lewis keeping faith in his selection of young British players, it will be another season languishing down in the depths of the BBL table.
Promising youngster, Colin Sing returns for his second spell with the Southend-based outfit, along with Samuel Tulowase – but they are not consistent scorers, defensively, are not quite the finished article.
What Essex lacks is a proven 20-25 point player and a point guard that can steady the ship. Pirates seem to lack direction on the court, at both ends. Unless they get these two things – they won’t be anywhere near the level of most teams in this league.
Glasgow Rocks – Last season’s playoff runners-up have changed their line-up over the summer – losing the influential Rob Yanders was always going to sting. But signing E.J Harrison as a replacement is as good as you’ll get.
One of the premier guards in the league, Harrison is a proven winner, and it shows on the court. Coach, Sterling Davis has also retained Mike Copeland, who can score in a number of ways and is not too shabby on the defensive front too.
Another promising signing is Californian, Brice Fantazia, who can fill up many areas of a stat sheet. Brice is no doubt still finding his feet in the BBL; time will tell if he will be proven with the Rocks.
Like Cheshire, Glasgow will be a hard team to crack on their home court – but their away form is questionable, and in the past – it has cost them some key games. Look for the Rocks to comfortably seal a playoff birth though. It’s then a case, can they go one better than they did last year?
Guildford Heat – Looking to put the disappointment of last season behind them, as for the first time in their short history the Heat franchise failed to reach the BBL playoffs.
New coach, Creon Raftopoulos is assembled a solid mix of players, led by veteran forward, Michael Martin. The former Great Britain international brings terrific leadership on the court and, on his day, can be one of the elite scoring forwards in the BBL.
David Schneider comes to Guildford with a lot of promise, on both ends of the court. A deadly three-point shooter, his one weakness could be that he is a little three-point trigger happy – and as a point guard, you need a player who guide and direct the team, rather than launch from beyond the arc. They also have a dodgy center in James Porter, who might not last the season, unless he starts performing.
This is a season of rebuilding in Guildford, but, with the squad that they have, the Heat will surprise a few teams this season and could sneak a playoff spot.
Leicester Riders – Flamboyant coach, Rob Paternostro has, once again, put together a squad that will compete for a top four spot this season. Veteran, Tony Windless, LaTaryll Williams and JR Blount spearhead the Riders drive. But, one player to watch for this year is Ryan Zamroz, a renowned sharpshooter who can score in a variety of ways.
Riders look a certainty for the BBL playoffs, in such a short time, Paternostro has proven himself to be one of the league’s more underrated coaches – can he take the BBL’s oldest club to glory this year?
On a personal note, I hope they change venues soon. The John Sandford Leisure Centre is a shambles of a gym.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net