The Leicester Riders had waited 46 years for league success, the longest out of any team in British Basketball League history. A 93-70 win at home to Durham Wildcats over the Easter holidays proved that good things come to those who wait.
And for the entire Riders community, instead of waiting patiently for 46 years, which included the threat of extinction back in 2003, they now have memories that will last forever. Positive ones, this time.
The Midlands club has a BBL championship to go with their BBL Cup, which they won in January. Only Sheffield Sharks prevented a possible sweep, edging them in March’s BBL Trophy final.
Head coach Rob Paternostro wasn’t interested in celebrating long into the night though, he didn’t even answer the question regarding whether he slept at all that night. The American playcaller was thinking instead about his side’s clash the following day against the league’s bottom side the Mersey Tigers, who are waiting patiently themselves just to win a game. The Merseysiders last tasted victory back on April 15 2012 against Milton Keynes, who have since moved to London.
The Riders showed no signs of a championship hangover though and walked away from Liverpool comfortable 95-65 winners. Though a touch of class was evident when the Tigers gave the newly crowned champions the guard of honour.
Despite leading the side in the usual training sessions this week, Paternostro has finally had time to reflect on what has been a magical season, collimating in BBL championship glory, done with a different-looking squad to the one that narrowly missed out the end of season playoff title.
“We brought in five new players at that start of the season but from day one, the guys were focused on being unselfish and playing together,” he said. “I feel very lucky to be coaching a group like this.”
Leicester could have claimed the domestic crown earlier than they actually did. Second placed Newcastle Eagles beat Worcester Wolves just before the Riders game with Durham. If the Wolves beat the Eagles, Leicester wouldn’t have needed to beat the Wildcats necessarily to clinch the title. Paternostro was glad that the trophy was won in front of a sell-out home crowd but would have been equally as happy winning it earlier.
“It was a great feeling of accomplishment for all of us, I think we have all enjoyed being apart of this special group and to clinch it in front of our fans was a moment we will never forget,” Paternostro commented.
It was the team’s unselfishness and will to win that won them this crown. Led by Great Britain captain Andrew Sullivan, who dedicated the league crown to the late Joe White, a well-respected basketball mentor who taught Sullivan his trade in Hackney in north-east London back when he was a young boy. A simple, yet powerful tweet from the Riders’ forward showed his love and appreciation for his legendary youth coach.
The will to win has been evident all season long for this Riders squad, perhaps none more so than there win at the Manchester Giants two weeks ago. Without key stars Jorge Calvo and Zaire Taylor, they seemed off the pace with the up-tempo Giants, but the depleted Leicester squad stayed true to each other, played for each other and forced overtime. Jay Cousinard, the BBL Cup finals MVP when the Riders beat Newcastle in January stepped up and secured a vital, come from behind win over the fallen Giants.
From then, title glory never seemed to be in doubt – they deserved it – fans of every team knew it. 46 years of waiting … gone.
The post-season beckons for Paternostro and his troops, clad in red and black, and they will start as favourites to claim the domestic treble and in this form, who will bet against them?