National Trophy preview: New look Leopards aim for more success
The 2012/13 EBL season tips off with four National Trophy contests this weekend.
Tees Valley Mohawks v Essex Leopards
Saturday 15 September, 5pm, University of Teeside
Last season's treble winners take to the court for the first time in the new season with a new name, a new coach and a mostly new squad.
Lukas Volskis and Simonas Bublys are the only returning players for Essex Leopards, who won every piece of silverware available to them last season except for the National Trophy.
Under new player/coach Robert Youngblood, Leopards have added some intriguing names including Taner Adu, Greg Hernandez and Rowell Graham.
Adu was last in Division 1 with Manchester Magic in 2008/09, before spending time in the BBL with Essex Pirates and Plymouth Raiders. Last season he played in Italy, but is glad to be back closer to home: "I've always like their set up [Leopards] and the Brentwood Centre, plus I'm told the Basildon venue is really good too.
"That helped me to make up my mind and with my child being born last year I wanted to be situated in London for this season, so everything has worked out well and I'm really pleased."
Speaking of his Italy experience he said: "I joined a team in the fourth division but then broke into the A2 league for the last three or four months which was a great experience and definitely helped my game.
"I want to win everything this year with Leopards. They won three trophies last year, so let's try and win all four this year because I believe we have the squad to do this - if everyone gels together."
The other big name signing for Leopards is American big man Greg Hernandez, who had an outstanding season with Division 2 side Glamorgan Gladiators last season as they finished third in their debut season at that level.
The 24-year-old gained MVP honours after leading the division in both points and rebounds, finishing with an incredible 35.33 points and 16.92 boards per game for the Welsh side.
Club chairman Fred Dicker is delighted to have Hernandez in the side as his club paln for a move to the BBL next season: "We are really pleased to have signed Greg. He has a fantastic season in Division 2 and we have no doubt that he is ready to make the step up to Division 1, and hopefully the BBL in 2013."
Leopards' opponents on Saturday are Tees Valley Mohawks, who won only four games in Division 1 play last season and went winless in their Trophy campaign. The Middlesbrough based side have undergone changes of their own in the offseason and coach Steve Butler thinks his team have made improvements:
"As a club we have worked extremley hard both on and off the court over this offseason. We are looking forward to hosting Leopards and congratulate them on their great season last year. I know Leopards will be well drilled and orgainsed so it is going to be a very tough opening game for us but we like the challenge.
"We've recruited seven new players from all across the world to play for Mohawks this season and we've worked really hard during preseason to get the guys ready. It's going to be tough but we will certainly compete more this year.
One of those new signings Jorge Ebanks can't wait for the new season to start: "It's a great feeling to think game day is here, now we just gotta get the job done. Coach has told us about Leopards and what we can expect. We are ready to get going and looking forward to the challenge this Saturday."
Leicester Warriors v Worthing Thunder
Saturday 15 September, 3pm, Braunstone Leisure Centre
Two teams that met four times last season clash again to open the new campaign as Leicester Warriors host Worthing Thunder on Saturday.
Worthing claimed three of the contests last term, but Leicester clinched the crucial final match-up between the teams as they met in the Playoff Quarter Final and Warriors won 86-79 in Worthing.
Thunder captain James Brame believes that his young group of players have an amazing opportunity to show the league what they can do on Saturday. With new coach Daniel Hildreth absent due to family commitments, Brame will take charge and he feels the youngsters are ready to perform:
"We are really looking forward to Saturday's game and getting the season underway. The new members of the team have an amazing opportunity to come in and show what they can do at this level. We are heading up to Leicester with positive attitudes and we will leave it out on the floor."
Thunder will go into this season with a heap of local talent, many of whom were part of the national championship winning Under 18 side of 2011. American forward Hank Rivers is the sole import on this season's roster.
Brame is confident in his team's ability to perform throughout the season and will look for positives on Saturday afternoon: "Whether we win or lose we will take positives out of our performance and keep taking steps forward in the development of our squad. Game time experience is key for our young players and I’m excited to see the results."
Neither team made much of a mark on the Trophy last season with Warriors failing to qualify for the knock out rounds and Thunder being dispatched at the quarter final stage by Leopards.
When the teams met in the pool stages of the Trophy last year it was Worthing who came out on top in comfortable fashion, winning 86-54.
Leeds Carnegie v Bristol Academy Flyers
Saturday 15 September, 6pm, Leeds Met Uni
After a season that saw three runners-up finishes and a semi final loss in the playoffs, Bristol will hope to challenge for titles again this season.
They will return much of the roster from last season, notably Doug McLaughlin-Williams, Greg Streete, Tyrone Treasure and Enrique Garcia. The one big name missing from previous years is American Davis Bowne, who averaged 11.66 points and 9.81 rebounds per game last season.
Coach Andreas Kapoulas hopes his team will compete for honours: "Summer time has gone away quickly and we are once again ready to build on our success and create another very competitive group that will compete for national honours. I do need to add that we are going to be a much younger team this year with a number of South Gloucestershire and Stroud College basketball academy players given the opportunity to train and gain valuable court time."
Their first game of the season will see them travel to the newly-renovated court at Leeds Met University as they face off with a Carnegie team that finished just out of the playoff spots in Division 1 last season and fell at the quarter final stage of the Trophy and the 3rd round stage of the Cup.
The team's met in the group stage of the Trophy last season and Bristol came out on top with a 76-63 win.
Brixton Topcats v Hemel Storm
Sunday 16 September, 4pm, Brixton Rec
Division 1 new boys Hemel Storm begin their 2012/13 season on the road at Brixton Topcats in a Trophy Pool 1 game on Sunday.
Storm finished second in Division 2 last season with a 16-4 record to gain promotion to the top division. This will be their first Trophy campaign, but they have good pedigree in knockout competitions having won the Patrons Cup (the Division 2 equivalent) in each of the last two seasons.
Their roster last season included plenty of players with Division 1 experience, so they will hope to be competitive throughout the season.
After finishing fifth in the league and winning the National Cup in 2010/11 a ninth place finish and early exits in the cup competitions, could be viewed as a disappointment for Andy Powlesland's Topcats, so they will be looking to make a good start to the season at home at the weekend.
Brixton began well in the Trophy last season with three consecutive wins, but they fell at the quarter final hurdle, going down 70-69 to Reading at home.
Photo by Karen Brown of Brown Productions