Game of the Week: Medway Park Crusaders v Tees Valley Mohawks
Our Game of the Week sees Tees Valley Mohawks putting their unbeaten record on the line as they travel to Medway Park Crusaders.
Mohawks have defeated Essex Leopards, Brixton Topcats, Leicester Warriors and Worthing Thunder in Trophy play this season as well as progressing to the last 16 of the National Cup with a victory over local rivals Team Northumbria.
Their game at Medway Park is the second leg of a weekend double-header that will severely test their credentials as they face Hemel Storm on Saturday before heading to Kent on Sunday.
Crusaders are also challenging for a spot in the next stage of the Trophy with a 2-1 record, including being the first team to defeat Hemel Storm with a win last weekend. They did, however suffer a National Cup defeat on Sunday at the hands of Worthing Thunder - a game that they are keen to move on from, as explained by Cole Hobin:
"I can't wait to get on the floor after such a loss against Worthing last week. It's too little too late for [the] cup, but with a lot of games left the guys are hungry to get better. I personally feel responsible for not getting guys excited to battle and although I failed that test, look forward to meeting this week's head on."
New Crusaders coach Craig Nicol also sees the visit of Mohawks as an opportunity to move on: "I'm looking forward to getting back into action after last weekend. After a great team performance Saturday against Hemel, we came out flat on the Sunday and Worthing punished us.
"Tees Valley will be a very difficult team to play, they have started this season well and remain one of the few undefeated teams although we will be looking to change that after our game. We will need another solid defensive performance if we want to have a chance of winning as Mohawks have a variety of scoring threats."
Hobin has made a strong start to his career in England, averaging a double-double of 11.3 points and 10.7 rebounds over the three Trophy games. Crusaders' main scorers have been Disraeli Lufadeju (pictured) and Mannock Lual, who both average over 17 points per contest.
The recent arrival of Lukas Volskis from Essex Leopards, who scored 15 points against Mohawks in the Trophy earlier in the season, will provide coach Nicol with another experienced player at this level.
Tees Valley coach Steve Butler has plenty of memories of previous clashes with Crusaders: "Since I've been coaching the Mohawks we've had some great battles against Medway Park. In Division 2 two years ago we were lucky enough to win both games with Ralph Bucci performing heroics averaging over 40 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists. Last year we lost both encounters as Steve Vear was instrumental in Medway's wins averagin 15 points and 7 assists. This season it looks as though new Coach Nicol has them playing really well and have recruited some really impressive players that we need to be aware of.
"One guy in particular Dizzy Lufadeju who has started the season really well as well as import Cole Hobin who has put up some impressive stats so far this season. Medway are a very good team and we will need to be at our best to get a result in Kent."
Mohawks' success this season has had a lot to do with the high scoring trio of Jorge Ebanks (pictured, right), David Hansen (left) and Jamie Kohn - who have all regularly topped the twenty point mark.
Butler highlighted those three for praise, but also acknowledges the importance of his other players: "We are making progress as a team every week in training and I'm really pleased with the guys' effort and attitude towards getting better as a team. We've been working a lot on defense in practice and its been showing over the last couple of games with us averaging over 15 steals a game and I know we will need to force Medway to turn the ball over with pressure defence.
"Jamie Kohn has been great for us so far this year averaging a double-double and his work ethic in training is fantastic. Also Jorge Ebanks and David Hanson have had an incredible start to the season which has helped us get our wins, but what also pleases me is the team morale and players knowing their role on the squad and performing really well to help the team."
Kohn reciprocated the praise right back at his coach: "We've had a great start to the season and Coach has got us playing a particular way which suits us. This is my first season in England and I'm really impressed with the competition of teams as we know we have to bring our 'A' game every night if we want to win. This league is very competitive but we just hope to keep playing well and picking up the victories. Coach has got us playing well but both he and oursleves want to improve and get better both on the defensive end and offensive end of the court."
Lufadeju image credit - Cesar Velasco