A CHAMPIONSHIP ENCOUNTER – By Mike SHAFT. Obviously, the photos are a new addition.

This Saturday will see the 2001 BBL Championship game at Wembley between the Nurishment Leicester Riders and the Westfield Sharks Sheffield.

It is a game that very few would have thought possible earlier in the season. The Riders are cooking on gas, having won the NTL National Cup in Sheffield back in January, when they defeated the London Leopards in a thrilling encounter.

The Sharks have of course have already picked up the Northern Conference Championship.

It has been said before but I’ll say it again, the Leicester Riders undoubtedly have one of the most awesome line-ups in the whole of British Basketball and also one of the most dynamic coaches in Billy Mims.

Mims has already won back-to-back Championships in the British game with his previous club, as well as two National Cups.

Looking at the line-up, there is no doubt that coach Chris Finch and the Sheffield Sharks, will have their job cut out trying to stop all the Leicester weapons.

Firstly at the Guard spot there is ‘King’ Ralph Blaylock – the MVP at the Cup Finals and MVP in their recent semi-final win against the mighty London Towers. What a night he had, 29 points including four 3-pointers. Ralph has always been something special in the British game and he is now showing exactly what he can do. Not only did he knock down 29 points but he also added 3 rebounds, 3 assists and no turnovers.

At the other guard spot is Larry Johnson who also had a great game in the recent semi-finals. 21 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. The Leicester Riders have had to play every round in the play-offs so far and Larry, despite injury, has showed up every night.
Then comes the Riders’ front court of Malcolm Leak, Purnell Perry and the Legendary Billy Singleton. Leak, Perry and Singleton must be the best combination punch in British basketball and when they are on their game it is a truly awesome sight.

Malcolm Leak averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds a game across the whole season, while Purnell Perry delivered 21 points and 9 boards himself, to lead the BBL in floor shooting with 62%. Billy Singleton – in his 7th year in the BBL – is delivering a double double of 13 and 10 everytime he steps on the floor. He was second in the BBL in defensive rebounds with 8 a game.

With this line-up it is easy to see why the Nurishment Leicester Riders are the best floor-shooting team in the country averaging almost 53% and scoring 96 points a game. That also makes them the top scoring teams in the BBL. The problem is that they are giving up and average of 97 points a game. But this is Championship basketball and all stats could be thrown out of the window.

Coming off the bench for the Riders will be the ever-dependable Karl Brown. KB, as he is known, has won just about everything there is to win in the British game and he will be looking to lift this 2001 Championship to keep his amazing record of achievements going. Finally, on the Riders, a word on one of my favourite coaches in the BBL, Billy Mims.

Billy is one of the best things in British Basketball. His ability to say the just right thing to the press or in a general conversation is a joy to behold and he always has something positive to say. His understanding of the game is second to none and he has proved by his success first at the Leopards’ and now at the Riders’ that he has the highest coaching credentials. His enthusiasm for the game of basketball is infectious and is there for all to see.

His teams will win some games and lose some games but make no mistake, a Billy Mims’ team is always exciting and will always be entertaining. Billy was voted the Mike Shaft ‘Basketball Personality of the Year’ in the recent Mike Shaft awards. It is an honour that is truly justified.

And so to the other finalist in the 2001 Championship Game.The Westfield Sharks are one of the most successful franchises in the BBL in recent years. First under the stewardship of the legendary Jimmy Brandon, who led them to success in their first year and then under Chris Finch who has led them to success each year since taking control. After the departure of Sharks stalwart Todd Cauthorn in the close season, the Sharks had a certain amount of rebuilding to do but boy did they do it well.

The addition of Fab Flournoy and Zac Bennett plus Shaun Kennedy has gone a major way to keeping the Sharks dynasty going. Many people did not think this Sharks team was as good as previous Sheffield outfits, but Coach Chris Finch has proved them all wrong by not only lifting the Northern Conference Championship but also taking the team into this 2001 Championship final. The Sheffield Sharks have never been to the ultimate game before.

The Sharks’ coach believes in a team game and that is why many believe that despite not having the most talented players in the BBL, the Sharks definitely have the best team. The addition of Peter Scantlebury and Fab Flournoy have added to the team in a most positive way while maintaining the standards that the coach has laid down. If the Sharks have one star then it must be Terrell Myers. Terrell is the guy who has probably won more Championship games in the BBL with big-time last minute shots than any other player.

This season he is averaging 19 points a game whilst pulling down 4 rebounds and dishing up 4 assists every game. His backcourt partner is Nate Reinking who is averaging 16 points and 3 assists a game. Then comes Peter Scantlebury. Scants is having a unbelievable season as he attempts to re-write all the BBL record books. He now leads the league in all-time scoring having picked up every championship medal during his career. That is with the exception of the BBL Wembley Championship.

Scants must be a coaches dream, able to do everything. 15 points and 6 rebounds across the whole season is a testament to his professionalism and longevity.

Fab Flournoy, is a warrior of the highest order, able to jump out of the gym and able to provide a defensive intensity that will terrify opponents of all sizes. 7 points and 7 boards a game plus 2 assists gives you the idea of what he does. 56 steals, 61 assists and 13 blocked shots across the season probably tells a more accurate story.
In recent games, coach Finch has been starting Shawn Kennedy in place of Zac Bennett with Zac giving the team a real lift when he hits the floor. It is a strategy that has really worked and it will be interesting to see if he keeps that strategy for this Championship game. If you thought that was it then think again because if the Sharks have a great starting 5, then they must have the best bench in the BBL. Sharp shooters Michael Payne and Ian McKinney. Payne is shooting 45% from the three-point line making him the 4th best in the country. Between them they average 15 points a game.

The final piece of the Sharks’ jigsaw is Richard Windle. Richard has had a quiet season, but he could be called upon in this game to lay a body on ‘Big’ Billy Singleton. What a match-up that could be. Chris Finch knows his team and knows exactly what they can do. And that’s what makes him the winningest active coach in the BBL.

So there you have it the two teams for the 2001 BBL Championship game. So who is going to win it. Well you will have to make up your own mind. Both teams already have a trophy this season, this one could go either way. Which ever way it goes, I am going to be happy because every once-in-a-while;



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