It’s something of a new chapter for Jelson Homes DMU Leicester Riders as they welcome a host of new faces for the forthcoming 2012-13 season.
Having come so close to delivering silverware last time out, Rob Paternostro knows his team will really have to hit the ground running this year to make sure they are in contention right from the outset and that isn’t always easy with so many new players to integrate.
Gone is BBL Team Of The Week regular and star of last season Ayron Hardy along with the prolific Cameron Rundles, the dangerous Bradd Wierzbicki, a real favourite with the Riders fans and also big man Brett Royster who struggled with some injuries.
However, whilst the starting five has been decimated, it has also been rebuilt in impressive fashion and all around the biggest bonus of the summer – managing to retain the services of Great Britain Olympic captain Andrew Sullivan (pictured).
This in itself is a major achievement and a real statement by Riders that they feel they will be challenging again for trophies. And, it is tough to argue with the multi-skilled and hard-working former BBL MVP back to set the tone, especially defensively and off the ball. Nobody demands higher standards than ‘Sulli’ and he will continue to lead by example.
Helping him to try and knock the Eagles off their perch is a new look backcourt including American guard Zaire Taylor who has played College ball with both Missouri Tigers and University of Delaware an professionally with Nijmegan in Holland and Staten Island Vipers in his homeland. Quick and athletic, he has good skills at both ends of the floor which is why he was selected on the All Dutch Eredivisie Second Team, and Eredivisie All Defensive Team last year.
Alongside him and pulling the strings for Paternostro will be Spanish guard Jorge Calvo. He arrives via Baloncesto León, a second division team which is just below the ACB, the top League in Spain and recognised as the top basketball League in the world outside the NBA. In what was his first pro-season, Calvo averaged 17 minutes a game last year, harvesting 4 points, 2 assists and 2 rebounds per game. He brings good size and athleticism to the spot and is a true combo guard.
Houston born small forward Jay Couisnard meanwhile has big potential after posting good numbers at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He averaged nearly 18 points and 6 rebounds a game, shot 49% from the floor, and a very respectable 37% from the three point line. He brings not only versatility, but also plenty of scoring options to the table.
In the frontcourt, much of Riders’ hopes will be pinned on pro-rookie John Fraley, a rcentre who has just graduated from Austin Peay University after averaging 12 points, 9 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks a game in his senior year, while shooting an impressive 61% from the floor.
“He has proven himself to be an exceptional rebounder and has been very productive finisher on the offensive end.” Claimed Paternostro who was delighted to get his man.
“I’ve always admired players that have a nose for the ball and John is a guy that with his athletic ability and desire has shown that the ability to go up and get the ball on both ends of the floor.”
Fraley will be vying for court time with fellow five spot team-mate Barry Lamble who continues to be a great servant for Riders and will undoubtedly do a fine job again for them under the hoop.
Riders have also signed 6 foot 8 inch Slovak Republic big man Pavol Losonsky, who averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds per game playing for Nova Ves in his homeland last season, after graduating from the University of California at Irvine.
He was also in the Slovak Republic team who took part in EuroBasket qualification recently and fulfils the need of Paternostro to have a presence under the hoop who can also play multiple positions and step outside to drain threes.
With the excellent work continuing from Paternostro and those at the Riders’ helm, it’s difficult to see them outside of the top four or five and they look on paper at least, pretty well-placed and very capable of again challenging for silverware.
The all-conquering Newcastle Eagles could still be the team to beat when the new season tips-off.
Since completing a clean sweep of silverware last time out, the most successful club in British Basketball history has made some key changes during the summer and yet still retains the core of the team which delivered on all fronts during 2011-12.
As ever, player-coach Fab Flournoy continues to inspire both on and off the court, but for his former trusted lieutenant Andrew Bridge, the Eagles family apron strings have been cut after a decade on Tyneside.
Two other players who won’t be pulling on an Eagles vest will be forward Andy Thomson and playmaker Paul Gause. The former enjoyed a super season with the Eagles but has opted for a move aboard whilst Gause only lasted one year.
However, the Eagles have also played against Huffman and that was a major reason why they have swooped for his services. They spotted him last Christmas at a tournament in the Netherlands playing for Landstede Zwolle Basket and liked what they saw.
The backcourt has been bolstered by the arrival of Damon Huffman and Anthony Martin who will both be tasked with pulling the strings. The lightening quick Martin is of course well know by BBL fans after spells with Cheshire Jets and most recently UCP Marjon Plymouth Raiders whilst Huffman is a BBL rookie.
They also made it a double shopping trip by also taking his Zwolle team-mate Kareem Maddox as a replacement for Thomson with the Princeton graduate making an impression on Flournoy.
“He is another who impressed us in our Christmas tournament last year” admitted the play-caller.
“We feel that his size, athleticism and smartness will really fit well into our defensive scheme. It’s also nice to bring some more young legs into the team!”
Crucially, in addition to Flournoy remaining, the Eagles can count on the continued contributions of another quartet of players including ‘Prince’ Charles Smith, ‘Mighty’ Joe Chapman, Darius Defoe and Joel Madourie. You will struggle to find two better and more consistent game winners and scorers anywhere in the BBL than Smith and Chapman who can light it up at a moment’s notice.
Darius Defoe meanwhile remains one of the most underrated but best pound for pound players in the league and will remain a force under the basket whilst Joel Madourie has shown he is a very capable player coming off the bench in the forward spot.
The Eagles do possibly look a tad under-sized, but with so much scoring power and defensive prowess, that may not be as much of an issue as it might be for other teams feeling a little light in the frontcourt.
Of course there may even be one further late or mid-season arrival but even without another addition to the Eagles nest, it is shaping up to be another good campaign for the fans at Sport Central.
The early signs are good and especially after their strong showing as hosts of a pre-season tournament involving Sheffield, Durham, Northumbria and USA Select.
As Sterling Davis prepares for his sixth season as player-coach at Glasgow Rocks, the play-caller at Scotland’s only professional basketball club has recruited a mixture of old and new faces for his side.
Davis will continue to provide some much-needed experience in the paint, though as he approaches his 35th birthday, he may decide to cut down on his playing time, and he is joined by Scottish big man Gareth Murray who returns to his spiritual home for a seventh season on a two-year contract.
As Rocks prepare to play at the new Commonwealth Game Arena, there’s also continuity in the back-court with the mercurial EJ Harrison and Jonny Bunyan back for the Rocks as they look to improve on last season’s fifth place in the BBL Championship, and small forward Andrew Wedermire also returns for Davis’ squad.
Another familiar face to the Rocks’ faithful with be Brice Fantazia, as he makes his return to Glasgow after a year’s absence. During his first stint with the Rocks Fantazia averaged 9.8ppg, 3.4rpg, 2.9apg and shot 45.5% from the field.
Fantazia played in Portugal last season, gaining a Portuguese passport while he was there to increase his value to the Rocks. Coach Davis decided to bring back Fantazia in an effort to strengthen his backcourt in the absence of Danny Huffor who is out for the season after picking up an injury for the Scottish national team.
There are also some new additions, with the most exciting looking to be 6’9″ athletic centre, Meneptha Darden, to fill the void down in the paint.
The 24-year-old American will be looking to begin his professional career with the Rocks after a successful final year at Rogers State University where he led his team in both rebounds and blocked shots.
Darden looks to be the kind of lock-down defensive player that appeals to Davis, and he’s excited about his new signing: “This guy is hungry to make a name for himself and I feel that he has not been given enough opportunity to prove his worth as yet. Hopefully he will come in and bring everything I envision of him to our team.”
Rocks have also added some extra length and talent to their backcourt with the acquisition of 6’4″ guard, Donald Robinson who averaged an impressive 15 points and 2.5 assists per game in the 2011/12 US college season with West Virginia Tech. He has a big task on his hands to replace last season’s stand-out player Mychal Green, who recently moved to Luxembourg.
The Rocks’ bench is completed with young Scottish player Dale Grieve and Irish player Owen McNally. Rocks have already been in action once during the pre-season, winning 80-78 against Team USA in the final game at Kelvin Hall.
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