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Zak Wells has left Leeds Force by mutual consent after being ruled out for around 6 months with a torn cartilage in his left knee.
Wells had begun his debut BBL campaign brightly and helped Force claim their opening victory with a strong 10 point display early on before suffering the injury last Friday. Whilst guarding Ben Eaves, the former GB U20 player planted his foot slightly wrong and his left knee twisted as Eaves drove baseline, causing ‘excruciating pain’ before being taken to hospital.
“It’s a huge setback for me, but it’s one I know I can overcome,” he said. “It is just something that happens in sport and I’ll do everything I can to come back stronger.
“It is very dis-heartening as I felt I was really improving game-by-game. I was having a great game and ready to start having a huge impact. I want to be with my team and it’s going to be very hard not to be there now.”
Leeds made history with their first-ever win in the BBL after knocking out Manchester Giants in the first round of the Cup with an 80-69 success. And Wells was delighted his side were able to break their drought given the recent history of the likes of Mersey and Birmingham.
“It was playing in our minds and building up, but we responded well to the pressure by learning from every defeat. We discussed at length where we could get better and knew it was only a matter of time before we got that first win.”
Injuries have also played their part in making Leeds’ transition into the BBL a difficult one, but Wells hopes the first win can give the whole team a lift and has challenged Leeds to continue their fearless approach and prove they belong in the BBL.
“(They) have to continue to not be intimidated, keep putting the work in and try to stay healthy so we can show we belong. The key is to keep improving, prove people wrong because we can’t let the pressure of being a new team.”
“It was a big win for us, beating Manchester because they are a very good side and that will give everyone a lot of confidence. We didn’t back down, and played for the full 40 minutes instead of just short spells like we had been doing. We had the opposition scouted extremely well and that was a huge factor.
“We don’t want to be a new team that struggles and we feel there are a lot more upsets in us,” he added.
Import signing James McCann has been one player in particular who has been hampered by an ongoing injury at the start of the season but played a key role to finish with a team-high 21 points in the Cup success. The American guard received full praise from his team-mate with Wells believing McCann can be a vital member of the team.
“(McCann) was phenomenal and can be one of the best point guards in the league,” the 7-footer claimed. “He knew we were struggling a bit without him, as there was a lot of pressure on Mario (Diez), so to play like that after an injury (which he’s still carrying) sums him up and how huge he is for the team.
For Wells, this season had presented him with his first chance in the top flight having spent last season in Division 1 with Hemel Storm. The 21-year-old recorded the first double-double for Force after a 14 points and 10 rebounds display against Cheshire and had been generally pleased with how he has handled the step up.
“I’m very pleased with how I’ve played,” he admitted. “It’s so rewarding for all the hard work I’ve put in especially over the summer.
“I’ve shown early on that I can play at this level and that has given me huge amounts of confidence. You learn a lot by going up against great players and I’m grateful for the huge support from all of the coaching staff.”
The hard work hasn’t been wasted and Wells has certainly made a strong impression on the biggest stage only to have his potential impact this season cruelly curtailed by injury. The road to recovery begins for the young talent while Leeds now have to build on their initial breakthrough without him.
Image credit: Chris Midgley