- National Teams
Will Ashby is hoping to finish the season on another high by helping Essex Leopards claim victory at this weekend’s Final Fours to add to their NBL Division 1 Championship.
The Leopards sealed the title ahead of the final weekend and finished the league campaign with an 18-6 record, before beating Bradford Dragons in the playoff quarter-finals.
And Ashby is now targeting the domestic double with the Leopards two victories away from achieving the feat.
“It would be a fantastic achievement to do the league and playoffs double, because it’s not every year you get the opportunity,” said Brentwood-born Ashby. “It would definitely be the highlight of my career.
“It’s my local club, and I grew up watching them so to be able to achieve a league title with the club is very special on a personal note.
The Leopards were made to work hard for their league title in a very competitive division with as many as six teams challenging for the Championship throughout.
Five of their opening six league victories were won by less than five points, and Essex would construct another run of six straight wins through February and March to help seal top spot.
“Our fight and determination definitely helped us along the way,” said Ashby. “We never give up, and our defence has been key, conceding the least amount of points in the league.”
Ashby played an important role in the Leopards’ title-winning campaign and finished with averages of 13.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game with a shooting percentage of 39 from beyond the arc.
His performances were appreciated by those within the club, and in particular the fans as Ashby was named as the Leopards MVP after they were presented with their league winners medals last weekend.
“It’s a fantastic honour,” he said. “To be voted for by the fans and the owners means a lot, and it just goes to show that all the hard work has paid off.
“I’ve been really pleased with the way I’ve played,” he added. “It’s been my strongest year to date, and I’ve been able to repay the faith the coach has in me, which has been good.”
The 23-year-old spent four years at NASSA prior to his move to Brentwood, helping the team make their way through the National League ranks from Division 4 up to Division 1.
Ashby was also a former academy player at defunct BBL side Essex Pirates and has spent the last four years at the University of East London (UEL), where he is currently taking his Masters in Sports Management.
This weekend marks his first opportunity of playing in the D1 Senior Final Fours, and Ashby is looking forward to the challenge of chasing more silverware. Essex take on Kent Crusaders in the first semi-final with Manchester Magic and Derby Trailblazers playing later in the day, on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a really good experience, especially as it is the first for me personally,” said Ashby. “We know that every team has a chance to win (the playoffs) because the level of competition is really strong.
“Kent are a really smart team with smart coaching, and although they are quite young, we won’t be taking them lightly,” he added. “They’ve already seen us plenty of times this season, so they’ll know what we are about, but we just have to play smarter.”
Check out his highlights from this season below:
Image credit: Paul Phillips