- National Teams
Worcester Wolves announced earlier in the week that only Disraeli Lufadeju would be retained from the 2014-15 roster, and Managing Director Mick Donovan expects the decision to pay off.
Last season, Worcester’s title challenge faded before the season ended with a crushing loss to London Lions in the playoffs having also suffered quarter-final cup exits at the hands of newcomers Bristol Flyers and top-3 rivals Leicester Riders.
And Donovan believes that a new look squad is what’s needed to help the club challenge for titles again following their double-winning success in 2013-14.
“Obviously we were disappointed to end the season with a 40-point loss in the playoffs,” he said. “We hoped to do better in the cup competitions as well. Our third place was probably a fair reflection – Newcastle were by far the best team and Leicester beat us in the key games when second was probably up for grabs.
“This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction,” he added. “We’ve had long chats since the season ended and feel that this is the best direction to go in and start fresh.
“Bringing back at least one piece of silverware is the primary target. We are not going under for a year to rebuild, we want to be competing straight away. This decision was made for success.”
Some players took exception to the release in which the news was announced with the likes of Alex Owumi and Robert Thurman taking to Twitter to state that they would not have returned anyway.
Donovan insisted the at the players departed on good terms and that there was ‘no intention to cause any fallout’.
“All the players have a lot of ability and some might not have wanted to stay anyway, and probably have somewhere elsewhere lined up,” he said. “They might feel they have a better option and that’s how we feel.
“We feel that the mix of the team wasn’t right. We don’t want to be settling for third place – we want to challenge for titles.”
Emerging guard Lufadeju is the only player coming back next season and the 24-year-old will be looking to have an even bigger impact having missed the last part of the season due to injury.
Despite what is effectively a completely new-look roster coming in, starting with Spaniard Javier Mugica, Donovan remains confident that they will be able to overcome any period of transition quickly in order to compete.
He also admits to mistakes being made regarding player recruitment in the last campaign with trio Donatas Visockis, Sean Park and Remi Dibo released during the course of the season.
“Having to let three players go showed that there was something wrong with our recruitment last season,” said Donovan. “A lot of time has been spent on recruitment this time, and we are confident we can put a good team on court that will excite the fans and make them want to come to our games.”
The clearout and change in direction coincides with the recent clarification in visa rules which resulted in Durham Wildcats making the decision to pull out of the league for the upcoming season.
With Worcester owned by the University and having previously recruited the likes of Will Creekmore and Robert Thurman to double up studying and playing BUCS, there were suggestions they too would be impacted by this.
However, Donovan played down those links and told Hoopsfix that the Wolves will still be planning to bring in imports with announcements to be made in due course regarding new signings.
“Not at all,” was his response to whether the recent visa clarification would impact their recruitment policy. “It’s a bit of a strange rule stopping Americans playing BUCS. We will still sign two or three American players along with British players who are developing
As aforementioned, Owumi – club captain for the past three years – posted on Twitter that ‘it was impossible to offer contracts to players who didn’t want to come back anyway’ clearly indicating that there was no intent on extending his stay with the Wolves.
Owumi has been hugely influential of the club on and off the court, and is expected to be high in demand for the coming season. He led Worcester to an historic treble in the 2013-14 season, and Donovan paid tribute to the departing star and believes someone can be found who is willing to step up and fill the void.
“Alex is pretty unique,” he said. “I have great deal of respect for him, not just as a player, but as a person. Everyone at the University and the club had a lot of time for him and he was a huge favourite amongst the fans too.
“I’m a great believer, though, that when someone moves on, another opportunity is presented for someone else to come in and seize their chance.”
Fans around the BBL are crying out for a team to represent the league in Europe. The top teams are working towards it, but as much as being competitive on the court matters, the finances and structure off the court are twice as important.
Following their treble-winning season, Worcester were awarded a ‘B’ licence to allow them the chance to compete in Europe. They weren’t ready then and Donovan remains hopeful that the club can continue working towards their targets of playing in Europe.
“We had the opportunity before, but financially we were not ready,” he confirmed. “We have aspirations to do it and in the longer term would like to be playing in Europe.
“Right now we are not in a position to be able to do this so it’s not going to happen in the short-term but it is definitely a target for the club.”
The club has come a long way off the court, which has transpired into success on the court with Worcester now regular contenders at the top end of the BBL having first joined the top-flight in 2006.
“We’ve been going about 15 years and have really developed the partnership with the University, following the great work by the previous owner, Roger Clarke,” Donovan said of the progression. “We have senior figures from the University on the board and there is lots of expertise in a number of areas with a strong backroom team at all levels.
“The association with the university is good, but sometimes people forget that we are a professional basketball club and overplay the link with the university. We have a really good model and have spent a lot of time making sure it works over the years visiting different countries to get it right.”
Donovan confirmed that they are close to finalising an agreement with Spanish EuroLeague side Valencia with the deal likely to be signed in October with both parties having made multiple trips to each other during the process.
A new team, but the expectations do not change. Worcester are aiming to match or improve last year’s top 3 finish and silverware is a must. It’s a risk starting afresh, but they can ill-afford a slow start of adjustment come September.