- National Teams
The new BBL season is almost upon us with 11 teams out to dethrone Newcastle Eagles, who aim to defend all four titles in 2015-16. Durham Wildcats have withdrawn from the league, but the BBL looks set for another exciting year, which will again culminate at the O2 Arena following the historic playoff final in May.
Here’s our quick team-by-team guide:
Underestimated heading into their debut BBL campaign last season, but quickly impressed and Andreas Kapoulas led his side to the playoffs; earning the Coach of the Year award as a result of the achievement. The Flyers will be aiming to consolidate themselves as a playoff team, and brought back their core of recent years in captain Greg Streete and Doug McLaughlin-Williams. The addition of Cardell McFarland could be an exciting one, and he made an immediate impression with 27 points in a pre-season debut, but on the whole there appears to be a lack of strength in depth although there is still an import gap to be filled. With GB U20 trio Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, Deane Williams and Tamas Okros heading overseas to start their college careers, there may be one or two opportunities for some of Bristol’s academy products such as Chris Bourne. It will be another challenge to make the top 8 and while they proved not to write them off last season, they may well come up short this time around.
After all the buzz and hype of their recruitment last season, it’s been more of a quiet summer for Nix fans. The removal of John Coffino as Head Coach proved an unpopular announcement as John Lavery returning to take the reigns once more. The experience of captain David Aliu could prove vital in a new-look squad that includes former GB Under-20 Jeff Dirkin and ex-England under-18 international Sedale Hanson-Young with Martyn Gayle the only other returnee. Akeem Ellis had a standout year in Canada while rookie Jordan Williams has already impressed in pre-season. As in recent seasons, there may be a lot of responsibility placed on the starting five, and player turnover will be something to keep an eye on. Cheshire will do well to match their top-four finish last season, but are genuine play-off contenders.
The Rocks will have been delighted to tie Kieron Achara down for the next two years, but the GB veteran, who highlighted the need for consistency, is just one of two returnees alongside Jonny Bunyan with Sterling Davis focusing purely on the coaching side after announcing his playing retirement. Will Hall joins from Leeds Force having been a key contributor to their impressive first season despite battling through injuries – if he can stay fit, he could prove to be a major coup. Riley Grabau is one of three rookies arriving from college, and he comes with an enhanced shooting reputation after a successful career at the University of Wyoming. While the onus will be on Achara to lead from the front with his experience, the fresh impetus could benefit the Rocks. However, with fierce competition for playoff places, they may be one to miss out.
After a solid first campaign in the BBL saw Leeds rack up nine wins, they will be out to push harder for a place in the playoffs. Kwan Waller is the only non-Brit addition with Matt Newby assembling a talented British core having made astute pickups from BBL rivals. Rob Marsden returns after a season in France in between two spells at Manchester Giants, while ex-Plymouth sharpshooter Louis Sayers will be keen for more minutes to impress. Zak Wells made an immediate impact to his BBL career last year before an injury ruled him out for the season. He recovered well and became a GB Senior international in the summer and could form a strong front-court partnership with Marsden. Captain Armand Anebo is back and will look to continue to epitomise the determined and gritty demeanour of the Force. While the squad appears to be stronger, Leeds face a tough task in order to break into the top eight.
The Riders couldn’t quite sustain their title challenge last season as they failed to keep up with the all-conquering Newcastle Eagles. The return of GB captain Drew Sullivan increases their Championship credentials while penning exciting American duo Neil Watson and TrayVonn Wright to new deals was a smart move. Billy Reader comes highly-rated from Morehead State to replace the departed Rashad Hassan while the likes of Jamell Anderson and Conner Washington will be keen to continue their fast-paced development of recent years. If Anthony Rowe can continue to get back to his best, then the Riders will have a bench to be feared with a stacked roster looking to be an advantage. Strong title contenders, and Rob Paternostro’s side could be the team to dethrone the Eagles.
When it was confirmed that the Lions would be losing two former MVPs in Drew Sullivan and Zaire Taylor, the writing appeared to be on the wall. However, BBL legend Nigel Lloyd has come in and put together a competitive looking roster with Demond Watt the notable addition from Cheshire Phoenix. The American forward enjoyed a dominant debut season in the BBL – picking up the Player of the Month award no less than four occasions. Exciting young guard Nick Lewis joins from Sheffield alongside Zach Gachette while Jamal Williams makes the switch to the capital to join up with his brother, Kai, who returns to the league after a season in Sweden. While they under-performed last season, the Lions might be a team to watch under the radar and they should definitely be looking to finish inside the top six again.
Three seasons into their return to the BBL, and the Giants have prevailed victorious in a battle to reach the playoffs just once, in 2013-14. Jeff Jones has stepped down with former player Yorick Williams stepping up to the plate in his first role on the sidelines. While they made early moves to bring back free-scoring back-court duo Stefan Gill and Ingus Bankevics alongside the ever-reliable Callum Jones, Manchester’s squad looks hugely inexperienced at the top level with the exception of veteran forward Olu Babalola, who joins from Sheffield. Reiss Haggith and Jerelle Okoro will want to prove otherwise and seize their opportunity after making the move from Loughborough. With teams around them strengthening, this summer appears to be a step backwards and the Giants could well find themselves falling to the foot of the table.
The same can almost certainly be said about Newcastle every season before they even take to the floor. Quite simply, they are the team to beat and they will be the team everyone wants to beat following their dominant sweep to all four titles last season. Virtually, the entire roster has returned and why would you want to change a winning formula? Rahmon Fletcher was the orchestrator and claimed Finals MVP awards in the BBL Cup & Playoffs successes. Charles Smith blitzed his way to league MVP and was in doubt about carrying on, despite turning 41 a month into the season. American Andre Jones has departed, but a familiar face returns to Tyneside as Joe Chapman comes back in following a two-year stint in Japan. All the signs point to another successful season for the Eagles, but a second straight ‘clean-sweep’ is no easy feat.
It’s been two years without making the playoffs for the Raiders now, and this season could be breaking point for Jay Marriott. A change of policy has taken him ‘down under’ with several Australians brought in this summer, led by the returning Josh Wilcher, who is also the only player to re-sign after a heavy-loaded role last season. Daryl Corletto brings a wealth of experience and will look to be the leader of the Aussie cohesion with Kiwi BJ Anthony and American rookie Dante Williams providing the size in the front-court and additional international flavour. Somewhat of an unknown quantity, but chemistry problems of yesteryear may have been resolved and could prove to be important. Desperate to make the top eight, this could finally be the year that Marriott delivers.
In contrast to recent years, the Sharks have lost the core of their side with BJ Holmes, Olu Bablola and young duo Nick Lewis and Zach Gachette all moving on. With that said, Mike Tuck has signed a new three-year deal and German Patrick Hortsmann returns for his third season, while Mike Cook and John Barber have also been brought back after short-term spells last campaign. Atiba Lyons turns to rookie centre Reggis Onwukamuche to bring size in the front-court with Jerrold Brooks and Kyle Odister the new faces in the back-court. The Sharks are always tricky to predict but will be expected to make the post-season. If they don’t start well, they could find themselves playing catch-up like they did last season.
A new dawn for basketball in Surrey and the return of Creon Raftopoulos certainly won back a number of fans lost in mire of Surrey United’s two-year struggle. The early signing of Tayo Ogedengbe as captain set the tone for an exciting roster that features a talented British contingent of Will Neighbour, Henry Wilkins and Elvisi Dusha- the standout positive from the failed United experiment. Andreas Schreiber brings previous BBL experience from stints with Plymouth and Worcester, while the Scorchers have three rookie imports all eager to impress including Desmond Lee who comes from the highly regarded NC State. Expect Surrey to eclipse the nine combined league wins in the last two seasons and take one of the playoff spots outside of the top four.
A change in direction signalled a summer clear-out with Disraeli Lufadeju the sole returnee from last season’s squad that under-performed in knockout competition. Paul James has recruited former Riders duo Pavol Losonsky and Jay Couisnard, who teamed up as part of the treble-winning squad in 2012-13, while Ben Eaves has proved to be a solid performer in the BBL following spells at Manchester and Plymouth. Former NBA D-League guard Malik Smith joins fellow new faces in Javier Mugica, Perris Blackwell and Ashton Khan as the Wolves aim to bounce back stronger. If they can start well and overcome the adjustment period needed to gel then the Wolves could be strong challengers on all fronts.
Check out the full squads of each team by clicking here.
Eye on Five:
Zak Wells: After the agonising blow of missing the majority of the season through injury, Wells bounced back to earn his first GB Senior caps and will be looking to build on that with a full season under his belt with Leeds.
Demond Watt: After a dominant season with Cheshire ended in disappointment, it will be interested to see if the American can inspire success in the Capital or whether teams will be more prepared this season.
Billy Reader: While the return of Drew Sullivan is invaluable, it could be the Morehead State centre that will be the difference maker for the Riders this season.
Joe Chapman: The American guard is back on Tyneside and remains to be seen whether or not he returns a better player. On his day, capable of shooting the lights out and Eagles fans will be hoping that vintage Joe is back.
Will Hall: Impressed immensely in his debut season in the BBL, and was one of the top British players. A move to Glasgow will be seen as a step up, and Hall will look to make his mark at the top.
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