Aaryn Rai talks BBL Playoff final, being underdogs and winning culture - Hoopsfix.com

Aaryn Rai talks BBL Playoff final, being underdogs and winning culture

Aaryn Rai Cheshire Phoenix

Cheshire Phoenix and All-League forward Aaryn Rai believes bragging rights for who has had the better overall season is up for grabs in this Sunday’s BBL Playoff final against the London Lions.

The game is a repeat of the BBL trophy final in which Cheshire shocked London to come out 98-82 victors, behind Rai’s double-double of 16 points and 11 boards.

London cruised to the BBL Championship honours with a 33-3 regular season record and also managed to go further in Europe than any men’s British side before, reaching the EuroCup semifinals.

But even with London’s European success, Rai believes what matters is this Sunday at the O2.

“I think this game will show who’s been the better team this season,” Rai says. “One all in the trophy battle so far, so whoever wins this will come out on top and arguably will have had the most successful season overall.”

Despite defeating London in the BBL Trophy final, Rai’s opponents are favoured in the contest and have the most pressure on them to win in British basketball generally, behind the purse strings of 777 Partners.

This has afforded them former NBA talent including Sam Dekker and David Nwaba, as well as seasoned veterans with experience across European leagues, and saw them defeat Cheshire all four times of asking in the regular season.

“They’re a really good team but in a one off game we don’t think we’re underdogs at all, as we showed in the BBL Trophy,” Rai argues.

“It will take everyone to be firing on all cylinders but having that underdog label lets us play with a freedom, leave it all out there and just come out swinging.”

Cheshire’s year, with a 23-13 regular season record, has been impressive in itself earning them many accolades.

Ben Thomas picked up Coach of the Year; Cam Christon Sixth Player of the Year; Maceo Jack Most Improved Player of the Year and Laquincy Rideau All-Defensive Team of the Year.

“Mace is our captain, we can rely on his consistency and he always leads by example. Q [Laquincy Rideau] is our biggest dawg, he brings that edge and never backs down from anybody – that’s where we get our mentality from. Cam brings that spark from the bench and all these guys star in whatever role they have and each of these roles comes together to make a great team.”

Since leaving Ivy League school Dartmouth, Rai has had a habit of finding himself in winning situations.

With a BBL Trophy and a shot at the playoff final this season, last season, his first as a professional, he went unbeaten with Hemel Storm in England’s NBL Division 1, earning league MVP honours.

“I’ve sort of fallen into winning cultures. I’ve been able to be part of it as I’ve been on teams that have been trying to do that, as a smaller part of a bigger picture,” Rai reflects, potentially downplaying his impact.

“Luckily I’ve enjoyed some success so far. I’ve really enjoyed playing for Ben [Thomas], they’ve put me in a position to play my best and show my strengths.”

The O2 arena will be the biggest stage Rai and some of his teammates have performed on and it will be under these bright lights they will look to win Cheshire’s first BBL Playoff Final since 2001/2.

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