Last week we got invited down to Leicester City Football Club for the Watford match, and had the honour of parading our BBL Playoff trophy around the pitch at half-time. Our team got a wonderful reception from the crowd who gave us a standing ovation. We have done this a number of times in recent years, but on every occasion I am a little overwhelmed by the reception we received. There is a real feeling of strong support amongst the city’s professional teams, and we were very proud and very thankful to be greeted that way by the fans at the King Power. We could feel the love and support from around the ground, and it really was a special feeling.
And then it was on to the business of the opening night of the BBL Championship season 48 hours later. Once again the support we received from a packed Morningside was exceptional, although the game had a far-from-an-opening-night feel. The Plymouth Raiders were in town, buoyed by a couple of new signings, after a so-so BBL Cup campaign, and with the knowledge they have one of the most efficient offences in the BBL. I really liked our approach to the game, and the way we started, which was purposeful, and a massive step up on the performance in the first half a week ago, against London.
Our ball movement was crisp, our transition play exceptional and our shooting solid. Maybe we were not quite as sharp defensively, but the new signings at Plymouth gave them a lot of options, and we know our former player Rashad Hassan is very difficult to stop, if he gets the ball close to the basket. I thought we were in a good place at halftime, in spite of a run by the Raiders in the second quarter, and all it needed was a few tweaks defensively. We weathered another run by them late in the third quarter but we controlled most of the final period.
What a performance we got from Kyron Cartwright. He has been operating at a high level this season, and , as a former point guard myself, I particularly appreciate the way he involves other guys. But against Plymouth he was on another level, with some sensational passing, and the final tally of 19 assists could have been higher, bar we missed some relatively easy shots inside.
Namon Wright has been battling injuries and illness but gave another excellent performance particularly in the first half. He has multiple ways to score and keeps defensives off balance. And once again we got a tremendous all around performance from Jamell Anderson who was everywhere on the court, and very efficient offensively.
He continues to improve and that was one of his best performances in a Riders shirt. It was also really good to see Josh Ward Hibbert back on court. He is not at 100% after the long lay-off, but again he really helps to make us a better team, and adds yet another dimension to our offence.
Now we get back to Cup action against a much improved Worcester Wolves in the semi-final, first leg on Friday. They looked very good in handling Newcastle Eagles in the quarter-final and have added 6 foot 11 inch centre Amir Williams as a final piece in their team. Worcester have always invested well in their team and now new coach Matt Newby is getting very consistent performances out of his team, and they fully deserve their spot in the semis. It will be a very different approach for us in this game, with the return leg not for another three weeks on January 3rd at the Morningside.
The key to these two-legged ties is to play smart, and for eighty minutes. It is important not to get carried away, no matter what the score in the first leg. The Wolves get very good crowd support and they will be very vocal with this much improved team after a few lean seasons. We are going to approach this game with a determination to play every minute with intelligence, and hopefully we will be in a solid position for the second leg.