As Leicester Riders get closer to their first-ever BBL Championship, it’s only natural to review the key elements responsible.
Obvious factors will present themselves; a deep roster, players delivering in big games, the consistency of MVP-elect Drew Sullivan – and of course the backing of vociferous support; a constant force at the John Sandford Sports Centre.
However, one man that has had a key contribution to Leicester Riders’ success this season has been a new arrival to the club. Not Jay Couisnard, Zaire Taylor or Jorge Calvo – in fact, the man in question hasn’t played a single minute.
For the first ever season, the Riders have been able to call on a full-time assistant coach to Rob Paternostro – Mark Jarram.
His work behind-the-scenes has not only been essential, it’s been meticulous in its composition. Over the course of a week, Jarram will watch up to three BBL games, taking apart every play whilst looking at oppositions’ strengths and weaknesses. When he’s not watching BBL basketball, he’s watching NBA (he’s a Celtics fan, if you’re wondering) or college games. It’s been a role that he has relished, albeit very different from his work previously.
A BUCS-winning coach at the University of Worcester, Loughborough native Jarram later moved across to the United States of America, working with young players at New York’s Bard College.
“It’s definitely been a different experience to what I have been used to,” admits Mark.
“Coaching in New York at a Division 3 school that I was at, Bard College, to then come into the professional ranks has brought with it a change of pace and a change of focus. Coaching at Bard, it was all about development, and the top level here is all about winning.
“On the flip-side of that, with the programme that we’re now setting up at Leicester Riders, we have the Jamell Andersons and Connor Washingtons and the development pathway that we’re really trying to work with. To have those in amongst the best players, the likes of Drew Sullivan, Jay Couisnard and Zaire Taylor; it’s been phenomenal.”
And Jarram confesses that he is learning as much from the team’s talented players, as they are from him – and it’s the experience of coaching in a country where basketball is a national sport that has proven to be the difference.
“Being in an environment where basketball was the number one sport was one of the biggest things,” says Mark.
“It’s a completely different culture over there, it was unbelievable. It showed me how far behind we are – but at the same time what is actually possible over here and how much potential we have in the United Kingdom. There’s a good chance that we’ll never get to the same level as it was over there, but to close the gap a little bit and make basketball a legitimate sport over here is a fantastic ambition.
“I pulled a lot away from the experiences in New York in terms of my coaching, but being around it all and seeing just how it should be done – I pulled away even more. I went to the University of Worcester and won the BUCS Championship there – and after that, it was straight over to the States. In terms of coaching experiences in the UK, it was very limited, but then being able to get some experience over there and then come into this job, it’s been unbelievable.”
In short, Jarram’s first season in BBL has been historic. Already BBL Cup winners and finalists in the BBL Trophy, Leicester Riders could be crowned BBL Champions should Newcastle Eagles suffer defeat to Worcester Wolves this evening. If not, victory at the John Sandford Sports Centre on Saturday against Durham Wildcats (7:30pm) will be enough to crown Leicester champions.
Reflecting on the BBL Cup victory in January, Mark admits it was a highlight of his career thus far.
“What was really special was the feeling in the final two seconds or so where we knew we’d won it, as opposed to the final buzzer sounding,” he recollects.
“That feeling there was probably the best feeling I have ever had being involved in the game of basketball. Winning the BUCS Championship wasgreat, but this is a whole new level and the feeling when you sigh and realise that you’ve won brings with it the realisation of why you do what you do. It was a moment where you could say that we have achieved everything that we have worked toward.
“The funny side of it was that we realised that we actually had a whole lot more to do! We were only scratching the surface and there are more pieces of silverware out there. Our question was ‘how do we get better?’ In my mind, I’m still thinking that we could have done this or that and as soon as the buzzer went off and I realised that, I wanted to tell Rob about the things we can do next time we play Newcastle.
“But, in that moment, I enjoyed in thoroughly. I was so happy for the guys. One of the things that’s so special about this group of guys is that we knew our goals, we worked towards them and that was the first goal that we could cross off the list.”
This week could see the Riders cross another off the list – but regardless of what happens throughout the rest of the season, it’s been an incredible story that Mark Jarram has been a part of.