Yorkshire is to have a second franchise in the British Basketball League after Leeds Carnegie were granted ascension into the top flight from next season.
The Leeds team, which started life in 2006 and has progressed up the national pyramid to the level below the BBL, join Sheffield Sharks in the professional division from next summer.
Leeds Carnegie is traditionally a university team, and while the programme will retain those roots, they will also operate as a BBL franchise independent of Leeds Metropolitan University.
They hope to stay true to their ethos of developing home grown players, despite the competitive nature of professional sports meaning they may have to recruit imports from the United States and Europe. There are clubs in the BBL like Durham Wildcats and table-toppers Worcester Wolves, who follow the same principles. Sheffield Sharks are also becoming increasingly dependent on the city’s universities, and Matt Newby, Carnegie’s director of coaching since the programme’s inception, believes it is a model that can be successful.
“My initial thoughts are to stick with our philosophy and stay student focused,” said Newby, whose current team comprises Leeds Met students from the city, across England and Europe.
“Will we need imports? I certainly think we need players with experience, whether they are domestic, from the US or from Europe. If you’re looking at being in the top four, you’re going to have to have players of calibre, however that comes.”
The long-term plan for Leeds is to be a top-four BBL team within five years and to be a regular producer of home-grown players representing England and Great Britain.
One young man who epitomises Carnegie’s basketball programme is local lad Daniel Evans, 16, who first played basketball aged eight when Newby visited his school in Alwoodley with the university’s academy. Now Evans is in the senior team and eager to make the step up to the BBL.
“The prospect of playing BBL next year is unreal,” said Evans. “And it would be great to get the Leeds public behind us.”
Leeds Carnegie get their first taste of the top-level challenge in January when they host Glasgow Rocks in the BBL Trophy.
On that occasion they hope to have close to 700 fans cheering them on at their new on-site sports arena – part-funded by England Basketball – which would be twice their current average but a figure they need to meet regularly to be sustainable.
External sponsorship is something they may have to look to in the future, with Leeds Met providing merely the name, the programme and the facilities.
“There’s a huge sporting market in Leeds, and over time people will realise we offer something different,” added Newby.
Leeds have been working on the bid to join the BBL for two years. Their rise up the ranks – they won three promotions in three years – allied with a strong university team and a community programme which runs 150 boys and girls across nine teams each week all helped persuade the BBL they were worthy of a place.
Newby said: “The last eight years have been fantastic and we’ve strived to develop a community-based programme for the city of Leeds and I hope we can bring basketball to a new generation of fans and players.
“The BBL is the pinnacle and we had to make sure we underpinned performance at senior level with a strong commnunity development programme.”