Battle-hardened Force are building on and off the court

Matt Newby, Head Coach of Leeds Force.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Matt Newby, Head Coach of Leeds Force. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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The second year of elite level basketball tips off in Leeds tonight with the city’s top club targeting continued progression on and off the court.

Leeds Force host Cheshire Phoenix at the Sports Arena at Leeds Beckett University (7.30pm) hoping to build on last year’s tentative foray into the British Basketball League.

The club, established out of the university’s basketball programme and fast-tracked into the top tier, finished 11th of 13 teams in 2014-15, winning nine of their 36 games.

They regularly played to crowds of around 350 – adequate when considering the minority status of basketball – but hope development on the playing side will see benefits in the stands.

“We’d like to get the crowds above 500, that’s a realistic target,” said Matt Newby, director of basketball at a club that has a thriving academy programme.

“We’ve worked on improving our fan zone to enhance the experience, but it’s also about us being in competitive games.

“We are battle-hardened and we have learned the lessons of last season.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we are using the excuse of it being new and us being rookies, as we were perhaps entitled to do last year. But we learned a lot from our first year. Ultimately, we’d like to think the play-offs is attainable (top eight); seventh or eighth would represent a very good season.

“If we can go from there up the ladder, that would be even better.”

The off-season brought a significant turnover of players. Out went American point guard James McCann, British prospect Will Hall, who has joined BBL rivals Glasgow Rocks, and Branimir Mikulic, who has moved to a club in Germany. In come Doncaster-born Rob Marsden after playing in France and Louis Sayers, from Plymouth. Captain Armand Anebo is back for another season, along with Zak Wells, who made his GB debut this summer.

Sheffield Sharks begin their BBL campaign tonight at the English Institute of Sport against champions Newcastle Eagles.

Atiba Lyons will be hoping that his new-look Sharks – including summer sgnings Jerrold Brooks, Kyle Odister and Reggis Onwukamuche – can get off the mark against the side that ended Sheffield’s hopes of a fifth BBL title last season at the semi-final stages.

Sharks’ captain Mike Hook said: “Preparation for the season has been going great. You can really see that all our guys have been putting in work in the off-season to stay conditioned and work on their game.”