The newest rivalry in Yorkshire sport commences tonight when BBL rookies Leeds Force host long-established franchise, the Sheffield Sharks.
Leeds were inducted into the professional British Basketball League this season, having spent eight years growing a team – and the sport in the community – through the basketball programme at Leeds Beckett University. They have found life in the professional environment to be tough and sit bottom of the 13-team standings with just two wins from 12 games.
But they have proven to be competitive week-in, week-out.
Matt Newby, Force’s director of professional basketball who has been with the programme from the outset, said: “We have shown we can match the stronger teams and be competitive in this league.
“Unfortunately, the things we are lacking at the moment can only be improved upon through experience.
“What we don’t have is the years on court, but as long as we take lessons and identify the positives each week, then we’ll continue to improve.”
While Leeds lack experience, Sheffield have it in abundance.
Since forming in 1991, they have won the BBL league title four times, the play-offs once, the Cup six times and the Trophy on three occasions. This season, though, they have won only three of nine league games and sit just two places above Leeds.
Atiba Lyons, the Sharks’ head coach, is confident his experienced team can transform their fortunes, and welcomes the added competition from up the M1.
“Hopefully, the rivalry can bring fans to the game and we can get more local coverage and get people talking about both teams and the sport itself,” he said.
“You’ve got two professional teams close to each other that have separate fan bases and can attract different sponsors. That’s encouraging for the commercial health of the sport. It just shows the level of popularity is growing.”
Newby added: “Sheffield have been the leading team in basketball from Yorkshire for a long time. To prove ourselves against a team of such heritage and legacy will stand us in good stead.”
Tip-off is 7.30 at Leeds Beckett.