December 9 2013 Latest news:
Friday, September 27, 2013
Youngblood seeking strong start
Leopards begin their defence of the National Trophy on Sunday when Bradford Dragons visit Southend Tennis & Leisure Centre.
The Big Cats won the competition last season with a 99-91 overtime victory against Tees Valley Mohawks and coach Robert Youngblood knows the importance of a good start.
He said: “We need to take care of business against Dragons, it’s important that we make a good start to the season.”
The National Trophy is the EBL Division One league cup, with 14 teams divided into two groups of seven, playing each other once.
The top four progress to the quarter-finals, with a top-two finish sealing home court advantage.
Dragons started their season with a 70-60 loss at Medway Park Crusaders last Saturday but bounced back the following day to hammer Childwall Basketball 110-35 in the National Cup.
The Yorkshire side missed out on the play-offs last season, fading in the second half of the campaign after topping their Trophy group, and the two games between the sides saw the visitors win on each occasion.
Leopards wrapped up their pre-season games with a narrow 85-75 loss against London Lions.
American forward Howard Crawford led the Big Cats with 23 points and seven rebounds, while Courtney Van Beest finished with 12 points and seven boards and Kris Clark, one of the seven ex-Lions in the Leopards team, chipped in with 11 points and four assists on his debut.
Leopards led briefly in the early stages, but with 1:51 left on the clock they were down by just four against the BBL side.
Five straight misses at the free-throw line were punished by a pair of three-pointers from the visitors as they closed out the win, but it was still an excellent final work-out for the Big Cats ahead of Sunday’s competitive opener.
Leopards were also in action last Thursday as they hammered Canary Wharf London Lituanica - who had beaten them in the cup last year – 76-47.
Sunday’s game at the Garons Park venue tips-off at 4pm with tickets available on the door or at www.leopardsbasketball.co.uk.
Leopards host Manchester Magic at Brentwood on October 5 (7pm) before Barking Abbey visit Southend the next day in the National Cup (5.30pm).
*Robert Youngblood strengthened his Leopards side this week with the addition of England’s most capped international Ronnie Baker.
Point guard Baker played in the win against Canary Wharf LL and the narrow loss against London Lions last week, and has signed for the Big Cats ahead of Sunday’s season opener against Bradford Dragons at Southend Tennis & Leisure Centre (4pm).
The 44-year-old has collected 156 caps in an international career lasting 18 years, culminating with a bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Baker showed that he is still capable of playing at a high level, and will give Youngblood additional options at the guard spots as bringing a wealth of experience.
He played three seasons with the original Leopards in the mid-1990s, winning the BBL title and the National Cup in 1996/97 as well as playing for seven other BBL clubs before returning to the new-look Leopards in January 2009 as player/assistant coach and remained with them until the summer of 2010.
Having previously played alongside Baker for both Leopards and Lions, Youngblood is understandably delighted to have signed him, saying: ”I’m very pleased to have signed Ronnie.
“We played many years ago at Leopards and won trophies together. He’s a veteran who can steady the ship and it’s like having another coach on the floor.
“It’s fantastic for us that he wants to finish his career with us and hopefully he can win some trophies with us.”