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Youngblood suspended for big Leopards date

PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 April 2014

Leopards coach Robert Youngblood gives a team talk to his squad (pic: Paul Phillips)

Leopards coach Robert Youngblood gives a team talk to his squad (pic: Paul Phillips)

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Coach sits out semi-final clash

Leopards will be without coach Robert Youngblood when they meet Leeds Carnegie in the play-off semi-final on Saturday.

The Big Cats’ play-caller received a one-game ban after being ejected in the victory against Team Northumbria in late March and although he received less than the automatic ten disciplinary points a post-game ejection when his side lost at Leeds in January means he will sit out the game in Manchester.

Assistant coach Roger Malpass will take charge of the team as they attempt to win their fifth piece of silverware in five seasons, with Youngblood free to coach again if they reach Sunday’s final against either Reading Rockets or Bradford Dragons.

“It’s massively frustrating we won’t have Robert when England Basketball have basically admitted that he should never have been thrown out against Northumbria,” said general manager Dave Ryan.

“Robert was moaning to Roger about our lack of defence, and the ref thought he was having a go at him. The ejection at Leeds in January has come back to haunt us, and to go into such an important game without our coach is a real blow.

“On the positive side, we did get the ban reduced from two to one game, so he’s available on Sunday if we get to the final.

“Roger’s a decent coach, the guys should know all the plays by now, and we go into the game with 13 wins from our last 14 games, so we’re certainly in good form.”

Leeds finished sixth in the table, which many people considered to be an underachievement, but produced the only away victory in the quarter-finals by hammering Hemel Storm 85-60.

A controversial last few seconds saw Leopards go down 64-61 when the sides met in Leeds, but they gained revenge in the return at the Brentwood Centre with a 77-70 victory.

It will be the fourth straight season that the Big Cats have reached the Final Fours – winning it in 2012 – and they are the only team to be ever-present during that period.

American forward Howard Crawford has been voted the club’s Most Valuable Player, receiving his award from retiring chairman Fred Dicker after Leopards’ play-off quarter-final win against Bristol Academy Flyers.

The American led the league in points per game (20.8), total blocks (25) and free-throw percentage (78.3) and finished third in rebounds per game (9.2) and fourth in field goal percentage (54.1) as he unsurprisingly led the overall league stats chart.

Courtney Van Beest became the first bench player to finish in the top two of the Leopards’ MVP voting, with Carl Josey third.

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