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Leopards celebrate surprise promotion

PUBLISHED: 14:35 26 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:06 26 July 2018

The latest news from the local basketball scene (pic: Andrew Matthews/PA)

The latest news from the local basketball scene (pic: Andrew Matthews/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Big Cats back in NBL Division One following Team Northumbria’s withdrawal

Essex Leopards have received the surprise news that they are back in the National Basketball League Division One following one of the latest promotions in British basketball history.

The Big Cats applied for the vacant place in the top flight following the withdrawal of Team Northumbria, and were told the good news on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s a bit surreal, really,” admitted general manager Dave Ryan.

“We normally celebrate winning things by jumping around on the court and spraying champagne, but I had a glass of blackcurrant juice in my kitchen instead!

“It’s fantastic news for the club and now we’re back where we believe we belong, we’re determined to make the most of the chance.

“There’s a lot of work to done over the next few weeks as we’ve got to work around Team Northumbria’s fixture list, but it’s a nice problem to have!

“With fantastic venues at the University of Essex and the Brentwood Centre, together with the support of both the university and BLT, we think we’re in a great position to take advantage of the decision and move the club on to a new level.

“We’d like to thank Basketball England for giving us the chance to prove we belong in Division One.”

Leopards’ head coach Thomas Baker was delighted with the news his side were back in the top flight.

“It is a great feeling to be back in Division One, it was always the aim,” said Baker.

“To be back playing in such a competitive league with great coaches and teams, it’s going to be an exciting season.

“I am confident we can be competitive and demonstrate why we deserve to be there.

“This is just the beginning for the club and it is great to be playing at this level again, looking forward to getting the floor with the guys and starting the season strong.”

The original Leopards closed in the summer of 2003 following nine years in the British Basketball League,

The current club was founded the following year as fans of the Big Cats bought Ware Rebels, who were also on the verge of closure, and created Essex & Herts Leopards.

Their first 13 years were spent in Division One, winning the league title and National Cup twice each as well as picking up both the play-off and National Trophy silverware, before a disastrous injury crisis in the closing stages of the 2016/17 season saw them relegated on a buzzer-beating shot at Lancashire Spinners.

The link-up with University of Essex will see the Big Cats play the majority of their games at the new £12million facility in Colchester, as well as retaining a presence at the Brentwood Centre, including a two-day Essex Classic tournament which sees two teams from USA along with London Lions competing alongside Leopards.

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