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Leopards confirm return to BBL action

PUBLISHED: 11:10 26 June 2012

Robert Youngblood is returning to Leopards

Robert Youngblood is returning to Leopards

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Youngblood takes over as player-coach

Essex Leopards have today announced they will join the British Basketball League (BBL) for the 2013/14 season.

The Big Cats won the EBL Division One league, play-off and National Cup title last season, and Managing Director Gareth Roberts is delighted the club will step up to the top flight.

He said: “We are really pleased to be able to bring professional basketball back to Essex.

“When we reformed the club in 2004 this was always our aim and we are very pleased to now be in a position to play again at the top level of British Basketball”

The original Leopards club competed in the BBL between 1994 and 2003, winning a league and cup double in 1997 and retaining the league title the following season.

The club withdrew in 2003 and fans of the side bought the Ware Rebels franchise in 2004 and are now entering their ninth season in Division One. They won the National Cup in 2005/6, and have only once missed out on the play-offs in their eight years in the competition.

The Big Cats will continue to compete in Division One during the forthcoming 2012/13 season while their develop their fan-base, and club chairman Fred Dicker was keen to stress they are still looking to be successful in their final EBL season.

He said: “We’re really excited about the prospect of BBL basketball in Essex, and we hope to enter the competition having successfully defended our three titles.”

Leopards have one of the biggest community programmes outside of the BBL, having provided coaching and lifestyle information to over 4,000 children last season through the Hoops 4 Health scheme and other projects.

BBL Chairman Paul Blake said: “We are delighted to welcome the Essex Leopards to the BBL. Their community ethos matches perfectly with our own model and we are delighted to re-establish a presence in an area which is renowned for basketball.

“We have also been impressed with the way the Leopards have developed their club over the last number of years, which they have demonstrated has very strong foundations.

“With Essex Leopards and Birmingham already confirmed for the 2013-14 season, we are extremely excited by the growth and development of the League.”

Former captain Robert Youngblood will be the Leopards’ new player-coach for the new EBL Division One season.

The 42-year-old steps into the hot-seat at the Big Cats as they look to repeat last season’s success which saw them win the EBL Dıvısıon One league, play-off and Natıonal Cup titles.

Youngblood was the original Leopards’ first captain when they joined the BBL in 1994, leading them to a BBL League and National Cup double in 1997 before they repeated their league success in 1998.

He left the club in November 1999, and went on to play in Germany before returning to England to play for London Towers, MK Lions (two spells) and Leicester Riders.

He started last season with the Riders, playing against Leopards in the BBL Trophy, before seeing out the season with the Lions.

Club chairman Dicker said: “It’s great to have Robert back with us the club’s first ever player-coach.

“He was our first choice for the job, and he will bring a wealth of experience to our team.

“It will be fantastic to see Robert back on the court for the team where he started his professional career, and we are sure he will make a success of his first coaching job.”

Youngblood added: “I was a Leopard as captain for five years, winning three championships, and I’m very happy to be going back to my old stamping ground for my first coaching job.

“I always intended to go into coaching when I finished playing and I’m sure that I won’t be a disappointment.

“You will see a team that will play hard and passionately. We’ll be together as a team and play tough defence. When you come up against the Leopards you’ll know you have a tough game on your hands.”

Youngblood, who also works as head coach at the Harris Basketball Academy in Beckenham, has now started the job of recruiting a team to defend their three titles, and announcements of signings are expected in the next few weeks.

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