Basketball: Force are resolved to raising their game

Branimir Mikulic of Leeds Force, right.

Branimir Mikulic of Leeds Force, right.

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As rookies in the British Basketball League, Leeds Force have an abundance of youthful exuberance, hunger and raw energy.

What they don’t have much of is experience, off the court and on it.

Experience is something that is gained for a fledgling organisation, unless you can attract it to the club, which they managed to do more than 12 months ago when they lured a former BBL play-off winner in Darrell Bethune up north.

Londoner Bethune had played on the now defunct Everton Tigers team that won the 2010 play-offs despite coming from fifth in the final Championship standings.

Although injury forced him to put his career on hold, he is the only member of the current Force team to have played in the BBL before Leeds took their first tentative steps this season.

And after joining last year for their final year in the national pyramid, he believes the differences between a fledgling operation and an established one are minimal.

“I’ve been very impressed with the set-up from the minute I got here,” said 26-year-old guard, who scored eight points in Leeds’ 70-62 victory over Durham Wildcats last week.

“I hold my hands up to (basketball director) Matt Newby, (commercial manager) Mark Mills and (assistant coach) Samit Nuruzade; they put in a hell of a lot of hours.

“And the only difference on the court is the experience.

“The Everton team I played on was very much like the London Lions team we play tonight.

“They have got a lot of experienced players on their team, just as we did at Everton.

“Everton had players who’d played in Europe, at college in the States and at international level.

“We’re a young team here at Leeds, but we’ve got good players and if we gel quickly we can do really well for a first season.

“I’m not saying we’re going to storm into the play-offs and win them, but you look at myself at 26, Armand Anebo at 27 and Branimir Mikulic at 25, and we’re all young veterans.”

Bethune would have had more experience if not for his over-eagerness on returning home from his first season with Everton. He said: “I was buzzing after my first year as a pro and thought I could carry on playing and working out during the summer. But I didn’t realise how badly I needed a rest and ended up tearing my ACL in an accident at the gym. It set me back a long time. But I got the hunger back and the urge to pick up a ball again and I was lucky that Matt Newby saw me playing against Leeds for Westminster and he gave me a chance.”

And how he has taken that chance, helping Leeds win last season’s national league play-offs and acclimatise to the BBL.

He called last week’s win over Durham the team’s most complete performance yet, and has challenged his team-mates to now match that kind of intensity tonight at the Carnegie Sports Arena at Leeds Beckett University (7.30pm) for the visit of the Lions.

Leeds Force are still deciding on whether to sign triallists Robert Gagliardi – a former Canada youth international – and Giordana Estrada, who played at Chico State in California last year, after a week on trial.

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