Force face sternest test to date at Eagles

Patrick Nyeko
Patrick Nyeko
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Even in a rare victory, Leeds Force managed to create another uphill task.

Their reward for a first-ever victory at British Basketball League level in the BBL Cup earlier this month was a quarter-final tie away to the best team in the sport.

Leeds head to Newcastle Eagles tonight in a classic David versus Goliath tie.

Newcastle are the current powerhouse of British basketball. They won the BBL play-offs last year, have twice in the last decade won the clean sweep of trophies and at present, sit top of the BBL table with six wins from seven.

Contrast that with Leeds, who were only formed in 2006 – in the summer after the Eagles’ first season of complete dominance – and you begin to get the picture.

Throw in their current predicament – bottom of the BBL without a win in six games – and the task becomes even harder.

“Newcastle are THE team. It doesn’t get any tougher,” accepted Matt Newby, Leeds’ director of basketball.

Not that Newby or anyone associated with the BBL inductees stationed at Leeds Beckett University expected, or wanted, their task in stepping up to the elite level to be easy.

A team still in the building phase was always going to struggle, and as far as Newby is concerned, the challenges they face each week are being greeted head on, rather than with head bowed.

“These are challenging times but we are going in the right direction,” insisted Newby.

“We were wholly aware of the challenge that we faced and we expect to be more consistent given the preparation we have put in.

“The boys’ work ethic and industry has been fantastic. They are aware of the challenges and they are not shirking them.

“The disadvantage of a young squad is that they lack experience, but the advantage is that they bounce back quickly.

“There has been disappointment in games and it stems from going so close. We remain young and ambitious and in terms of effort, I cannot ask for more.”

Actually on the court, the key for the Force is to replicate what they managed in their sole win so far, that BBL Cup first-round victory over the Manchester Giants.

“Maybe it was because it was nice to be out of league play that week but the match-ups suited as and the boys executed really well and the result was a reflection of that,” added the team’s head coach.

“But night after night it’s about competing for the full 40 minutes. We have shown in patches that we can be competitive.

“We have proved that when we stick to our script we can challenge, but with the talent we have got we have to do things better, make fewer mistakes, and force more mistakes from opponents.

“We have to do that again tonight.”

While the Cup competition offers a break from the pressures of the league – which will be ramped up next week when they host a Surrey United side one place above them in the standings – Newby acknowledges that such is the strength of the Eagles, Leeds will need to be flawless tonight.

“To record a win is going to take perfect execution,” he said. “We are going to have to be very tight on defence.”

The Force’s trip to Newcastle will give them an insight into what makes a successful BBL team off the court as well as on it.

Newcastle regularly attract a crowd of 2,500, something a fledgling Leeds operation gaining fewer than 500, aspire to.

“Success breeds interest, we know that,” added Newby. “We are still trying to build a product that attracts the fans.”

Tavarion Nix of Leeds Force goes to the basket against Surrey Scorchers (Picture: Alex Daniels)

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