Force on upward curve as Newby runs rule over guards

Branimir Mikulic
Branimir Mikulic
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Fledgling Leeds Force have made a strong start to life in the BBL.

That is the verdict of Matt Newby, the club’s director of professional basketball, first-team head coach and a man who will go so far as picking up prospective players from the airport if he thinks it will further the sport in this city, and his club in the standings.

Leeds have won just one of their 10 games since being inducted into Britain’s elite tier, and just two out of 12 games in all competitions.

But it was never meant to be easy, and the more telling statistic is that the team founded as the Leeds Beckett University programme in 2006 have matched the majority of their opponents.

Only once has Newby had to read his team the riot act, and that came last Friday against Bristol.

But otherwise, he is proud of how Leeds have acquitted themselves at the top table.

“We can be pleased with the progress the team has made,” said Newby, whose side host Durham Wildcats on Friday night.

“In terms of results, we probably should have had at least two or three more wins on the board but in terms of making the adjustment to the top level, I think we have made a strong impression.

“We have proved in a number of games that we can play and compete at this level.

“We have just got to start adjusting quicker in games to nullify the scoring runs of opponents.

“If we can do that, we’ll be in games with a large percentage of the league.”

To continue improving, Newby and his coaching staff continue to look for fresh recruits.

This week, for instance, they are running the rule over two guards, Robert Gagliardi, a former Canadian youth international, and Giordana Estrada, who played at Chico State in California last year but has an Italian passport.

Force, and other clubs at the level, are constantly scouring a dense markeplace of talent, reliant only on footage on the internet and testimonials from coaches as to the calibre of the players they are scouting.

Gagliardi and Estrada will spend the week practicing with Leeds before Newby decides whether to sign them.

If he does not, they then move on to try their luck elsewhere.

“It’s difficult in basketball, especially in mid-season when you have to integrate players, because they have to come in and adapt to the dynamic,” said Newby, who took a similar gamble on San Diego State forward James McCann at the start of the season and has been handsomely rewarded.

“It’s difficult for both parties. We are looking for players who believe in a fledgling programme.

“They have to take a chance on us as much we take a chance on them.”

Ahead of Friday night’s home fixture with Durham – 7.30pm at Beckett University sports arena – Newby is expecting a better home performance from his players than they produced last week when falling to fellow rookies Bristol Flyers.

“I thought we were poor on Friday night,” he said. “For the first time since we joined the league, we were not satisfied with our performance.

“It was a game where Bristol prepared well for us, they made strong adjustments during the game and we didn’t react.

“But, on Sunday, it was a really good response against London Lions and we took it all the way down to the last 40 seconds.”

Andrew Hambleton.

Andrew Hambleton joins Leeds Force ahead of new season