Basketball: Force are aiming to overcome tall order

In a season of firsts at Leeds Force, there is another ceiling for them to push through tonight – namely the size of the opponent they will face when Cheshire Phoenix come to town.

If the BBL rookies are to take anything from their hosting of in-form Cheshire then the likelihood is they will have to do so under the nose of the Phoenix’s star recruit, Harlem Globetrotter Paul Sturgess.

‘Tiny’ as he is ironically nicknamed, has an official height of 7ft 7.26in. He is the tallest player ever to play for the Globetrotters, the highest ever to play basketball in the United States, and to round off his sizeable statistics, he is the second tallest man in England. The 27-year-old was born in Loughborough and went to Florida Tech and Mountain State colleges in the United States. He was drafted by the touring Globetrotters – a fitting name – in August 2011 and wears a size 18 shoe.

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After playing in the NBA Development structure the last 18 months – a feeder division for the world’s biggest league – he joined Cheshire in November.

The task facing Leeds tonight is a sizable one.

“It depends on what they’re doing with him,” said Force head coach Matt Newby on how they might negate the threat of Sturgess. “He hasn’t factored much but he certainly makes things tough defensively if you’ve got him floating around in the middle. But he’s also got to attend to us and we’ve got smaller big men who can maybe make life a bit difficult for him.”

Sturgess’ signing, though troublesome for the Force tonight, is also good for a league that is forever seeking to expand its fanbase; a fact not lost on Newby.

“You can’t deny the size of him, he’s a little bit of a spectacle in a sense, and everyone knows the Globetrotters,” said Newby. “He’s good for the game and Cheshire have been cute with that.

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“They haven’t just signed him because he’s got the ability, he’s also the best ticket-seller in the league. He’s someone they can take into schools and someone they can take to sponsors.”

Phoenix also have a ‘big’ name on the bench, New Yorker John Coffino who spent nine years coaching top-level college basketball as well as working in the NBA Development league.

“John has done a really good job of recruiting,” added Newby, who feels that his own side are developing their own identity in their first season.

“He’s someone with real pedigree and the amount of contacts he’s got, allied with the budget that Cheshire have, has helped him pick up some good athletes, and they’re playing hard for him. For us, it’s important we look at who we are first and how our players are performing and what we’re doing offensively and defensively.”

Tip-off is 7.30pm at the Sports Arena at Leeds Beckett University.

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