Basketball: Force are building towards tilt at play-offs

Armand Anebo
Armand Anebo
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The second year of elite level basketball tips off in Leeds tonight with the city’s top club, the Force, targeting continued progression on and off the court.

Leeds Force host Cheshire Phoenix at the Sports Arena at Leeds Beckett University (7.30pm) hoping to build on last year’s tentative foray into the British Basketball League.

The club, established out of the university’s basketball programme and fast-tracked into the top tier, finished 11th of 13 teams in 2014-15, winning nine of their 36 games.

They regularly played to crowds of around 350 – adequate when considering the minority status of basketball – but hope development on the playing side will see benefits in the stands.

“We’d like to get the crowds above 500, that’s a realistic target,” said Matt Newby, director of basketball at a club that has a thriving academy programme.

“We’ve worked on improving our fan zone to enhance the experience, but it’s also about us being in competitive games.

“I’m excited about the group of players and the second year ahead. There’s a lot less nerves now about what we are walking into.

“We are battle-hardened and we have learned the lessons of last season. We don’t want to be in a position where we are using the excuse of it being new and us being rookies, as we were perhaps entitled to do last year. But we learned a lot from our first year.

“Ultimately, we’d like to think the play-offs is attainable (top eight); seventh or eighth would represent a very good season.

“If we can go from there up the ladder then that would be even better.”

The off-season brought a significant turnover of players.

Out go American point guard James McCann, British prospect Will Hall who has joined BBL rivals Glasgow Rocks and Branimir Mikulic who has moved to a club in Germany.

In come Doncaster-born Rob Marsden after playing in France and Louis Sayers from Plymouth.

Captain Armand Anebo is back for another season, along with Zak Wells, who made his GB debut this summer.

Newby added: “It is inevitable in sport that as you look to progress you see who is capable of coming along for the ride and what holes you need to fill.”

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