Basketball: Force face their toughest test to date

Armand Anebo.
Armand Anebo.
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A fixture with the best team in British basketball tonight provides a fitting end to the home campaign for 2014 for Leeds Force.

Twelve months ago the team that plays out of the Sports Arena at Beckett University sported the name of Leeds Carnegie and played as an amateur outfit in the National League Division One.

They were on the verge of being accepted into the British Basketball League and preparing for a one-off BBL Trophy game with Glasgow Rocks in January that would give them a taste of the challenge they would face in the elite, professional tier, week in, week out.

Fast forward 12 months and the rebranded Leeds Force – now self-sufficient and independent of the university – are inching their way towards establishing themselves in the country’s top division, whose leading club, Newcastle Eagles, come calling tonight (7.30). One of only four players to have witnessed the transition first hand is Armand Anebo, the club’s 26-year-old Ivorian-born captain.

“It was a big change from the name to the personnel on the court and off the court and the move towards professionalism,” said Anebo of the sweeping changes at the club.

“The most important step though was on the court, because that’s where you’re judged and where all the external focus is.

“In terms of the pace of the game we have made huge strides forward.

“Looking back to pre-season we were losing by 40 points to BBL teams.

“We have since made that adjustment in the first few months of the season and can live with that pace.

“We’ve also developed a sense of belonging.

“Overall it’s been an up and down year.

“We are not doing as badly as some people predicted we would.”

Force have indeed claimed a smattering of wins, three in 15 in the BBL Championship and another win in a cup competition.

Their victory over Durham Wildcats last Friday was followed by a second-half collapse against fellow strugglers Surrey United the following night – a sequence that underlined the next hurdle Leeds have to overcome in their development.

“It’s got to the stage now where we don’t have to show we’re competitive any more, because we’ve done that,” said Anebo of the minimum target the club set at the outset of their BBL adventure.

“We have to now show that we can be consistent and not just fluctuate from being competitive one night and then dropping off the following day.

“That’s something we have to work on.”

Newcastle arrive in Leeds tonight on the back of 12 straight wins in what is proving a successful defence of their Championship title.

Anebo said: “Newcastle are formidable. They’re a savvy team, full of experienced players.

“They capitalise on mistakes and punish you every time.

“With the experience they’ve got they can come at you a number of ways, which makes it difficult to scout and prepare for.

“We pushed them in the second half of a BBL Cup game last month.

“But once again it was a snapshot of what we’re trying to achieve week in, week out; that consistency over 40 minutes.

“That’s the aim for us right now, maintaining that focus for 40 minutes.”