Basketball: ‘Green’ side branching out under Force boss Newby

Matt Newby. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Matt Newby. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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Leeds Force head coach Matt Newby hopes the club’s maiden voyage in the BBL will see the continued growth of basketball in the city.

Leeds’ first-ever team in the top flight of British basketball finished the season with nine wins from 36 games, good enough for an 11th-place finish in the 13-team league.

Attendances at their home games grew slowly, while a number of local lads were blooded in BBL action, and players like Daniel Evans in their academy system have earned scholarships at schools in the United States.

On the court, Newby – who has been with the programme since its inception at Leeds Beckett University in 2006 – is confident the fledgling club have taken a big first step towards establishing themselves.

“You try to get the best out of a team and we feel we have got a good return from this group of players,” said Newby, whose team won an average of once every four games.

“We took a lot of teams to the wire and there were a number of games where we were in control of our own destiny.

“We gave a glowing endorsement of what we can bring year in, year out to the BBL.

“Highlights would be the win at London Lions, going down to the capital and winning at the Copper Box was special.

“The win at Cheshire was also big for us. And just last week we took the champions Newcastle to overtime.

“Leeds Force have established themselves as a name in this league.

“People respect that we have done it the hard way, and all I can do is thank everybody from the players, to the staff, to the commercial director Mark Mills and to the fans.

“Hopefully we have created a platform on which the sport of basketball can continue to grow in Leeds.”

As well as positive stories like that of teenager Daniel Evans heading to the basketball heartland of the USA after years in the Leeds system, Newby has been delighted with the entire evolution of a group that late last summer were very green.

“We have seen this group of players grow,” said Newby. “There was a lot of of inexperience and a lot of work to be done. That’s one of the things I feel most proud of.

“We took a bunch of players inexperienced in the BBL and we made them a competitive group.

“We’ve seen domestic talent like Dwayne Camille flourish in our environment.”

The task now for Newby and his coaching staff, is to start assembling a team for their second season in the league, when more will be expected of them.

In the ever-changing landscape of professional basketball, players move on rapidly, and while he would love to see some of his overseas stars stay for the club’s second year among the elite, he will not stand in the way of them moving on.

“We’ll give the players a week or two to take stock and then get them in for one on one meetings, and a team session, to review the season,” said Newby.

“I’m a big believer in sending them on their way if they’re ready to make that step, or making them an offer to stay here if that suits both parties.

“There’ll be a few players who we’ve helped put on the map and who might now go on to bigger clubs in Europe; James McCann, Branimir Mikulic, who deserve that chance.

“Next year we want to stay domestically focused with a sprinkling of overseas talent.”