Leeds Force have been urged not to take their foot off the gas as they seek to claim a little piece of history for the sport in the city this weekend.
The second-year British Basketball League team are two wins away from keeping their season alive and reaching the play-offs.
Such an achievement would represent a significant stride forward for a programme that lags behind many of their BBL rivals in terms of pedigree, resource and support.
However, thanks to a run of seven wins from their last eight home games, Leeds Force go into this weekend’s double-header with Manchester Giants tonight at the Carnegie Sports Arena at Leeds Beckett University (7.30pm), and at Surrey Scorchers on Sunday, knowing they have a strong chance of fulfilling their pre-season ambition.
For them to reach the play-offs, which would be a two-legged quarter-final next week, Leeds need to win both games and hope either Plymouth lose one of their remaining games, or London Lions slip up in both of theirs.
On paper, Leeds are favourites against Manchester tonight, given the Giants are bottom of the league and haven’t beaten Force all season.
But with a club-record crowd in excess of 500 tonight expected to be in attendance, director of basketball Matt Newby is warning his players against complacency.
“We cannot take this game lightly,” said Newby, whose side shocked title challengers Leicester Riders at the Sports Arena last Friday.
“As confident as I am in the boys’ ability, if we don’t collect that win then we are not going to the play-offs.
“We don’t want to be knocked onto the back foot. We have to keep this season going.
“Then hopefully we can go down to Surrey on Sunday, knowing where we stand and what we’re playing for.”
Newby expects a nervous anticipation among his players tonight, given what is at stake for a team that two years ago was playing in the university and national leagues before being invited into the BBL because of its structure and academy programme.
“If we reach the play-offs it will be historic. It will also be a little bit of a vindication for our policy of investing in young domestic guys,” continued Newby, who as head coach and director of basketball, oversees all the club’s academy teams as well.
“The players have worked very hard this year towards a common goal.
“They’ve done a good job in terms of managing their effort, even when it was a little bit tough.
“We’ve won 12 games this year, three more than last season, so it’s tangible progress.
“Leeds Force have gained a creditable reputation in the sport and we are also growing in credibility in the city.
“We’ve had pretty much a full house in the last couple of weeks and we’re expecting it again tonight.
“The refreshing thing is we’re seeing so many new faces in the stands.”