BASKETBALL: Leopards return to Basildon Sporting Village on Sunday (4pm) for the first home game in their defence of the EBL Division One title when they face Bradford Dragons.
The Dragons, who rely heavily on the city’s Eastern European population, have made a good start to their second season in Division One. They won Group B of the National Trophy with five wins from six games and started their league campaign with a 76-68 home win against Brixton Topcats.
The only real disappointment from Chris Mellor’s side was a 68-61 home loss against Leeds Carnegie in the National Cup.
Coach Robert Youngblood will be leaning on the experience of guard Tom Martin who played for the Dragons in 2010/11 and the first half of last season before moving to London.
The Big Cats’ trip to Bradford last season saw them suffer their heaviest loss of the campaign, a 110-77 defeat, but they bounced back the following day to defeat the Dragons 86-66 in the National Cup quarter-final and Leopards also won 82-66 at Basildon when the sides met in the return league game.
Youngblood and his team had a mixed weekend as they had a big road win at Worthing on Saturday before going out of the National Cup the following day.
Leopards started the 2012/13 EBL Division One season the way they finished the last campaign with a comfortable victory on Saturday evening.
Carl Josey produced a superb first half performance to lead the Big Cats to a 102-83 victory at Worthing Thunder as his side ended the first night of action on top of the table.
Josey was perfect in the first half as he hit five three-pointers, three shots from inside the arc, and six free-throws on his way to 27 points at the break. the former MK Lion didn’t add to his tally in the second half, missing both shots he took, as coach Robert Youngblood restricted him to eight minutes of action in preparation for Sunday’s National Cup, but he added a total of seven rebounds and three steals to his impressive stat line.
Simon Cummings and Taner Adu picked up the slack in the second half to finish with 17 points apiece, with Lawrence Brown adding ten points and six boards, with Greg Hernandez and Tom Martin each chipping in with nine points, and the former adding seven rebounds.
Hank Rivers led the hosts, who controlled the first period before being over-ran in the second, with 18 points and ten rebounds, but failed to trouble the scorers in the middle two quarters.
Sunday proved to be a different story for the Leopards as their defence of the National Cup ended at the last 16 stage with a 73-70 loss against Canary Wharf London Lituanica at the Brentwood Centre.
National Cup rules state that Division One teams may only play one American against lower division teams, meaning that guard Cummings was left out of the side, and against a side packed with quality Lithuanian players, the Big Cats found the going tough.
The home side led by as many as six with three minutes of the third period remaining, but two Sidagas free-throws with 11.3 seconds remaining gave the visitors a three point lead, and after a time-out Leopards were unable to get the ball to Josey and Youngblood ended up taking a hail-Mary three pointer which failed to connect.
Adu led the Leopards’ scoring with 25 points while Cosey had another double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.