If success is measured in terms of progress then there can be no doubt that the Esh Group sponsored Leeds Force were one of the major success of last season.
In only their second season in The BBL they posted a 14 - 19 record which secured them 8th place in The Championship and their first trip to the end of season play-offs where they lost to BBL Champions Leicester Riders in the first round.
Nevertheless, a superb run of four straight victories to finish the season including a win over Leicester that led to them making the play-offs really showed the progress and potential this Leeds franchise has as they cemented their place as a BBL Club.
The man at the helm calling the plays was Head Coach Matt Newby and in an interview with EuroBasket he gave his views on the 2015/16 season.
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP YOUR SEASON OVERALL?
I think we proved that we could compete consistently in this league which was a genuine aspiration following the close of the 2014 - 15 season and underpinned our goal of reaching the play-offs.
If am honest I think our record could have been even better, there were several games where we just fell short of closing out such as the OT defeat against Worcester at home and the game we lost at the buzzer up at Glasgow's Emirates Arena. Each was a lesson in itself!
As a team I think we delivered in terms of developing individuals and I believe we still remain a great destination for young domestic talent to ply their trade and become a better player.
The latter is important to me personally because it is integral for the development of the game in this country and essential for the evolution of the league and off individual teams.
ONLY TWO SEASONS IN THE BBL AND YOU'VE MADE THE PLAY-OFFS, GREAT PROGRESS?
It's a reflection of our dedication and hard work but also us becoming more accustomed to the BBL climate. We did not join the league to stand still and it was important we looked at ourselves after year one which in itself was not a bad year and evaluate what we could improve.
The 2nd season's success has been born of reflecting on the best and worst of us and making timely adjustments. The play-offs was our target. We proved we were competitive but there is a lot of work to do to establish ourselves as a contender.
That work starts immediately.
WHAT WERE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LAST AND THIS SEASON?
In terms of personnel we obviously made some strong changes and attempted to tailor a system that reflected the team's strengths. We had a far stronger return from our forward line 100% domestic in Wells, Marsden, Harris and Anebo.
The perimeter also received an overhaul with Louis Sayers truly coming in to his own following a tempestuous two years at the Plymouth Raiders and obviously the introduction of Marek Klassen and a change of tact with Kwan Waller bore strong returns.
WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS OF YOUR SEASON?
I feel there has been a number of Highs and Lows, but that's basketball, that's professional sports and it's important to be measured about each and understand how each came about.
High Points for me would include the last home tie against Leicester a really great game with and an intense atmosphere, arguable the best game I have been involved in.
The 1 point over time loss against Worcester will be up there as showed how far we had come and gave us confidence to keep pushing and simple seeing the crowd's blossom in the latter part of the season and the engagement of the fans.
The lowlights have been some-what tempered by the outcome of the year but for me it's often the times I missed something or a point where I could have affected the play and didn't. A bad decision or rotation. If those inactions or failed actions have influenced a game I am incredible self-critical and that often consumes me. DO YOU THINK THE ESH GROUP SPONSORSHIP HAD A POSITIVE EFFECT AND HELPED?
The relationship with ESH is great. We have partner who understands the impact we can have as a sporting club in the community and also one who has a genuine passion to see the game evolve in this country. We have been the beneficiary of an established name in basketball and like minded people.
MOST COACHES DON'T LIKE SINGLING OUT INDIVIDUALS IS THAT THE SAME WITH YOU?
I personally have a belief that players benefit from been identified as a success or failure and in real time it's not personal. As a team we have a collective responsibility to deliver a performance, within that the players have to be individually accountable for their actions attitudes and behaviours.
That said you can reduce cognitive dissonance, poor perception of a situation and breakdowns in communication by singling out the individual and been clear on what your expectations are.
Players have a desire to perform and giving them the truth and genuine explanation of what it is you want is normal.
Sometimes the message itself needs delivering in a certain way appropriate to the individuals DNA but all the same it's not wrong to hold them to account.
WHO MADE THE MOST PROGRESS IN YOUR SQUAD THIS SEASON?
This is an interesting question in my opinion we moved forward together and I could rationalise the development of each player in this unit.
Notably Louis Sayers and Zak Wells made huge shifts in their game and I think that bodes well for their future. Louis in particular had a great year in terms of impacting the game in multiple areas.
Zak showed steady progression throughout and I feel that both are beneficiaries of the environment we created.
WAS THE SIGNING OF MAREK KLASSEN THE TURNING POINT AND HOW DID YOU FIND HIM?
Marek's arrival was integral to our season opening up the way it did, he is genuinely a gifted player who is prepared to facilitate for his team and capable of filling multiple areas statistically. The fact was we needed a lead guard who understood what we were trying to do. The team were automatically beneficiaries of Marek's arrival. His basketball IQ and natural ability to run a team elevated the pressure on people to make critical decisions on court consistently and that's what good point guards do they find a way to pay their team mates.
We saw increased outputs from the offence and a lot more freedom in peoples individual games as the system and personnel clicked.
His film stood out amongst around a hundred others I had viewed in January, I knew we needed to add a player who would be prepared to come in and fulfil a leadership role whilst giving us numbers.
The ability to create and score jumped out at me as did the work rate enthusiasm and hard-nosed defence. His agent was trying to place him for several months following his release in Romania and once he visited and we had a look at him in person it was an easy decision to make.
MOVING FORWARD YOU'VE SET THE BAR HIGH FOR NEXT SEASON?
We have made solid progress in consecutive seasons, this has been achieved through hard work and a diligent approach and I am hopeful that these humble values will continue to underpin what we do. The reality is we have to push even harder to crack the top 6.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE SUMMER?
Right now we have to hit the ground running it's about retention and recruitment, keeping an eye on the opposition and tracking their signings and understanding what they are trying to do.
Working with the players we are retaining and pushing them through the summer. Identifying the young talent in our own program who may be able to make the jump up to The BBL.
Speaking to player's, coaches and agents alike looking for players who are the right fit and add value both on and off the court and reflecting on my own coaching and aiming to improve my own output.
It's a busy time but we are a young program and need to prepare will if we wish to ascend in this league.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR NEXT SEASON?
That we continue to maintain an upwards trajectory and remain competitive in a league which is really beginning to show growth. I would like to think we can continue to create upsets, place higher in the table and develop our presence on a regional and national level.
The depth and intelligence of Coach Newby's answers show a man committed to the cause and a man that is clear in what he feels his Club and himself need to do to push themselves forward and build on what they've achieved this season.
Leeds Force is a basketball organisation that has impressed everyone in the way they've approached their elevation to professional BBL status and with Matt Newby at the helm and the attitudes of those around him Leeds look like being a force for some time to come.
Just four teams remain in the BBL Play-Offs after London Lions, Leicester Riders, Esh Group Eagles Newcastle and Worcester Wolves advanced to the Semi-Finals. Leicester defeated Surrey Scorchers 94-58 in convincing fashion with a balanced attack, and they will face London next as they went through despite a 71-62 loss away at Glasgow Rocks. Worcester completed a four-point aggregate win against DBL Sharks Sheffield as Danny Huffor netted 23 points in an 86-84 home victory. Also, the Ea... [read more]
Just four teams remain in the BBL Play-Offs after London Lions, Leicester Riders, Esh Group Eagles Newcastle and Worcester Wolves advanced to the Semi-Finals.
Leicester defeated Surrey Scorchers 94-58 in convincing fashion with a balanced attack, and they will face London next as they went through despite a 71-62 loss away at Glasgow Rocks.
Worcester completed a four-point aggregate win against DBL Sharks Sheffield as Danny Huffor netted 23 points in an 86-84 home victory.
Also, the Eagles held off Bristol Flyers with an 84-82 triumph with a combined 46 points from Darius Defoe (204-F-84) and Rahmon Fletcher helping them through.
BBL Play-Off Semi-Finals
Riders (1) v Lions (6) Eagles (2) v Wolves (5)
Dates and times of games will be confirmed on Monday 01 May
BBL Play-Offs, Quarter-Finals, Second Leg Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 84 (21,46,67) (Defoe 26, Fletcher 20, Parks 12) Bristol Flyers 82 (26,47,65) (Ali 24, Boggs 20, Cosby 12)
Eagles win 181-176 on aggregate.
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle secured a spot in the Play-Offs Semi-Finals after beating Bristol Flyers 84-82 at Sport Central for a five-point aggregate triumph.
The Eagles had led by as many as 33 points in the First Leg before Bristol's revival and the Second Leg proved to be a close-fought battle throughout.
Darius Defoe produced a big performance for the Eagles with 26 points and 10 rebounds with Rahmon Fletcher adding nine assists along with 20 points.
It was Bristol who made a bright start with a 2-9 run to take the lead in the tie for the first time and they were still ahead by the end of the first quarter at 21-26.
The Flyers restored their seven-point lead at 30-37 before the Eagles rallied with a 11-2 run, though they would trail by one at the half.
The lead continued to change hands throughout the third with Newcastle taking a two-point advantage into the final period. The Eagles led 78-69 midway through the fourth, but the Flyers set an exciting finish with an 11-2 run to take the lead.
However, the hosts held their nerve with Fletcher icing the win with three free throws as Eagles advanced.
Hameed Ali finished with 24 for the Flyers as their valiant effort fell short to end their third campaign in the BBL.
BBL Play-Offs, Quarter-Finals, Second Leg Glasgow Rocks 71 (12,32,53) (Watson 23, Lescault 15, Thomas 14) London Lions 62 (10,33,45) (Taylor 20, Hassan 13, Owumi 11)
Lions win 153-141 on aggregate.
London Lions moved into the Semi-Finals of the Play-Offs, despite suffering a 71-62 defeat away at Glasgow Rocks in the Second Leg.
The damage in the tie had been done in the First Leg with the Lions up 21 and it proved to be too big a deficit for the Rocks to overcome.
Neil Watson led the Rocks with 23 points in Sunday's victory with Kieron Achara contributing a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Rocks edged a low-scoring opening period, but the visitors turned things around in the second to go into half-time ahead by a single point.
Glasgow surged clear in the third after holding the Lions to just 12 points with a Watson triple at the buzzer making it 53-45 with the overall lead down to 13.
The lead on the night peaked at 12 points at 61-49, but could not make any further inroads despite completing a victory to end their campaign.
Zaire Taylor top scored for the Lions with 20 points as they advance to a Semi-Final showdown with Leicester Riders. BBL Play-Offs, Quarter-Finals, Second Leg Worcester Wolves 86 (21,50,70) (Huffor 23, Klassen 14, Setty 13) DBL Sharks Sheffield 84 (16,34,54) (Riley 23, Tuck 15, Rembert/Sing 13)
Wolves win 159-155 on aggregate.
Worcester Wolves followed up their First Leg victory with an 86-84 win over DBL Sharks Sheffield to advance to the Semi-Finals.
The Wolves led by as many as 19 points on the night and had to hold off a late fightback from the Sharks to knock out the defending champions with a four-point aggregate success.
Danny Huffor top scored with 23 points with three other players in double figures as the Wolves continued their impressive form of late with another victory.
The home side led by five after the first 10 minutes and pulled clear late in the second with a 19-3 burst as they built a 50-34 half-time advantage.
After a 20-20 third period, Wolves moved into a 76-57 lead with 7:35 left on the clock before the Sharks cut the gap with a 14-2 run.
Triples from Malcolm Riley and Zach Gachette made it a one-point game and a free throw from Trevor Setty was enough to secure the win on the night and overall.
Riley had 23 points for the Sharks, but their loss means there will be new Play-Off champions this season.
BBL Play-Offs, Quarter-Finals, Second Leg Leicester Riders 94 (28,51,75) (Bernardini/Washington/Thomson 14) Surrey Scorchers 58 (12,25,45) (Ogedengbe 21, Taylor 17, Williams/Rollins 7)
Riders win 167-131 on aggregate.
Leicester Riders secured their place in the Play-Offs Semi-Finals in dominant fashion as they defeated Surrey Scorchers 94-58 in the Second Leg.
The tie was evenly poised after Friday's thrilling draw, but the league champions produced the goods on their home floor to advance.
Tyler Bernardini, Conner Washington and Andy Thomson all netted 14 points apiece with five players in total reaching double figures in a balanced attack.
The game was tied at 10-10 early on before the Riders made their move with a 10-0 run and established a 28-12 advantage after 10 minutes.
Leicester's lead continued to grow with a 14-2 start to the second and they were 26 points ahead at the half-time break. The gap reached 30 points heading into the fourth and they closed out the game in a convincing manner to advance.
Tayo Ogedengbe led the Scorchers with 21 points but they were unable to pull off a First Round upset.
The BBL Play-Offs got underway in dramatic fashion on Friday night including a rare draw. Surrey Scorchers earned a 73-73 draw with Leicester Riders as Gabe McCray connected with a three at the buzzer to leave the tie evenly poised. Meanwhile, Esh Group Eagles Newcastle defeated Bristol Flyers 94-97 away from home as Hameed Ali netted 30 points to lead a Flyers comeback from 33 points down. London Lions beat Glasgow Rocks 91-70 after overturning a half-time deficit, while Worcester Wol... [read more]
The BBL Play-Offs got underway in dramatic fashion on Friday night including a rare draw.
Surrey Scorchers earned a 73-73 draw with Leicester Riders as Gabe McCray connected with a three at the buzzer to leave the tie evenly poised.
Meanwhile, Esh Group Eagles Newcastle defeated Bristol Flyers 94-97 away from home as Hameed Ali netted 30 points to lead a Flyers comeback from 33 points down.
London Lions beat Glasgow Rocks 91-70 after overturning a half-time deficit, while Worcester Wolves edged past DBL Sharks Sheffield 71-73 on the road with 25 points from Danny Huffor.
Worcester Wolves will take a slender advantage back home after recording a 71-73 victory on the road at DBL Sharks Sheffield.
The Sharks battled back from 17 points down to tie the game in the final minute, but a pair of free throws from Danny Huffor proved the difference.
Huffor ended up with a game-high 25 points in the win with Trevor Setty the only other player in double figures for the Wolves with 15 points.
An 8-2 close gave the Wolves an eight-point lead after 10 minutes and they pushed further clear in the second to open up a 14-point advantage at half-time.
Sheffield began to eat away at the deficit in the third with a 21-15 quarter and tied the game at 61 on a three from Rashawn Rembert.
The game would be level again at 71 with 90 seconds remaining before Huffor sealed the win for the visitors to take a two-point lead back to the University of Worcester Arena.
Rembert had a team-high 20 points for the Sharks with Mike Tuck adding 15 points in the defeat.
BBL Play-Offs, Quarter-Finals, First Leg Surrey Scorchers 73 (12,32,52) (Ogedengbe 22, Taylor 11, McCray 10) Leicester Riders 73 (13,31,50) (Clark 21, King 13, Hampton 12)
Gabe McCray's heroics at the buzzer salvaged a 73-73 draw for Surrey Scorchers to take into the second leg against Leicester Riders.
The hosts had led 59-52 in the fourth before the league champions rallied and looked set to come away with the win, only for McCray to strike late.
Tayo Ogedengbe top scored with a game-high 22 points for the eighth seeds with Quincy Taylor adding 11 points and six assists.
As for the Riders, Brandon Clark had 21 points with Taylor King handing out five assists to go with his 13 points.
A low-scoring opening period saw the Riders edge ahead by a single point before Surrey hit back to take a one-point lead of their own into the half.
The lead doubled following another competitive period before a 7-0 run put the Scorchers in control, but the Riders responded with an 11-2 run to set up an exciting finish.
Clark split a pair of free throws to give Leicester a 70-73 advantage in the final seconds before McCray got his off-balance three to fall at the buzzer with the tie evenly poised heading into Sunday's second leg.
BBL Play-Offs, Quarter-Finals, First Leg Bristol Flyers 94 (9,35,53) (Ali 30, Boggs 22, Streete 15) Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 97 (30,53,77) (Fletcher 31, Jackman 23, Defoe 14)
Bristol Flyers kept their hopes of advancing alive after rallying from a 33-point deficit before losing the first leg 94-97 at home to Esh Group Eagles Newcastle.
The visitors looked in complete control with a dominant 18-51 advantage, but the Flyers came storming back in the second half to close to within three for the second leg.
Rahmon Fletcher netted a game-high 31 points in the win for the Eagles with Orlan Jackman adding a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds.
The second seeds wasted little time in asserting their authority and led by 21 after the opening period. Newcastle continued to push on and two triples from Joe Hart in a 12-0 run made it a 33-point game.
Bristol responded with a 10-0 run and cut the gap at the half, but another strong quarter from the visitors in the third re-established a 24-point lead ahead of the final period.
The Eagles led 76-93 inside the last four minutes, only for the hosts to produce a stunning 18-4 close with Hameed Ali finishing with a 30-point haul as the Flyers now have higher hopes going into Sunday's reverse.
BBL Play-Offs, Quarter-Finals, First Leg London Lions 91 (28,44,68) (K Williams 27, Niktash 19, Taylor 16) Glasgow Rocks 70 (12,45,60) (Lescault 27, Achara 11, Watson 10)
London Lions have the upper-hand going into Sunday's second leg after beating Glasgow Rocks 91-70 at the Copper Box Arena.
The Lions squandered a 20-point lead in a final day defeat to Glasgow last week, but will have a 21-point advantage upon their return to the Emirates Arena.
Kai Williams poured in 27 points with seven triples, while the four other starters all recorded double figures with Navid Niktash adding 19 points and nine boards.
The hosts raced into an 11-2 lead which quickly became 24-5 in the opening seven minutes. The lead was at 19 again at 31-12 early in the second, but the Rocks battled back and a 15-2 run tied the game with Hayden Lescault firing in consecutive triples.
Lescault had 18 points, six rebounds and three assists as the Rocks moved into a half-time lead. London restored control in the third to lead by eight and a 15-1 run pushed the lead beyond 20 points.
The Rocks were led by Lescault's 27 points and will be needing a big performance in the second leg on home court.
Hameed Ali (188-G-93, college: Texas A&M-CC)
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