How lucky are we to have two of the BBL Championship
favourites facing off LIVE on Sky Sports in just the second weekend of the
The London Lions and the Leicester Riders will take to the floor at the Copper Box Arena tonight for a 7:45pm tip-off, live on Sky Sports Arena and YouTube, in a rematch of last season’s incredible BBL Play-off Final at London’s 02 Arena.
Ahead of this titanic showdown, we caught up with both Head
Coaches, London’s Ryan Schmidt and Leicester’s Rob Paternostro, to get their
thoughts on the game.
“I have the utmost respect for Rob.” Schmidt said. “To be
able to see up close last year just how well he had his team performing both
offensively and defensively, he’s done an incredible job and he’s got that
group playing remarkably well as a team.
“Losing Geno (Crandall) is obviously a huge loss for them as
an individual, but when you look at them collectively as a unit, their strength
and quality is still there in abundance. They’re just a really, really good
basketball team in their simplest terms.
“We know we’re in for a really, really tough game. They won
three trophies last year and beat us in the play-off final, so they’re the team
everybody wants to beat, and we know every time we match up them we’re going to
be in for a battle.”
“It is certainly going to be a real challenge for
anybody that comes up against them.”
Paternostro’s Riders have become a dynasty of success in the
BBL during his tenure at the helm of the Midlands club, but the Lions in their
current form arguably pose the biggest threat to that dynasty as London have
put together a roster brimmed with elite talent from across the world.
The seven-time Coach of the Year, Paternostro, assessed the
challenge the Lions will pose to his side and everybody else in the BBL this season,
and discussed what has impressed him about what he’s seen from the team so far.
“It is clear to see that they’ve put together a team geared
towards playing in elite-level European competition. They needed to go out and
recruit talent to match that challenge and they certainly have. It is an
impressive roster, full of size and depth all over the floor and a powerful
“It is still early in the season and you don’t really get to
know how good a team can be or will be in September, despite who they’ve got,
but on paper at least in my time in the BBL I’ve never seen a team that has
invested nowhere close to this on players.
“I watched them in game one against Sheffield and I thought
they played a really good professional game. Defensively they were impressive,
their depth and stamina was excellent and it is certainly going to be a real
challenge for anybody that comes up against them at any time this season.”
“How successful we can be depends on us and how we
Expectations will be at all-time high for the Lions, given
the calibre of talent they’ve been able to draw to the capital, but Schmidt is
excited to see how his roster deals with those expectations and details the
work going on behind the scenes to make sure the team peaks at the right time.
“The challenge of having that target on your back is one we
must embrace. How successful we can be depends on us and how we apply
ourselves, whether its in the BBL or in Europe – we need to make sure we meet
our standards every single night and play the right way.
“This is a league full of talented teams, players and
coaches, and if you don’t show up on any given night then you can get beat
quite easily. We’ve just got to worry about ourselves and my message to the
team is just to make sure that we play to our standards every time we step on
“I don’t know if I can pinpoint when I expect to see the
best out of us, but it is going to take time. These guys have all come into the
club from different situations, so they’re going to need time to adjust. We
need to do that quickly, but we can’t go move so fast that we miss or rush really
important steps in our development that are going to cost us down the line.”
“I’m pleased with how we’ve competed in pre-season and
the shape we’re in.”
On the eve of the game itself, the Riders grabbed even more
headlines as they announced further changes to their roster with CJ Jackson –
Geno Crandall’s initial replacement – moving on, being replaced by former Duke
and USC Guard Derryck Thornton.
Preparations for the new season perhaps haven’t gone as smoothly as the Riders would have liked as a result, but Paternostro discusses the elements of his team’s performances that have pleased him as they head into their season opener at the Copper Box tonight.
“With everything that has happened over the summer, I’m
pleased with how we’ve competed in pre-season and the shape we’re in.
Defensively, we’ve been very good in every game. Even in the Basketball
Champions League we played really good defence against a very good team.
“Offensively, we haven’t really hit the races yet and we
know that is going to take some time. Missing Patrick Whelan throughout
pre-season was tough, then CJ Jackson arrived with an injury and was out for
most of the pre-season (and has since left the club), so we’re going to take
some time to get that side of the game to where we want it.
“We had opportunities against Voluntari, for example, and we
should have scored a lot more than we did – the ball was moving well, but we
should have produced a better finished product. Its early though, we’ve got
time and it’s a long season.”