After a season of watching games at neutrals, it was a proud moment for the members of Leopards Alive as the new-look Big Cats took to the court at the Brentwood Centre. Ware Rebels coach Jon Burnell had become the first play-caller for the new Leopards and he had assembled a side consisting of former Rebels players and seven ex-Sutton Pumas after the London side had folded in the summer. Among the former Pumas was Brian Moore who had spent several years with the original Leopards before a knee injury had ended his pro career, while forward Mark Quashie had played for both the old Leopards and Rebels. American guard Hayden Herrin who had joined Rebels at the start of 2004 returned and he was joined by his former college team-mate Corey “Scoop” Wicker.
The new club received an invite into the Hosana Summer League at Crystal Palace which Burnell used to look at triallists, and it was an indication of the pulling power of the Leopards’ name as Rebels had never got close to being included in the competition. Both games, against Hosana Sporting Club and Hackney were lost as Leopards faced sides packed with BBL players.
Neighbours West Herts Warriors were beaten in the first pre-season friendly before the new Leopards made their Wodson Park debut in a pre-season tournament where they lost both games against RAF Lakenheath and Reading Rockets.
Saturday September 18, 2004 saw the return of Leopards to the Brentwood Centre and a big crowd saw the perfect start for the new club as a London United side who went on to finish second in Division One beaten 86-72 in the National Trophy group stage. It was a great start for Burnell’s new look team but something of a false dawn as they struggled in the early weeks of the season, seeing their interest in the Trophy end with losses at United and London Capital before beating the latter in a dead rubber at Brentwood.
The Division One season got off to a bad start with a hammering by Worthing Thunder at Wodson Park, and after five games the Big Cats were bottom of the table with an 0-5 record. To put it in perspective, all of Leopards’ opponents in that run finished in the top six and they played champions Sheffield Arrows home and away in that run. Progress was made in the National Cup with a win at West Herts Warriors but the last 16 tie against Nottingham Knights saw a narrow defeat against a side who went on to win the Division Two title.
The first league victory came with an 88-66 spanking of Solent Stars, and the Big Cats actually had a 9-8 winning record in their games after that poor start to the campaign. Things didn’t run smoothly, though, with Herrin indicating in late November that he wouldn’t be retuning in the New Year as he had taken a job in real estate. This was clearly a blow for Leopards as they had signed the American on the understanding that he would spend the season with them. Herrin recruited his replacement, Brandon Kephart, who he and Wicker had played against at college, but this turned to be something of a disaster as he walked out after six weeks after failing to settle in England. To prove it never rains, but it pours, problems with Wicker’s visa meant that January’s 83-73 win against Coventry at Wodson would be his final game as a Leopard. These were expensive lessons for the new club’s directors as they came to terms with running a semi-pro club.
But as Wicker made his farewell appearance, Leopards got the chance to sign their fourth American of the season as Coventry centre Troy Selvey approached the club in the bar at Wodson. Frantic negotiation followed with Leopards stumping up a £300 transfer fee (plus £100 if they reached the play-offs) and Selvey became a Big Cat. It proved to be an excellent signing for Leopards and a good late season run saw them visit Coventry knowing that a win (or a loss for Capital) would put them in the play-offs, and inevitably it was Selvey who led his team to an 82-72 win to put them in the post-season. And Crusaders got their £100.
Leopards couldn’t have had a tougher trip in the play-offs as they travelled to a Sheffield Arrows side who had won the division with only one loss in 22 games, lifting the National Trophy on the way and only missing out on the National Cup in a thrilling final against Reading. Predictably the season ended with a heavy loss at the EIS but it had been a relatively successful first season for the new club with many (expensive) lessons learned.
Essex & Herts Leopards 86 (28, 43, 69)
London United 72 (16, 37, 57)
LEOPARDS made the perfect start to their EBL season as they hammered much-fancied London United at Brentwood, on Saturday.
The newly formed club went into the game as underdogs, but a superb team performance saw them lead from tip to buzzer as they picked up a morale boosting victory in the EBL Trophy pool four.
American guards Hayden Herrin and Corey “Scoop” Wicker led the Big Cats with 29 and 26 point respectively to leave Leopards’ coach Jon Burnell delighted with the victory: “I thought the three big guys, Mark Quashie, Danny Scott and Roger Lloyd, did a really good job” he said.
“They were playing against some big players, but they battled and challenged for every board, and that made a real difference. We started really strongly defensively with Brian Moore and Hayden Herrin playing some really good defence. Our defence got progressively worse as the game went on, mainly due to tiredness, but to come out of a game against a side of the quality of London United, with a win, was a great start for us. We played some pretty decent basketball from start to finish.”
Fittingly, it was Brian Moore, arguably the most popular English player ever to pull on a vest for the old London Leopards, who scored the first competitive points for the new club when he drained a three from the top of the key after a steal from another former London Leopard Mark Quashie. The teams exchanged baskets, with Leopards leading 16-14 with 3:44 of the first period remaining and all of the Big Cats starting five on the scoreboard.
Leopards then closed out the first period with a 12-2 run, launched by a Herrin three, which effectively set them up for the rest of the game as they reached the first break with a 12 point lead.
Another Herrin trey saw Leopards extend that lead at the start of the second period, but generally the Big Cats found things tough going in the lead up to half-time as United’s tough defence saw them struggle against the shot-clock, and despite eight points from Wicker, a long three from the impressive Steve Vear saw United cut the half-time to 43-37.
The third period proved to be a pivotal one for the home side, as they closed down current international point guard Junior Williams, a summer transfer target for Leopards. Williams was held scoreless in the period, while Herrin poured in eight points, including an “alley-oop” from Wicker, as Leopards doubled their advantage to lead 69-57 at the final break.
Three-from-three foul shooting from Herrin following a Williams foul kept Leopards’ double-digit lead intact, and four points from Roger Lloyd plus a long three from Wicker saw the Big Cats’ lead reach an unassailable 20 points with 4:12 remaining.
Four points from Vear and a two from former London Towers’ centre Peter Van Elswyk saw the visitors go on a 6-0 run, but Wicker calmed the nerves with a trey as the Big Cats wrapped up victory and sent an encouragingly large Brentwood crowd home happy.
Essex & Herts Leopards 90 (27,50,75) PAWS London Capitals 82 (17,34,57)
LEOPARDS bounced back from the previous night’s disappointment to run out comfortable winners at the Brentwood Centre, on Sunday.
A large crowd saw Scoop Wicker lead all scoring with 31 points as the Big Cats put a turgid performance against Worthing behind them as they recorded their highest points total of the season.
In the end the margin of victory was not enough to maintain Leopards’ interest in the EBL Trophy, though even a 20+ points victory would have left Jon Burnell’s team relying on other results going in their favour, but the result should restore some self-belief in the Leopards team.
Wicker opened the scoring for the home team, and although Chunga Adams quickly levelled things, once Hayden Herrin had converted an “and-one” the Big Cats never relinquished their lead.
With American duo Wicker and Herrin scoring freely, Leopards moved into a 15-7 lead midway through the first period, and despite Roger Lloyd picking up two quick fouls shortly after entering the action, a trey from Herrin saw the hosts take a 10 point lead into the first break.
Herrin contributed another five points in the opening stage of the second period, With Alan Prescott also getting on the scoresheet as Leopards stretched their advantage to 34-21.
With Mark Quashie also becoming an offensive threat, the Big Cats continued to build their lead, stretching it to 17 points with three minutes of the half remaining, and although Capitals scored three of the final five points, Leopard reached half-time with a 50-34 lead, and Wicker had already recorded a double-double with 16 points and ten rebounds, while Herrin had chalked up 15 points and Brian Moore had added ten.
The teams shared the points in the opening stages of the second half, but with Wicker adding six straight points for the hosts they opened up a 67-46
lead, and despite Lloyd collecting his third foul shortly before the final break, Leopards ended the third period with a comfortable 75-57 lead.
Lloyd fouled out within 50 seconds of the restart, and the home side started to tire during the final period as Capitals’ relentless defence wore them down, and they opened the quarter with a 14-3 run to narrow Leopards’ lead to just 78-71.
A pair of Wicker free-throws plus a jump-shot from Quashie steadied the Big Cats, and that seven point margin was as close as Capitals came. Wicker fouled out with 70 seconds remaining, but a controlled performance from Herrin saw him sink four free-throws to complete Leopards’ victory.
Santa Ataha top scored for the visitors with 26, backed up by 17 from Milek Jivens, while Sam Salter who had given Leopards a torrid time a fortnight
before scored just two points as the Leopards defence forced to him shoot from long range.
Leopards: S Wicker (31), H Herrin (27), M Quashie (13), B Moore (10), D Scott (4), A Prescott (4), R Lloyd (1), B Gooch, A Coates (DNP), E Pellant (DNP)
London United 109 (23, 58, 82) Essex & Herts Leopards 83 (21, 38, 68)
SIZE proved to be the key as Leopards’ EBL Trophy hopes took a knock with a heavy defeat at Brunel University on Sunday.
With Mark Quashie unavailable and Roger Lloyd lost in North West London until the second half, the Big Cats struggled against the size of the home
side to leave their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals in the balance.
United had added the huge Mantia Callender to their squad since the two sides met at Brentwood a fortnight before, along with Polish shooting guard Jack Jagodka.
The one bright point for Leopards’ coach Jon Burnell was the form of young forward Tom Christie, who with Quashie missing and Lloyd lost, was drafted into the starting line-up for his first game of the season. Christie finished with eight points and nine rebounds, and although he clearly tired during the latter stages after missing pre-season due to injury, he showed that he give Burnell another option defensively.
Scoop Wicker returned to the starting line-up after being ineligible for the National Cup victory against West Herts, and he again led the Big Cats’ scoring, picking up 27 points despite spending all of the second half on four fouls.
The depleted Leopards opened strongly, with Hayden Herrin hitting the first four points, and with Christie and skipper Danny Scott also getting on the
scoresheet, they took an early 11-3 lead. A trey from Wicker extended that lead, before United’s long range shooting saw them pull themselves back into the game, and they levelled the score at 14 with three minutes of the first period remaining.
A three-point play from Wicker and a Christie free-throw saw the Leopards open a two-point lead, but that proved to be the final time they had the advantage as United closed out the first period with a 9-3 run. Scores from Wicker and Brian Moore kept Leopards within two, but technical foul calls on Herrin and Burnell saw London go on a 12-2 run, led by the impressive Mumuni, to lead 39-27 midway through the second period.
It was always going to be uphill for the Big Cats from then on, and Wicker picked up his fourth foul after a silly foul on former London Leopard Peter Deppisch, who then completed a four point play, and it took a long range buzzer-beater from Herrin to reduce the half-time margin to 20.
Lloyd’s arrival strengthened the Big Cats, but it Wicker who opened the second half with something to prove, hitting Leopards first eight point as they opened with a 10-2 run. Lloyd also added seven late points and Herrin chipped in with five, as Leopards cut the deficit to 14 at the final break.
That improvement did not last as Leopards noticeably tired against the depth of United during the fourth period, and they were forced to depend on
long-range shooting as the home side ran out comfortable winners.
Leopards: S Wicker (27). H Herrin (23), B Moore (10), D Scott (8), T Christie (8), R Lloyd (7), M Eames, B Gooch, A Prestcott.
PAWS London Capitals 97 (25, 47, 76) Essex & Herts Leopards 89 (24, 46, 67)
SCOOP Wicker’s 29 points were not enough to prevent Leopards slipping to defeat in their second EBL Trophy game of the season.
The home side were led by former Milton Keynes Lions point-guard Santa Ataha who finished with 34 points, as the Leopards guards struggled to overcome a physical full-court press.
The Big Cats started well, with seven points from Wicker and two baskets from Mark Quashie helping them open an 11-8 lead.
With Barry Gooch replacing Brian Moore, and taking over as point-guard, the home side scored 12 unanswered points, before five points from Hayden Herrin and a trey from Gooch helped the Big Cats reduce the arrears to 22-21. Lloyd restored the visitors’ lead following a Gooch assist, before former Brighton Bear Sammy Salter drained a three to send his side into the break with a one point lead.
The second period saw the lead repeatedly change as Leopards’ scoring was shared between their starting five and Lloyd, while Ataha continued to dominate for the hosts as he took his personal tally to 16 and helped his side retain their single point lead at half-time, going into the locker room with a 47-46 lead.
Back-to-back threes from Herrin and Gooch saw Leopards take a 52-51 lead two minutes into the second half, but a series of poor calls saw coach Jon Burnell pick up a technical foul as a 16-4 run saw Capitals open up a 14 point with three minutes remaining in the third period. An intentional foul on Lloyd finally saw the game swing back in Leopards’ favour, with the veteran forward forced to leave the action, and Herrin sunk the resulting free-throws, as the Big Cats went into the final break trailing 67-76.
Danny Scott opened the fourth quarter scoring, and with seven Wicker points and a dunk from Lloyd, Burnell’s team narrowed the gap to 80-83 by the midway point in the period.
An “and-one” from Quashie saw the gap cut to two, but a pair of missed free-throws from Scott and four straight points from Ataha helped the hosts’
stretch the lead to nine with 70 seconds left, leaving the Leopards will no way back as they suffered their first loss of the season.
Leopards: S Wicker (29), H Herrin (22), M Quashie (11), D Scott (8), R Lloyd (8), B Gooch (5), B Moore (4)
City of Sheffield Arrows 103 (22,52,75)
Essex & Herts Leopards 71 (9,30,44)
LEOPARDS’ season came to a disappointing, though hardly unexpected, end with a heavy defeat at Sheffield in the play-off quarter-finals. The home side had swept all before them throughout the season, and Jon Burnell’s team never looked capable of springing a major surprise.
The Big Cats were not helped by Mark Quashie being ejected for dissent midway through the third period – but by the game was effectively over anyway.
Laurent Irish led the visitors’ scoring with 17 points, while Troy Selvey added 14. Steve Ogunjimi, who had led the Leopards’ scoring for four consecutive games saw his points tally drop off, but he went close to a triple double with nine points, ten rebounds and eight assists.
Quashie opened the scoring, and doubled his tally with a second basket to put Leopards 4-2 up. However that proved to be as good as it got for the Big Cats. By the time Leopards next got on the scoresheet, with a Selvey lay-up, the home side added 16 straight points to take a lead they were never to relinquish.
Although they produced a good defensive performance to prevent Sheffield’s outstanding American point-guard Ryan Patten to just 12 points, they were unable to stop the rest of the Arrows’ offence, as they reached the first break with a 13 points lead and took that advantage to 22 at half-time.
The third period saw Leopards open aggressively, but it did not stop Irish picking up the game’s first technical foul for complaining after being clattered while going to the basket, as Leopards reached the final break down by 31.
With Quashie’s ejection after an altercation with Adrian Anderson, and later technical fouls called on Roger Lloyd and Selvey saw the lead grow to 40 in the final period.
However, the visitors refused to lie down, and Ben Stacey became the ninth and final member of the Big Cats roster to get on the scoresheet. They did manage to make inroads into the the lead, but it was too little too late as the Leopards saw their campaign to an end.
Leopards: L Irish 17, T Selvey 14, R Alexander 11, S Ogunjimi 9, B Moore 7, M Quashie 6, R Lloyd 4, B Stacey 2, M Eames 1