25 years of Leopards – season 19

There were no trophies for Leopards as coaching team Robert Youngblood and Roger Malpass returned for their second season, but they collected their second Division One runners-up medals in four years.

Captain Carl Josey re-signed and there was a familiar face as veteran point guard Ronnie Baker returned having played for the original Leopards when they won the BBL title.

Having played a single game at Southend the previous season, Leopards announced that “Garons” would be their second venue for the 2013/14 campaign but – and you may get de ja vu here – things didn’t work out with the level of service making Goresbrook look professional and the club moved their final couple of scheduled games to Brentwood. This comment of the club’s website probably sums up the problems: “Leopards would like to thank Southend Scorpions with their help to get Sunday’s game staged. With the scoring and timekeeping equipment out of action, they loaned us their boards and ensured that the game got played. Their help was very much appreciated” and the club never mentioned the time they turned up for a game to discover that the sportscentre had forgotten they were coming – leaving club volunteers to set up the venue and pay for the privilege!

But back on the court, Leopards cause something of a stir with the signings of former Milton Keynes duo Howards Crawford and Kris Clark, and there were no fewer than seven Lions in the team for the pre-season game against their old side. Despite all those ex-Lions in the team, it was probably the relatively unheralded signing of Courtney Van Beest that was key for Youngblood’s side as the Londoner proved to be an important member of the side for the following three seasons.

Leopards’ defence of the National Trophy proved to be a big disappointment as four straight losses ended their interest in the competition, but progress was made in the National Cup with wins against Barking Abbey – now playing under their own steam in Division Three – and Hemel Storm. In contrast, Leopards started strongly in the league, picking up where they’d left off the previous season with a pair of wins in the north east, and after wins against Leicester Warriors and Newham Neptunes, the semi-final of the Cup was reached with a narrow victory at Loughborough Riders.

The unbeaten start to the league campaign ended with an overtime loss at Manchester and the Cup dreams were ended with a 79-75 loss against Reading at Brentwood. Although Bradford were beaten in overtime, Rockets returned to Brentwood for a second time in December to inflict what proved to be a key 86-75 loss to send the Big Cats into the Christmas break with a 6-2 record.

2014 started with Youngblood and Malpass both getting reported to England Basketball following a controversial defeat at Leeds, leaving Baker to coach the win at Westminster later in January. The BBL Trophy proved to be its usual one and done as arguably the best side in the country, Newcastle Eagles, proved too tough at Brentwood. Eleven wins in the space of 12 games kept Leopards in touch with leaders Rockets, but the one loss in that run was at Reading to give them the head-to-head decider.

Youngblood’s team went into the final week of the season needing to win their final two games and hope that Reading lost theirs. First up was a trip to University of East London to face Newham Neptunes. Everyone made it to the game except assistant coach Malpass who was in Coventry for work. And he had Leopards’ licence cards. With Neptunes looking for a win to get into the play-offs, there was no chance of them turning a blind eye even if the refs agreed. Everyone in the gym knew each other, but the result was a 20-0 win for  Newham. There was no fine or points deduction for Leopards and England Basketball started work on a new web-based registration system. Leopards won a low key friendly between the two sides.

With the pressure off, Reading won both of their games anyway while Leopards wrapped up the regular season with an 83-59 hammering of Westminster Warriors. Bristol Academy Flyers were edged out at Brentwood to set up a fourth straight trip to the Final Four but for the third time in that period the semi-final proved to be a step too far as they were beaten by Leeds Carnegie.

Crawford won the club’s MVP award while the end of season event saw the announcement that, a decade after helping restart the club, Chairman Fred Dicker was stepping down from the position.

Eagles to face Leopards in Trophy – 

After completing a clean sweep of the four BBL honours in 2012, Eagles played second fiddle to a Jelson Homes DMU Leicester Riders side who won a treble while Newcastle finished second in three of the BBL competitions. The only competition that the Riders failed to win was the Trophy, with Leicester defeating Leopards on the way to the final where they lost to Sheffield Sharks.

“It’s an incredibly tough draw for us” admitted Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan. “But it does give us the chance of massive giant-killing, and we’ll be hoping for a big home crowd to cheer us on.”

Big Cats are off to the seaside – 

Essex Leo pards have announced that they will play a third of their 2013/14 home games at Southend Tennis & Leisure Centre.

While the Brentwood Centre will stage 14 of the Big Cats’ 23 home games including the pre-season match-ups with Team USA (Friday September 6) and London Lions (Sunday September 22), the Garons venue will play host to nine games during the course of the campaign. The Big Cats defeated Bristol Academy Flyers in a thriller at the Southend venue last season, and an encouraging crowd has persuaded them to return when Brentwood is unavailable.

Robert Youngblood’s team will begin their defence of the National Trophy in Southend on Sunday September 29 when they host Bradford Dragons, tip-off 4pm. The following Sunday will see either Barking Abbey or Hertfordshire Warriors visit Southend in the National Cup second round, with this game tipping off at 5.30pm.

Southend will also stage Leopards’ prestigious home BBL Trophy first round tie against arguably the premier club in Britain when Newcastle Eagles visit on Sunday January 19 (4pm).

“We’re pleased to be coming back to Southend” said Leopards’ chairman Fred Dicker. “Considering we had very little time to promote our game there last season, we had a very good crowd and both the old Leopards and Pirates were well supported in Southend. We hope the people of Southend will turn out in force to support us, and that some of our fans from Brentwood will also make the trip.”

Carl’s back for the Cats

 Carl Josey has become the first of last season’s Leopards’ side to re-sign for the Big Cats ahead of the 2013/14 season.

Josey was a key member of the Leopards’ team who won the National Trophy and reached the Final Fours last season, and captained the team following the season-ending injury to Taner Adu.

Big Cats’ coach Robert Youngblood is delighted that the British forward is returning to the club: “Carl was first on my list I players I wanted to re-sign this year. He was a vital player for us last season, and I’m sure he’ll be very important to us again this year.”

Josey is pleased to be back with the Big Cats: “I am delighted to be returning to the Leopards. It was a breath of fresh air last season to be part of a club that takes pride in taking care of its players and running a professional setup, some BBL teams should take a leaf out of their book.

“I am thankful that the owners and coach Youngblood have given me the opportunity to come back and help to keep the leopards competing at a high level. I thought the fans were great and I hope they are happy I’m returning.

“I am really excited about this upcoming season as we have added some exciting and high calibre players to assist in help the franchise move forward and I have been putting a lot more work in during this off-season to get myself back to peak performance.”

While Josey and his new team-mates will take to the floor against Team USA at Brentwood on September 6, Leopards have confirmed the American pair Greg Hernandez and Simon Cummings together with British forward Adu will not be returning for the new season.

Hernandez has retired from the game after landing the assistant coach job at his old college (Maryville) while Cummings rejected a contract with the Big Cats and is currently looking at other options.

Adu was released from his deal with the Big Cats to join Mersey Tigers but following their expulsion from the BBL the former England international is now looking around for a club.

“We’d like to thank Greg, Simon and Taner for their contribution to last season’s Trophy winning campaign, and wish them all the best for the future” said general manager Dave Ryan.

Leopards are currently applying for visas for replacements for Cummings and Hernandez, with coach Youngblood lining up several other players for the Big Cats.

Siman is the new-man – 

Leopards have announced their first new signing of the summer with the acquisition of English forward Siman Stewart.

The 6’6” forward was captain at Team Northumbria who finished third on their Division One debut last season having spent two years in the north east following a season at Worcester Wolves in the BBL. Stewart started his career at Leopards’ now defunct Division One rivals Coventry Crusaders.

Coach Robert Youngblood was delighted with his new signing: “I spoke to Mark Stuetal [Team Northumbria coach] and Siman was the one player he didn’t want to lose this summer. Fab Flournoy at Newcastle [Eagles] also highly rates him, and I think Siman will be an excellent signing for us.”

Stewart [left, in white] is excited about joining up with the Big Cats: “I’m delighted to be joining the Essex leopards. The franchise has proven itself to be an elite club in the EBL and sets its goals for the very top each and every year. I’m very excited by the prospect of the new campaign and hopefully being able to add more silverware to the collection.”

Crawford signs for the Big Cats –

Leopards have announced their first import signing of the season with the recruitment of American big man Howard Crawford. The 6’9” forward/centre joins the Big Cats having played for MK Lions in the 2011/12 season alongside player-coach Robert Youngblood.

The 25-year-old averaged 13.2 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Lions, and Youngblood is delighted to add the big man to his roster: “I’m really pleased to sign Howard. I know he can be a key player for us this season and he proved to me when we played together at Lions that he has the ability to be a stand-out player in this league.”

After graduating from the University of Alabama where he averaged 12.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in his final season, Crawford had spells in Kuwait and Netherlands before joining the Lions, and had brief stays in Luxembourg and Estonia last season.

Clark’s the point man for Leopards – 

Leopards have added American guard Kris Clark to their 2013/14 roster ahead of Friday’s pre-season opener against Team USA Select at the Brentwood Centre.

The 6’2” guard played alongside Leopards’ player-coach Robert Youngblood at MK Lions in the 2011/12 season, averaging 11.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds in the BBL Championship before playing in Australia last year. “Kris is an excellent signing for us” said coach Youngblood, “I think he’ll make a reason difference for us, he can score well if we need him to, but he can also control the game well.”

The 27-year-old also played for several pro sides in American regional leagues having had a successful career at top American college Utah State where set the standard during the 2007-08 season. He dished out 224 assists, breaking the previous season record by 39. His two-year total of 370 is fifth on the career list. He is the only player among the top 11 for assists in a career that was a two-year player. Prior to playing at Utah, Clark earned all-region honours as a sophomore at Vincennes University as he led the Trailblazers to a 26-6 record and the Region 12 Championships. He averaged 9.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three-point range. During his sophomore season he scored a season-high 25 points against Olney College and had a season-high 14 assists against Gulf Coast College.

Clark joins fellow American big man Howard Crawford and English forward Siman Stewart as the new faces for the Big Cats, with captain Carl Josey, seven foot centre Lawrence Brown and guard Ishmael Fontaine also confirmed as returnees for Youngblood’s men.

Leopards start with a bang – 

Leopards made a successful start to the 2013/14 season with a 62-53 victory against Team USA Select on Friday evening.

In front of a capacity crowd at the Brentwood Centre, a Leopards’ team missing three new signings, took control in the second period to run out comfortable winners.

Returning centre Lawrence Brown was in dominant form with 19 points, six rebounds and four blocks in 24 minutes of action as the visitors never coped with the seven foot big man.

Guard Ish Fontaine staked a claim for a starting spot with 11 points, while triallists Benji Lawrence and Sam Iwueke each added eight points. Fellow new-boy Courtney van Beest also impressed with six assists and seven boards to go with his four points.

Brown opened the scoring for the Big Cats, but the opening exchanges proved to be even as the home side led 12-11 at the five minute mark before Team USA closed out the period on a 7-2 run to lead 22-17 at the first break.

That was as good as it got for the touring side as Fontaine drained a trey to open the second quarter and launch an 11-0 run which gave Leopards a lead they would never lose.

Free-throws from captain Carl Josey and Van Beest wrapped up the run before returning guard Tom Martin hit a jump shot to sent Leopards into half-time with a 37-26 lead.

Fontaine drained another three-pointer to open the second half Leopards’ scoring, and the lead peaked at 16 when Brown converted Iwueke;s pass  before the Big Cats entered the final break with a 49-43 lead after a late run from the visitors.

That was as close as Team USA came as Brown and Lawman made it a double digit lead to open the fourth period, and despite Youngblood running his bench, the home side comfortably closed out the victory.

So close for Leopards – 

Leopards went agonisingly close to upsetting the form-book as they went down to a narrow 85-75 home defeat at London Lions, on Sunday.

In their final pre-season game, as big crowd at Brentwood saw Robert Youngblood’s team push the BBL team all the way before some poor foul shooting down the stretch cost them the chance of a shock win.

Former Lion Howard Crawford led the Big Cats with 23 points and seven rebounds, while Courtney Van Beest finished with 12 points and seven boards and another one of the seven ex-Lions in our team, Kris Clark chipped in with 11 points and four assists on his debut.

Leopards only led briefly during the early stages of the game, but with 1:51 on the clock we were down by just four. Unfortunately five straight misses at the free-throw line were punished by a pair of three-pointers from the visitors as they closed out the win, but it was still an excellent final work-out for the team ahead of Sunday’s opener against Bradford Dragons.

The Leopards started four former Lions in their line-up before adding Benji Lawman and England’s most capped player Ronnie Baker before tip-off to take their number of ex-Lions to seven plus the coaching team of Youngblood and Roger Malpass, and with three former Big Cats in the London team it was a pre-season game with more spice than normal.

Crawford scored Leopards’ opening basket of the game, sandwiched between threes frim Margai and Sturt before back-to-back Clark treys saw Leopards take their only lead of the game at 8-6.

Another ex-Lion Kris Clark scored twice from downtown to answer the early barrage from the visitors and give Leopards their only lead of the game at 8-6 with three minutes gone, but a Sturt jumper sparked a 9-2 run to give Lions a lead they would never lose, and Mike Martin’s trey sent them into the first break with a 17-13 lead.

A pair of Martin baskets followed by a Brown three saw that led grow to 11 and Lions kept that double-digit margin for most of the period with a Margai trey making it 38-24 with a minute left before Leopards finished strongly with the final six points of the half – including four from Lawman – to make it an eight point game heading into the locker room.

Van Beest opened the third period scoring from the foul line, and the quarter proved to be a high-scoring one as a trey from Carl Josey and some good foul shooting from Lawrence Brown kept Leopards in touch at 66-56 going into the final period.

Van Beest again opened the scoring in the fourth quarter with a pair at the charity stripe for Leopards, and (yet) another former Ish Fontaine made it a five point game with five and half minutes remaining. Lions responded with a six point run capped by Margai  which looked to have sealed the win but Crawford tok control of the game with seven straight points including a trey to cap the run as he saw dragged the home side back into the game to close the gap to four points with as many minutes remaining.

Martin and Crawford exchanged free-throws to leave it 78-74 with 1:51 on the clock but Leopards then missed three straight at the foul line and Sturt nailed a three. The Big Cats woes at the line continued as Fontaine missed another pair and former GB international Joseph hit the dagger trey to seal the win for the Lions but coach Youngblood will have been impressed with his side’s display.

Leopards: H Crawford (23), C Van Beest (12), K Clark (11), L Brown (9), I Fontaine (7), B Lawman (6), C Josey (5), R Baker (2), T Martin, I Nickson, M Isobar (DNB), G Naiwo (DNB), S Iwibre (DNB)O Diro (DNB).

**Leopards were also in action last Thursday, gaining some measure of revenge for last season’s National Cup exit at the hands of Canary Wharf London Lituanica with a 76-47 victory at their training venue.

Leopards sign England star – 

Leopards’ coach Robert Youngblood has strengthened his side with the addition of England’s most capped international Ronnie Baker.

Point guard Baker played in the win against Canary Wharf LL and the narrow loss against London Lions last week, and has signed for the Big Cats ahead of Sunday’s season opener against Bradford Dragons at Southend Tennis & Leisure Centre (4pm).

The 44-year-old is England’s most capped player, having collected 156 caps in an international career that lasted 18 years, culminating with a bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games Baker showed that he is still capable of playing at a high level, and will give Youngblood additional options at the guard spots as bringing a wealth of experience

Baker played three seasons with the original Leopards in the mid-1990s, winning the BBL title and the National Cup in 1996/97 season as well as playing for seven other BBL clubs before returning to the new-look Leopards in January 2009 as player-assistant coach and remained with them until the summer of 2010.

Having previously played alongside Baker and both Leopards and Lions, coach Youngblood is understandably delighted to have signed the 5’ 8” Londoner: ”I’m very pleased to have signed Ronne” he said. “We played many years ago at Leopards and won trophies together. He’s a veteran who can steady the ship and it’s like having another coach on the floor. “It’s fantastic for us that he wants to finish his career with us and hopefully he can win some trophies with us.”

Big Cats progress in Cup –

A dominant second half performance saw Leopards through to the third round of the National Cup with a 72-45 victory against Barking Abbey at Southend on Sunday.

The young visitors – who included Joe Lockwood and Josh Steel from Leopards 2012 treble winning side – made the Big Cats fight all the way in the first half before a defensive lockdown in the third period saw them limited to four points  and allowed Robert Youngblood’s team to pull away for victory. Leopards will now face Hemel Storm or Medway Park Crusaders in the last 16 at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday October 27.

Howard Crawford led the way for the Big Cats, finishing a rebound short of a double-double with 22 points, while the rest of the scoring was shared out with all ten of the players getting on the scoresheet. Captain Carl Josey added six rebounds to his nine points, while Ish Fontaine and Tom Martin each hit eight points.

With summer signing Siman Stewart still out with an injury and American point guard Kris Clark unavailable due to National Cup qualification rules, veteran point guard Ronnie Baker started in his place and finished with eight assists and seven boards to go with his three points.

Ultimately, Leopards domination on the board proved the difference between the teams as they out-rebounded the visitors 48-29, with that disparity leading to 19 more shots. Lockwood broke the dearly deadlock, but five Brown points in a 9-2 run put the home side ahead, and when Sam Iwueke hit a three to make it 12-7 with our minutes gone, Leopards appeared to be in control.

However the visitors showed they have some of the best young players in the country and three pointers from Steele and Akwasi Yeboha helped them put together a 12-0 run to lead 19-12 with 2:28 on the clock. A Tom Martin and-one broke the run before Crawford hit back-to-back shots to send the teams into the first break tied on 19. Crawford hit the first nine Leopards’ points of the second period as his side took a lead they would never lose, and five straight points from Fontaine sent them into the locker room with a 43-35 lead.

Josey drained a trey to open the second half, and Smith cut the arrears to 48-39 with 7:38 on the clock. But that proved to be the last time Abbey would score in the period, although they didn’t help their cause with six straight missed at the foul line. Iwueke launched the 12-0 run to close out the period, and with Baker and Crawford hitting threes, the win was effectively wrapped up by the final break as they led 60-39.

The fourth period saw coach Youngblood run his bench, and it proved to be a low scoring affair with Abbey being held scoreless for the final four minutes before Martin wrapped up the victory and a place in the next round.

Lockwood, Steele and Yeboha all scored ten points for Abbey with the former matching Crawford’s nine rebounds in a game-high 33 minutes of action.

Leopards: H Crawford (22), C Josey (9), T Martin (8), I Fontaine (8), S Iwueke (7), L Brown (7), I Nickson (4), R Baker (3), C Van Beest (2), M Isobor (2), R Youngblood (DNP)

Trophy dreams over – 

Leopards’ defence of the National Trophy ended with a 72-70 overtime defeat against Tees Valley Mohawks at the Brentwood Centre, on Sunday.

With four straight losses in the competition they won last year, Leopards are now mathematically certain of elimination, and coach Robert Youngblood will use Sunday’s trip to Medway Park Crusaders as a chance to give himself and forward Siman Stewart some much-needed court time ahead of the National Cup against Medway or Hemel at the Brentwood Centre on October 27.

“We clearly need to change things around” said Youngblood. “Some of the players have been told that they need to improve, and we need to sort things out quickly with the Cup game at the end of the month.”

Leopards controlled the game for long periods without pulling away to allow the side they beat in last season’s final end their hopes of a repeat. Crawford again led the way with 21 points and 12 boards, with Josey also getting a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Kris Clark added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Crawford hit a pair of baskets to open the scoring, and Leopards never trailed in the first period before Courtney Van Beest sent them into the first break 14-12 ahead. Jorge Ebanks, who led all scorers with 26 points, levelled things at the start of the second quarter but Leopards reeled off six points to take control, and seven straight Clark points saw the lead grow to 29-17 before an Ebanks trey cut it to 35-28 at half-time.

Leopards started the second half strongly with baskets from Crawford and Josey, but the visitors refused to lie down and made it a nine point game with under a minute of the third period remaining before a Tom Martin trey and a Josey basket sent the Big Cats into the fourth quarter 50-44 ahead.

A Baker three pointer with 6:38 on the clock made it an eight point game and Josey also go in on the act from downtown as Leopards remained in charge, but with two minutes left Mohawks made a decisive run as five Ebanks points in a 7-0 run saw them grab their first lead of the game.

Stewart split a pair of free-throws for what proved to be the final score of regulation time, with Crawford and Martin missing shots before Clark made a mess of the final play to send the game into an extra period with a 61-61 scoreline.

A Josey dunk opened the overtime scoring, and it wasn’t until Nelson hit a trey with 1:57 on the clock that Mohawks took only their second lead of the game but it proved decisive as Samuels also scored from long-range to put them ahead by five. Josey hit a pair at the line before Lawrence Brown split a pair, but Josey attempted game-winner with a second on the clock missed iron and Mohawks hung on for the win.

Leopards:  H Crawford (21), C Josey (15), K Clark (13), S Stewart (6), C Van Beest (6), R  Baker (3), T Martin (3), I Nickson (2), I Forntaine, L Brown (1), R Youngblood (DNP), M Isebor )DNP)

Leopards weather the Storm

Kris Clark led the way with a season-high 20 points as Leopards powered their way into the National Cup quarter-final with a 76-68 victory against Hemel Storm.

In front of the Brentwood crowd, Clark also dished out eight assists and pulled down five rebounds to set up a last eight tie at second division Loughborough Student Riders.

Ish Fontaine marked his first start of the season with 16 points, while Howard Crawford added ten points and eight rebounds.

Hemel were led by 17 points from former Leopard Zak Wells and 16 points and seven boards from Bola Adeluola.

It was a tight game throughout, with the sides level at the first break and Leopards shaving the second period by a point before pulling away in the second half.

A slow start from Leopards saw only Courtney Van Beest trouble the scorers in the first two minutes as the visitors took a 9-2 lead, but Fontaine drained the first of four treys and five straight points from the energetic guard saw the Big Cats take their first lead of the game midway through the first period.

That proved to be only a brief lead as Hemel regained the initiative, but the sides went into the first break level as Fontaine beat the clock from outside the arc to level it at 21 apiece.

Tom Martin hit a trey to open the second period scoring for Leopards, and three straight Siman Stewart baskets kept the Big Cats ahead.

Wells levelled the score at 30 heading into the final five minutes of the half, and some good defensive play at both ends of the court saw just five points scored in the remaining time as a basket from player-coach Robert Youngblood and a Clark free-throw sent Leopards into the locker room with a 33-32 lead.

Wells opened the second half scoring, but that proved to be the visitors’ final lead of the game as big dunks from Crawford and Fontaine saw the home side take control of the game and Clark’s score at the mid-stage of the third period made it 46-37. A trey from Hemel’s Williamze Omopre saw Leopards’ lead cut to two points with 66 seconds remaining in the period before captain Carl Josey made it 48-44 heading into the final break.

Crawford again slammed the ball home to open the fourth period, and he made it a seven point game off Clark’s assist before Omopre’s three-point play made it a one point game heading into the final five minutes. That was as close as the visitors came, though, as Fontaine calmed the home crowd’s nerves with a three pointer, and Youngblood, Stewart and Clark wrapped the win up at the foul line.

Leopards make it five on the bounce – 

Leopards made it five wins on the bounce as they won 78-60 at Leicester Warriors on Saturday afternoon. A strong third period was the key for Robert Youngblood’s side as they improved their league record to 3-0.

Howard Crawford led the way for the Big Cats with 22 points, while Carl Josey, Ronnie Baker and Marvin Isebor (pictured) each added ten points in a balanced offensive display from the visitors. The Big Cats led 20-17 at the first break and extended that lead to 36-29 going into the locker room at half-time.

But it was the third quarter where the win sealed at the Warriors were outscored 26-14 which included a huge dunk from Isebor as the visitors took a 62-43 lead into the final break. And although Leicester won the fourth period 17-16 it was too late to prevent their 11th straight loss.

Leopards end Neptunes’ run –

Leopards remain unbeaten in EBL Division One after ending Newham Neptunes’ winning streak with a 76-70 victory on Friday night.

The crowd who made it through the gridlock in the area were treated to a thrilling game which saw Leopards lead for most of the top-of-the-table clash before Kris Clark nailed a late three-pointer to seal the win.

Howard Crawford led the way with a 21 point, ten rebound double-double, while Clark finished with 17 points, seven assists and six boards. Ish Fontaine nailed four three pointers on the way to a 13 point haul and Courtney Van Beest added ten points and five rebounds off the bench.

Dave Ajumobi scored either side of a Crawford basket to give the visitors as early lead, and a Crawford and-one gave the Big Cats their first lead of the game at 5-4.

A trey from Fontaine gave Leopards their biggest lead of the period at 15-11 but the game remained tight and a L Roberts basket cut the Big Cats’ lead to 16-14 at the first break.

Three Ajumobi points saw Newham regain the lead early in the second period, but captain Carl Josey capped an 8-0 Leopards’ run to put them 24-18 ahead, and they never trailed again in the half as Clark sent them into the locker room at half-time 34-30 ahead.

Crawford and Papa Dembe Kasse exchanged baskets to open the third period and a 9-0 run sparked by a Fontaine three saw Leopards take control, and their lead peaked at 14 midway through the quarter on another Fontaine trey. But a 10-2 run saw the visitors get back into the game, and Leopards’ lead was cut to 52-50 at the final break as they went scoreless in the final two minutes of the period.

Crawford scored Leopards’ first three points of the final stanza, and six points from Van Beest saw Leopards retain their lead in the fourth period. A pair of foul shots from Crawford kept Leopards ahead by five, but with 4:10 remaining Leopards lost veteran point guard Ronnie Baker with a dislocated shoulder. Fontaine split the free-throws earned by Baker and with Josey hitting a trey down the stretch, Newham never got closer than five points as the Big Cats made it four league wins from as many games.

Howard’s way leads to the semi-finals –

A strong fourth period saw Leopards reach the National Cup semi-final with a 79-73 victory at Loughborough Student Riders on Sunday.

It was the Howard Crawford show for the depleted Leopards as the American big man led the way with 37 points and 12 rebounds in a dominant performance.

Incredibly he scored all of Leopards’ 14 points in the first period as the Big Cats came from behind to reach the semi-final of the competition they won in 2006 and 2012.

The Big Cats were without point guards Kris Clark who was ineligible under National Cup rules and Ronnie Baker who dislocated his shoulder in Friday’s win against Newham.

Sam Iwueke had the best game of his Leopards’ career to finish with 19 points, four boards, two assists and as many steals.

It was Leopards’ defence in the final period that proved to be the difference between the teams as player-coach Robert Youngblood brought himself into the game and the hosts were limited to ten points in the last 11 minutes.

The home side were led by Leicester Riders’ pair Connor Washington who finished with 22 points, nine boards, three steals and three assists, and former Leopards’ junior Levi Noel who had 17 points.

Back-to-back Crawford baskets gave Leopards an early lead, but without a recognised point guard the Big Cats struggled to get the ball up the court and an 11-2 run from the hosts helped them lead 24-14 at the first break.

Iwueke broke Crawford’s run with a pair at the foul line, and a Courtney Van Beest basket made it a one point game midway through the second quarter. Carl Josey again took the deficit down to a point with two first half minutes remaining but that was as close as the visitors came, with Loughborough taking a 41-37 lead into the locker room as Webster dunked off Noel’s assist.

Crawford – who else – opened the second half scoring, and a pair of Siman Stewart freet-throws cut the deficit to 45-43 with 6:44 on the clock before Iwueke made it a one point game with three third period minutes remaining. Youngblood brought himself into the game with 2:20 remaining in the period, and was immediately called for an unsportsmanlike foul call on the first defensive possession, and then picked up a technical foul after disputing the decision.

Ish Fontaine was also called for a T after being fouled as he drove down the win, and the free-throws helped the home side take a 63-55 lead into the final break. Crawford hit the first five Leopards’ points of the final stanza before the visitors stepped up their defence and held the home side scoreless for four minutes

It was a 14-0 run capped by Tom Martin that effectively sealed the win for Leopards. Iwueke tied the game at with 7:39 on the clock, though he missed the and-one opportunity, before a pair of Crawford scores gave the visitors their first lead since the opening period. Youngblood made it 73-67 with a put-back, and the visitors never trailed again, and Iwueke hit three of four foul shots down the stretch to seal the win.

Leopards storm to victory –

 Leopards bounced back from their loss in Manchester to end Hemel Storm’s unbeaten start to the Division One season with a 76-58 victory on Sunday.

In front of a big crowd at Southend, Robert Youngblood’s team blew the visitors away with a dominant third period as they picked up their fifth win in six league games, and their ninth in the last ten games.

Ish Fontaine drained four three-pointers on his way to a game-high 18 points, adding six rebounds. Howard Crawford was limited to 20 minutes of action due to foul trouble, but finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Kris Clark added 14 points and nine assists and Carl Josey returned from injury to chip in with 13 points, five boards and four assists.

Simon Kearney and Fontaine exchanged treys to open the game, and in a high-scoring start, Clark and Fontaine scored all 13 of Leopards’ points in the opening four minutes as the home side opened a 13-10 lead

Josey gave Leopards a late lead in the period before a pair of Clark free-throws sent the home side into the first break with a 23-21 lead.

Crawford was forced to sit down two minutes from the end of the first period after collecting his second foul, with Youngblood bringing himself into the action, and the player- coach  opened the second period scoring.

It proved to be a low scoring stanza, Leopards shading it 11-10, with Youngblood scoring six of the points, and they went into the locker room leading 34-31 as Courtney Van Beest sunk a buzzer-beater.

Crawford’s return to the action saw Leopards lock the visitors down defensively, and he scored the first six points of the second half, before seven straight Fontaine points saw him cap a 13-2 run to put the Big Cats 47-44 ahead with six minutes gone.

Walid Mumuni broke the run, but back-to-back scored from Crawford – including a dunk – followed by a Clark trey saw the Big Cats lead balloon to 54-35.

Fontaine sunk his fourth trey of the game to give Leopards a 57-41 lead at the final break and although Dru Spinks hit a pair at the line to open the fourth period, Leopards then went on a 13-0 run which effectively sealed the win.

Van Beest – who finished with eight points and nine rebounds and was key in second half – launched the tear with a jump shot on his way to six points in the run before Clark wrapped it up at the line to give Leopards their biggest lead of the night at 72-45. Tom Adorian broke the run, but it was Leopards who had the final say as a pair of free-throws from Crawford saw the Big Cats continue their remarkable record against Storm with a 19th straight win.

Cup dream over –

The Big Cats’ National Cup dreams were ended on Sunday as they went down 79-75 against Reading Rockets at the Brentwood Centre. Howard Crawford proved to be unstoppable for Robert Youngblood’s side with 31 points, eight rebounds and three assists. But his American compatriot Kris Clark was the only other Leopard in double figures with 13 points, nine boards and eight assists.

A good start from Crawford saw him score 12 points as Leopards took a 14-8 lead in the first three minutes before a 6-0 run saw Rockets reduce the lead to two.

Courtney Van Beest broke the tear, but Liam Carpenter drained a three to give his side a 17-16 lead at the first break,

A pair of Lawrence Brown baskets off Crawford assists kept Leopards within a point in the early stages of the second period, and seven straight points from Youngblood together with a basket from captain Carl Josey saw them tie the score at 35 with two and a half first half minutes remaining.

But a time-out from Rockets’ coach Manuel Pena-Garces proved crucial as Josh Wilcher and Lewis Champion both hit treys for the visitors as they finished the half on a 12-3 run to lead 47-39 at half-time.

Champion hit another pair of three-pointers to take that lead out to 15 points in the opening three minutes of the second half before Crawford broke the run, and a trey from Tom Martin made it a seven point game at the five minute mark.

Crawford and Clark kept the hosts in touch, and it was the former who hit one of two free-throws and a jump shot to cut the deficit to 65-55 at the final break.

Sam Iwueke converted one of two foul shots to open the fourth period but when Christian Garcia Laya scored a lay-up with 5:42 on the clock and Rockets up by 12 the game looked beyond Leopards.

Inevitably it was Crawford who sparked the comeback with a free-throw before five straight Ish Fontaine points followed by a Josey trey made it a three point game and Crawford sunk a pair of foul shots to complete the 11-0 run and make it a one point game with 2:17 remaining. That was as close as the Big Cats got, though, despite a massive block from Youngblood with 67 seconds on the clock, and Rockets wrapped

Baker sinks winner in thriller – Posted on

Leopards bounced back from the previous day’s loss in Leeds to clinch a stunning 85-83 victory at Bradford Dragons. England’s most capped player, Ronnie Baker, was the hero at Bradford as he drained a three with eight seconds left to put Leopards 84-83 ahead.

Some great defence forced the Dragons into a turnover, and Baker was sent to the foul line with 1.2 seconds remaining where he hit the first shot before deliberately missing the second to run the clock down.

Earlier in the game the Big Cats had trailed by as many as 14 before three Kris Clark three-pointers in the third period dragged them back into the game, and they still trailed by five with just over two minutes remaining before Robert Youngblood and Clark set up the thrilling finish with some good foul shooting.

Clark led all scorers with 24 points – 22 of which came in the second half, with Howard Crawford adding 12 and Carl Josey ten. It was the third game Dragons had lost in the league this season, with Leopards having inflicted two of those defeats on them to take the head-to-head decider.

The Big Cats started well, leading 12-9 after five minutes of action, but were pegged back to 18-16 going into the first break before a 7-0 run at the start of the second half put the home side in charge. The home side led 31-24 when coach Youngblood called a time-out with 4:24 remaining in the second period, but worse was to follow when he and Baker collided, and Youngblood was forced to limp out of the action.

Despite the loss of the veteran forward Leopards stayed in touch, trailing 41-34 at half-time, but the game appeared to have slipped away from them as Bradford extended that lead to 14 midway through the third period on the back of ten unanswered points. The introduction of Baker at the point guard spot, moving Clark to shooting guard paid off as the American drained three baskets from the Land of Plenty, and Baker beat the buzzer with a floater to cut the deficit to 64-59 at the final break.

The Big Cats could make few inroads into the deficit in the early stages of the fourth period, Youngblood calling a time-out 6:29 remaining and his side down by six, and although Clark made it a three point game at the five minute mark, Leopards were still five down when Youngblood limped back into the game with three minutes remaining. Youngblood drained a pair at the foul line before Clark also hit two free-throws to make it a one point game heading into the final minute., but they trailed by two heading into the final 23 seconds before Baker’s heroics set up the win.

The Big Cats shared the points out nicely with Baker, Ish Fontaine and Courtney Van Beest all finishing with eight, Youngblood adding seven and Iaon Nickson having his best game as a Leopard with five points and as many assists.

Dragons were led by 14 points from Dan Foley, with Vance Silcott and Denis Scott adding 13 apiece.

Leopards live on BT Sport – 

Leopards’ players Kris Clark, Howard Crawford and captain Carl Josey will be live on BT Sport on Saturday morning. The trio of Big Cats will be appearing on the BT Sports Panel show between 9.30am and midday showing off their skills as part of BT’s promotion of the NBA.

Don’t forget that Leopards return to action at Brentwood on Sunday, 3pm, when Bristol Academy Flyers are the visitors.

Youngblood: “I lost it” – 

Leopards’ coach Robert Youngblood admitted that he gave his players a stern half-time team talk as they recovered from a seven point deficit to beat Bristol Academy Flyers 78-73 on Sunday.

“I wasn’t happy with the first half, and I got very upset at half-time” he said. I’d scouted Bristol at Newham on Saturday and has planned exactly how we were going to play and given the players all the information. But we did the complete opposite.

“I lost it at half time and asked them why I bothered if they don’t do as they’re told. They were told to pick it up at half-time or there would be changes. We were much better in the second half, and that’s how we need to consistently play.”

Eagles coach praises Leopards – 

Newcastle Eagles assistant coach Dave Forrester has praised the Leopards after his side’s BBL Trophy win at the Brentwood Centre.

“Leopards have a talented group and whilst I think they missed the experience of Youngblood on the court, we are still happy that we prepared for the game thoroughly” said Forrester. “It’s a credit to them that we treated the  game like a full blown BBL game as i think had we been insufficiently focused it really could have been a banana skin. Howard Crawford is clearly a high level player and was a load to guard but I was happy with the job we did on the Leopards guards.”

Forrester invested in the new Leopards when they were formed in 2004 and is still a shareholder in the club, and he clearly enjoyed the game on Sunday: “It was also fun to see 44-year-old Ronnie Baker and 17-year-old Eddie Matthew going at each other. Possibly the largest age difference between competitors in BBL history!”

Ronnie to coach at Westminster – 

 

Leopards will look to get their title challenge back on track as they make the short trip to Westminster Warriors, on Saturday.
The Big Cats went down 65-57 following a poor final period at Bristol Academy Flyers on Saturday and are now fourth in the table as they look for their second title in three years.
Warriors are the only Division One side the Big Cats haven’t faced this season, and after a good start to the season in the Trophy, the London side are now tenth with a 5-8 record.
Former England international Ronnie Baker will coach the Leopards for the first time after player-coach Robert Youngblood and his assistant Roger Malpass both serve a one game ban for post-game comments following the defeat at Leeds.

Durant joins Leopards –

Robert Youngblood has strengthened his Leopards’ side ahead of next Friday’s signing deadline with the addition of British big man Shaun Durant. The 6’8” centre joins the Big Cats after several spells as a starter in the BBL and looks set to form a formidable partnership inside the paint with Howard Crawford. The 32-year-old Londoner had a four year college career in The States with Lindsey Wilson (NAIA), Kaskaskia Junior College and Lipscomb Uni. In his two years with Lipscomb he averaged 7.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

After a brief spell in 2007 at Spanish side Sabadell Gapsa he joined Worcester Wolves for the 2007/8 season, averaging 11.3 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. The 2008-2009 season saw stints with  Lausanne Morges Basket (Switzerland) French side Lille Metropole Basket Clubs before he joined Leicester Riders the following year where he averaged 7.2 points and 5.4 boards per game. The 2010-2011 campaign saw Durant at Worthing Thunder in their final BBL season where he averaged 11.7ppg and  9.4 rebounds, shooting 53.7 percent from the floor. His last spell in the BBL came in the 2011

Durant starts with a bang –

Lockhart to debut against Warriors – 

Leopards will field new guard Andre Lockhart when they host Leicester Warriors at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday, 4pm.

The Barbados-British dual national helped Newcastle Eagles to the runners-up spot in the BBL in 2011, averaging three points and an assist in nine minutes per game off the bench, and has played for Barbados at both under-21 and senior level. After leaving the Eagles the 6’ 0” guard returned to Barbados where he helped Lumber Company Lakers become national champions, while this season he has played in Germany for BG Biggessee and Giants Duesseldorf before leaving the latter club due to their financial problems.

Leopards beat the January 31 signing deadline to snap up the  27-year-old, although they had to wait until this week for his international clearance from Germany. Coach Robert Youngblood is excited about his new signing: “I know Andre from his time with Eagles, and I really think he can help us in our push for the league title and play-off trophy. “We tried to sign him in the summer, so we’re delighted to have picked up now as we head into the second half of the season.”

Sunday’s game should see player-coach Youngblood return to action after suffering a knee injury in the win at Bradford a month ago, while veteran guard Ronnie Baker should return to the line-up after coaching the win at Westminster due to Youngblood’s suspension.

Big Cats strengthen title bid – 

Leopards made it a winning weekend as six players finished in double figures as a big crowd at Southend saw them defeat Tees Valley Mohawks 93-81.

Coach Robert Youngblood was delighted with his side’s fourth straight win: “we’re moving the ball much better, and Andre [Lockhart] had made a real difference. We had six players in double figures, and Shaun [Durant] and Howard [Crawford] work really well together.

“I was also really pleased with the energy Courtney [Van Beest] gave us off the bench. The league title is still there for the taking, we just have to keep playing good team ‘ball.”

Crawford led the Big Cats for the third successive game and the fifth time in six, finishing with a 22 point, 12 rebound double-double. Durant also recorded a double-double, hitting 18 points and pulling down as many boards.

Kris Clark had seven assists and five steals to go with his 18 points, with Lockhart adding 12 points, while Carl Josey and Courtney Van Beest finished with ten points apiece, the latter pulling down nine boards as the hosts out-rebounded Mohawks 49-31.

Jorge Ebanks – who led the visitors with 27 points  – opened the scoring for the visitors, but with Crawford hitting the first six points for Leopards, the home side led 6-5 with just under four minutes gone

That proved to be the Big Cats’ last lead of the quarter as Mohawks answered with a 6-0 run, before Crawford took his tally to eight for the period and Ebanks answered at the other end to send the visitors into the first break with a 21-18 lead.

Free-throws from Jerome Narcisse and Ebanks saw Mohawks’ lead grow to seven two minutes into the second period. But that proved to be as good as it got for the visitors as Leopards went on a 17-0 run lead, holding the Middlesbrough side scoreless for over five minutes, to take a lead they would never lose.

Van Beest sparked the run with four straight points before Crawford also scored four points to give the hosts the lead. Seven consecutive Durant points put Leopards in charge before Crawford wrapped the run off a Clark assist. Ebanks finally broke the tear with a trey, but Crawford answered with a dunk, and a Josey trey sent the Big Cats into the locker room with a 41-30 lead.

Durant scored the first four Leopards’ points of the third period, and although Alex Greven – who finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists – briefly took the lead down to single digits with a trey, a Josey trey launched a 13-2 run which was capped by a three point play by Clark as Leopards’ lead grew to 20 at the five minute mark. A Van Beest jump shot saw the lead peak at 22, and Leopards went into the final break 73-55 ahead.

Clark drained from the Land of Plenty to keep the lead at 18 early in the fourth period, and a Lockhart basket put Leopards 84-67 with five minutes to play. The visitors chipped away at the lead with Greven briefly making it a nine point game with three minutes remaining, with Lockhart replying off a Durant assist. A Ryan Nelson and-one brought Mohawks within eight points with 71 seconds on the clock, but Lockhart hit two from four at the foul line and Clark converted four free-throws as Leopards wrapped up the win.

Magic fourth period defeats Manchester – 

A dominant fourth quarter paved the way for Leopards’ sixth win in seven games as Manchester Magic were hammered 81-57 in front of a large crowd at Brentwood.

Howard Crawford led the Big Cats’ scoring for the sixth straight game with 24 points, adding seven rebounds, while Andre Lockhart added 15 and Kris Clark 14. Shaun Durant finished with an 11 point, 11 rebound double-double as nine Leopards got on the scoresheet.

In common with the game at Reading, Leopards started well the  with Durant and Crawford each scoring twice before a Clark three-point play off Lockhart’s assist saw them again led 11-2 after five minutes of action. A second Crawford dunk of the game saw the lead grow to 14-2 before Jack Minister sparked a mini Magic run, but a trey from Carl Josey sent Leopards into the first break with an 18-10 lead.

A pair of Durant scores either side of a 5-0 Magic run kept Leopards ahead 22-15 after three second period minutes before a  Tom Ward trey saw Magic move within three points. But Lockhart scored seven points to keep the Big Cats ahead, and five points from Lawrence Brown helped Leopards go into the locker room with a 36-28 half-time lead.

The third period proved to be Crawford time as he scored 12 of the Big Cats’ 15 points. The American big man scored either side of a Lockhart basket as Leopards opened a 40-30 lead after two minutes of action, and put them 42-31 ahead soon after.

But a 7-0 run from the visitors, with Ward hitting a trey, saw Magic make it a four point game before Crawford broke the run with a pair at the foul line. Franc Garcia Garrido cut the lead to three points in the final minute of the period before Crawford split a pair at the charity stripe to send Leopards into the final quarter 51-37 ahead,

Clark started the tear with a trey off Lockhart’s assist before Josey stole the ball from Garcia Garrido and passed for Lockhart to set Clark up for a dunk. Clark hit back-to-back baskets off steals, and Crawford then stole the ball from Nathan Schall before dunking it home, and repeated the trick after forcing Ward into a turnover to complete the 14-0 run which saw the visitors held scoreless for nearly five minutes.

With  69-52 lead, Leopards were mindful of points difference in the head-to-head decider, but the lead never dipped into single figures again. The Big Cats wrapped the game with a 10-1 run started by Van Beest and wrapped up by Ioan Nickson as Youngblood ran his bench down the stretch to wrap up the Big Cats 14th league win of the campaign.

Schall led the way for Magic with a 16 point, 15 rebound double-double, but Ward was the only other Manchester player in double figures with 11 points as Garcia Garrido was held to seven points of two-from-nine shooting.

Leopards seal home court advantage – 

A strong fourth period saw Leopards pick up their ninth win in ten games as Leeds Carnegie were beaten 77-70 to seal a place in the top four.
The Big Cats were down by four points a minute into the fourth period before a 12-2 run put the hosts in charge and they never trailed again.
Andre Lockhart led Leopards’ scoring for the first time since joining six weeks ago, adding seven assists to his 20 points.
Kris Clark finished with 16 points, with Carl Josey adding 15 points and six rebounds, while Howard suffered with foul trouble for most of game but added seven boards to his 13 points. To complete a balanced scoring effort, Courtney Van Beest came off the bench to add ten points and eight rebounds.
Jack Stannard led the visitors with 22 points, with former Leopard Rowell Graham adding 17 points and nine boards as the visitors out-rebounded the Big Cats 51-35.
Shaun Durant, who also had foul trouble, opened the scoring and Leopards quickly rushed into a 7-2 lead and that advantage few to 13-4 following a Clark trey and an and-one from Crawford.
Eight unanswered Leeds points saw them find their way back into the game before scores from Josey and Clark put the hosts back up by five and eventually went into the first break with a 17-15 lead.
Crawford made it a four point game with the opening basket of the second period, and Lockhart opened his account for the afternoon.
Graham gave his side their first lead of the game with a pair at charity stripe four minutes into the second period and it took until the 2:26 mark for Lockhart to tie things at 26.
Amand Anebo restored Leeds’ but Lockhart gave the home side a one point lead with three from four foul shooting after Josh McGinn had fouled him and then picked up a technical foul, and Josey drained a trey to send Leopards into the locker room leading 32-28.
Josey gave his side a six point lead with the first basket of the season half but that quickly evaporated as Graham capped a 9-0 run to put Leeds 37-34 ahead.
Durant was also called for a technical after a foul on Stannard, and the Leeds’ guard sunk three from four at the foul line before a Graham free-throw saw the visitors lead by seven.
Another Josey score from the Land of Plenty ended the tear, and he struck again from long range to cut the deficit to 52-51 going into the final break.
Anebo and Van Beest exchanged baskets to open the fourth period before Stannard put the visitors ahead by four with a trey
But Crawford’s dunk energised his team, and back-to-back Clark baskets gave the home side a lead they would never lose.
Lockhart hit a pair at the foul line and Crawford did likewise to make it a six point game with 5:49 on the clock before Stannard drained from long range off Graham’s assist to force a timeout from Leopards’ coach Robert Youngblood with his team leading by a point and 4:41 on the clock.
Crawford and Lockhart both scored to keep Leopards in front before Graham made it a one point game with a minute remaining.
That was as close as the visitors came as Van Beest answered at the other end and Clark hit a jumper before Clark and Crawford wrapped the win up at the foul line.

Leopards keep title hopes alive – 

Leopards kept their outside chances of the EBL Division One title alive with a 90-84 victory against Medway Park Crusaders, on Saturday evening.

With Reading Rockets losing at Worthing Thunder the Big Cats can still win the regular season crown if they win all three of their remaining games and Rockets lose both of theirs.

While that remains unlikely as the Rockets host basement side Leicester Warriors on the final day of the season, the hard-fought victory against Crusaders did wrap up their third top two finish in four seasons and ensured themselves of a medal.

But they were made to fight all the way by a young Crusaders team who included three of Leopards’ 2012 treble winning  side in their line-up but saw coach Lloyd Gardner ejected in the final period.

Howard Crawford led all scorers with a massive 25 point, 17 rebound double-double, adding three assists in 39 minutes of action. Kris Clark finished with 22 points and five assists, with Andre Lockhart adding 17 points and six assists, with Carl Josey and Courtney Van Beest scoring ten apiece. Spanish forward Juan Cabot led the Kent side with 24 points and 11 boards, with Canadian guard Josh Whyte adding 18 points. Former Leopards Josh Steel and Bradley Wilkinson added 17 and 14 points respectively, combining for 15 rebounds with Steel adding five assists.

Steel and Josey exchanged treys to open the game, but five unanswered points gave the visitors a lead they held for almost the entire half. A pair of Steel baskets saw Crusaders’ lead grow to 11 before Clark answered with a trey, and although Andre Lockhart drained from downtown to spark an 11-0 run, it was Medway who went into the first break with a 30-20 lead following a Patrick Lyons trey.

Shaun Durant opened the second period scoring, and Josey hit another three to make it a five point game, only to see the Kent side reply with an 8-2 run. A pair of Crawford baskets started an 11-0 Leopards’ run with Lockhart hitting the final seven points of the team to briefly tie the game at 38, but it was Medway who finished the half strongly scoring ten of the final 12 points to lead 48-40 heading into the locker room.

Steel again opened the scoring in the third period but Clark hit five points  and Crawford four as Leopards closed the gap to two with a 10-2 run and then snatched the lead with four minutes gone after back-to-back Clark triples. Cabot gave the visitors the lead for the last time at 58-56, but five Clark points – including a pair of free-throws as Crusaders assistant coach and Great British international Dan Clark picked up a technical foul – put Leopards 63-58 ahead and a pair of Ronnie Baker free-throws sent them into the final break 72-66 ahead.

Lockhart drained a pair at the foul line to open the fourth period, but Crusaders twice pulled within two points before Gardner was ejected with six minutes remaining, leaving Lockhart to make it a seven point game from the charity stripe.

With Dan Clark now coaching them on his return to the Brentwood Centre having been waterboy for the BBL title winning sides in 1990s, Crusaders cut the lead to three on a Wilkinson score with 3:43 on the clock. But that was as close as they came as Lockhart and Van Beest made it a seven point game, leaving Clark and Crawford to close out the win at the foul line.

Warriors hammered in league finale –

The Big Cats wrapped up the league season with a comfortable 83-59 victory against Westminster Warriors at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday evening.

After Kris Clark had scored the opening two baskets of the game to spark a 10-3 start to the game the Big Cats led from tip-to-buzzer as they picked up their 20th league victory of the campaign. A pair of Olabiyi Odumosu free-throws cut the home side’s lead to one with two first period minutes remaining, but Durant sparked 9-1 run with Lawrence Brown and Courtney Van Beest also getting on the scoresheet as the hosts ended the first period  with a 25-16 lead.

With Youngblood running his bench for much of the second period, the lead grew to 12 as George Naiwo drained a trey to open the second period.

Former Big Cat Tom Martin drained a trey to make it a nine point game, but a Clark trey saw Leopards lead back up to 13 and Marvin Isobar sent the Leopards go into the locker room with a 42-33 advantage.

Crawford and Jonathan Johnson exchanged baskets as both started the second half slowly, but successful trips to the foul line by Crawford and Clark saw Leopards’ lead grow to 52-39 with 5:30 on the clock.

Carl Josey kept the lead in double figures, and Leopards extend that lead to 60-47 at the final break as Naiwo and Brown helped them finish strongly

Leopards’ strength in depth proved crucial in the last ten minutes as the visitors were outscored 23-12.

A Ronnie Baker foul on Laken Popoola saw the former Guildford Heat guard hit all three free-throws to open the fourth period  but that was as good as it got for the visitors as Van Beest replied at the other end.

Josey drained from the Land of Plenty to keep the home side comfortably in front, and baskets from Crawford and Durant made it a 16 point game heading into the final three minutes to effectively seal the win.

The bench players returned to action at that stage, with Naiwo and Brown both scoring off Ioan Nickson assists before the Welsh international also scored to make it a 22 points game and Isobar drained a trey to wrap things up.

Crawford led Leopards with 15 points and seven rebounds, with Clark and Brown adding 14 points apiece. Josey had eight boards to go with his 11 points, while Durant pulled down a massive 15 rebounds along with his eight points.

Justin Hitchman led Warriors with a 16 point, 11 rebound double-double, with acting coach Johnson adding 15 points and seven boards.  Rebounding proved to crucial as the Big Cats’ dominated 60-35 on the glass.

It’s play-off time at Brentwood –

Leopards will host old rivals Bristol Academy Flyers in the play-off quarter-final at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday, 4pm.

The Big Cats had to settle for the runners-up spot in Division One after Reading Rockets won both their games to take the title, but Robert Youngblood’s team will look to finish the season on a high by winning the play-offs.

Youngblood is expecting a tough test on Sunday and hopes to see a big crowd for his side’s final home game of the campaign: “Bristol have been a bit inconsistent this season, and they clearly missed Doug McLaughlin-Williams before Christmas, but on their day they can beat anyone. I would be great to see a good crowd for our last home game, we’ve had a good season and won our last nine home league games, so we’re certainly looking to go out on a high and qualify for the Final Four.”

The two sides met twice in January, each winning at home but the Big Cats have since added guard Andre Lockhart and forward Shaun Durant to their line-up as they look to reach their fourth straight Final Four and collect their fifth piece of silverware in three seasons.

With American forward McLaughlin-Williams failing to join up with Bristol until after Christmas due to visa problems, Flyers have had their most disappointing Division One season since gaining promotion in 2007, finishing seventh with a 14-12 record.

The two clubs are old rivals with Flyers having piped Leopards to the Division One title in 2011 before the roles were reversed the following year. The 2011/12 season saw Flyers deny Leopards a shot at a clean sweep when they beat them in the National Trophy semi-final, with the Big Cats going on to win the other three pieces of silverware.

Leopards reach semi-final – 

A tense game at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday saw Leopards reach their fourth straight Final Fours with a 65-57 victory against Bristol Academy Flyers. Robert Youngblood’s team will now travel to Manchester on Saturday April 26 to face Leeds Carnegie in the semi-final, with the final taking place the following day.

Howard Crawford again led the Big Cats with 23 points and eight rebounds, but it was guard Andre Lockhart who took the game by the scruff of the neck down the stretch on the way to a 19 point game. Kris Clark finished with 11 points and five rebounds, while Shaun Durant had 11 boards to go with his six points.

Ultimately it was an 11-0 run in the fourth period sparked by Lockhart which sealed the game as the visitors were held scoreless for almost six minutes,

The home side started slowly with Roy Owen and Greg Streete giving Bristol a 3-0 lead, but a Clark trey started a 9-2 run with Crawford hitting back-to-back baskets. Four straight Streete free-throws levelled the score at nine but Crawford took his tally to six, and a Courtney Van Beest basket sent Leopards into the first break with a 17-12 lead.

That advantage quickly evaporated as Duane Lautier-Ogunleye buried a three in a 6-0 start to the second period from the visitors, and although baskets from Clark and Durant broke the run, it was only poor foul shooting from the Flyers that kept Leopards in touch. A Crawford and-one cut the deficit to a single point, but the Flyers went into the locker room at half-time 33-30 ahead as Jordan Rankine beat the buzzer.

Streete – who along with Lautier-Ogunleye led his side with 15 points – made it a five point game with the opening shot of the second half, but straight Lockhart points put Leopards 39-38 ahead with three third period minutes remaining. A pair of Owen baskets put Bristol ahead again, and although Lovkhart’s and-one gave Leopards a one point lead, treys from Streete and Tomas Okros sent Bristol into the final break with a 50-47 lead.

That lead grew to five as Lautier-Ogunleye opened the fourth period scoring before scores from Lockhart and Crawford pulled Leopards within a point before Doug McLaughlin-Williams scored what proved to be their final field goal of the game as he sunk a three with 7:24 on the clock to put his side 55-51 ahead.

Lockhart halved the lead but after a 90 second lull in scoring Crawford sunk a single free-throw to make it a one point game.

A Crawford dunk off Clark’s assist gave Leopards’ the lead with 4:06 on the clock before a massive block from Durant on Streete brought the crowd to its feet.

Clark made it a three point game with a pair of foul shots before Crawford again dunked off his assist before the game was effectively sealed with 99 seconds on the clock as Crawford blocked McLaughlin-Williams’ three-pointer, grabbed the rebound and fed the ball for Clark to dunk it home and put Leopards 60-55 ahead.

Clark made it a seven point game before Lautier-Ogunleye ended the drought from the foul line, but Crawford slammed another massive dunk down before Lockhart  wrapped up the win at the foul line.

Howard wins MVP – 

American forward Howard Crawford was voted as Leopards’ Most Valuable Player for 2013/14, receiving his award from retiring chairman Fred Dicker after Leopards’ play-off quarter-final win against Bristol Academy Flyers.
The American big man led the league in points per game (20.8), total blocks (25) and free-throw percentage (78.3%). He finished third in rebounds per game (9.2) and fourth in field goal percentage (54.1%) and unsurprisingly led the over all league stats chart.
Courtney Van Beest became the first bench player to finish in the top two of the Leopards’ MVP voting, with Carl Josey third.

‘Blood to miss semi-final – 

Leopards will be without coach Robert Youngblood when they meet Leeds Carnegie in the play-off semi-final on Saturday.
The Big Cats’ play-caller received a one game ban after being ejected in the victory against Team Northumbria in late March, and although he received less than the automatic ten disciplinary points. The post-game ejection when his side lost at Leeds in January means he will sit out the game in Manchester.
Assistant coach Roger Malpass will take charge of the team as they attempt to win their fifth piece of silverware in five seasons, with Youngblood free to coach again if they reach Sunday’s final against either Reading Rockets or Bradford Dragons.

“It’s massively frustrating we won’t have Robert when England Basketball have basically admitted that he should never have been thrown out against Northumbria” said general manager Dave Ryan.
“Robert was moaning to Roger about our lack of defence, and the ref thought he was having a go at him. The ejection at Leeds in January has come back to haunt us, and to go into such an important game without our coach is a real blow.
“On the positive side, we did get the ban reduced from two to one game, so he’s available on Sunday if we get to the final. Roger’s a decent coach, the guys should know all the plays by now, and we go into the game with 13 wins from our last 14 games, so we’re certainly in good form.”
Leeds finished sixth in the table, which many people considered to be an underachievement, and produced the only away victory in the quarter-finals by hammering Hemel Storm 85-60. A controversial last few seconds saw Leopards go down 64-61 when the sides met in Leeds, but they gained revenge in the return at the Brentwood Centre with a 77-70 victory. It will be the fourth straight season that the Big Cats have reached the Final Fours – winning it in 2012 – and they are the only team to be ever-present during that period.

Roger ready for Leeds test – 

As he prepares to coach the biggest game of his life, Leopards assistant coach Roger Malpass is looking forward to the challenge of Saturday’s play-off semi-final against Leeds Carnegie.
Malpass will be calling the shots at the Amaechi Centre on Saturday after coach Robert Youngblood received a one-game ban following his ejection against Team Northumbria, and he’s excited about the prospect:
“I’m looking forward to coaching the semi-final. It will be tough without Robert there, but not an insurmountable problem. There’s plenty of experience on the bench and Ronnie Baker will be there to assist.
“It will be a tough game, they are well coached, well drilled, energetic and athletic. We will need to perform to a good level to overcome them. They are really ‘up for it; I saw that at their quarter-final at Hemel. They made a flying start and denied Hemel the opportunity to get a foothold in the game. We must be wary of that.
“We played them very recently and overcame them in a close match, I expect a similar game this weekend. Russell Permenter has given them an additional dimension, and with [Jack] Stannard and [Josh] McGinn they control the tempo well and their additional outside shooting strength gives them plenty of options.
“I believe we have sufficient strength in depth to cause them serious problems, we have a good attitude at present and a strong will to win.
“To lift the trophy on Sunday would be a fitting farewell present to our outgoing chairman Fred Dicker as a thank you for the ten years of unwavering commitment to this organisation, and we’ll be doing all we can to deliver that.”

Semi-final woe for Leopards – 

Leopards’ dreams of a second Division One play-off title in three years came to an end at the semi-final stage as they went down 72-62 against Leeds Carnegie on Saturday.
A depleted Big Cats’ side who were missing suspended player-coach Robert Youngblood and captain Carl Josey whose father died on Wednesday never recovered from a poor third period, allowing Carnegie to progress to Sunday’s final where they narrowly defeated Division One champions Reading Rockets.
The Big Cats clearly missed the spark that Courtney Van Beest brings off the bench as he started in place of Josey, and they could clearly have done with some court time from Youngblood as their big men suffered with foul trouble.
“It was disappointing” admitted general manager Dave Ryan. “Obviously we missed Carl, and our thoughts are with him and his family, because he is an important part of the team. Going into a vital game like this without a key player was a massive disadvantage, and not having Robert coaching or available to play made a difference, as well.
“But it’s been a successful season, finishing runners-up in the league and reaching two semi-finals is a real achievement. People seem to think that the level of success that we’ve achieved over the last four years comes easily but it doesn’t. We have to scrape for every penny, if we had the kind of resources Leeds have, I’d expect at least two trophies each year.
“Mind you, even without those resources we manage to attend pre-game meetings, send out game confirmations and generally act in a professional manner. But we’ll have a bit of a rest, re-group and look to do even better next year.”

Season ends in disappointment – 

Leopards’ season ended in disappointment as they lost 72-62 against Leeds Carnegie in the play-off semi-final at Manchester on Saturday. A depleted Big Cats’ side who were missing suspended player-coach Robert Youngblood and captain Carl Josey whose father died on Wednesday never recovered from a poor third period, allowing Carnegie to progress to Sunday’s final where they narrowly defeated Division One champions Reading Rockets.
Howard Crawford led the Big Cats with 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists, with Andre Lockhart and Kris Clark each finishing with 14 points, Clark adding four boards and as many assists despite also getting into foul trouble.
Crawford opened the scoring and provided Leopards’ first five points before Clark hit a trey, and they led for most of the period despite being forced to sit Shaun Durant down on two foul.
Clark hit another from the Land of Plenty before Lawrence Brown put his side three up with two minutes of the period remaining, and the seven footer sent the Big Cats into the first break 19-18 ahead.
Van Beest doubled the lead from the foul line to open the second period, but the whole quarter was played within a four point range.
Former Leopard Duane Camille levelled the score at 22 with 6:29 on the clock, before Ronnie Baker put the Big Cats back up by two.
Leeds hit six unanswered points to give them their biggest lead of the first half, four points, but three points from Lockhart saw Leopards narrow the gap and a Crawford dunk gave Leopards a 35-34 half-time lead.
The damage was done in the third period as Leopards were out-scored 21-9, Van Beest kept the Big Cats within a point early in the quarter but a 7-0 run giving Carnegie a lead they would never relinquish.
A Van Beest basket followed by another Clark trey cut the deficit to three but former Leopard Rowell Graham capped an 11-2 run to close out the quarter strongly and send Carnegie into the final break with a 55-44 lead.
Crawford opened the fourth period scoring and Clark hit another triple and Leopards kept the deficit to eight with six minutes remaining.
A pair of Lockhart free-throws again pulled the Big Cats within six with 5:37 on the clock and Durant made it a five point game with as many minutes remaining but that was as good as it got as Leopards’ season ended in a loss.
American forward Russell Parmenter led Leeds with 16 points with Lithuanian Branimir Mikulic adding 14 and nine boards. Former Leopards Graham was one of five Carnegie players in double figures with ten points, while Camille – making a surprise start – finished with eight points.

Fred steps down –

The end of the season will also be the end of an era as Leopards’ chairman – and co founder of the new Big Cats – Fred Dicker steps down after a decade in the job. Below is a farewell from Fred and a few words from general manager Dave Ryan
Dear friends
As we come to the end of not only the current season but also our tenth anniversary of EBL division 1 basketball I believe we should be very proud of our wonderful club. We have coached thousands of children through our community programmes and hopefully given enjoyment to many people watching us play.
We have always had a competitive team and have picked up a collection of trophies along the way. Indeed we are league runners up this year and have high hopes to win the play offs.
I would like to give thanks to everyone involved in the Leopards organisation over the last 10 years. So thank you to our fans, sponsors, players, coaches, match-day crew, Roger Davinson and the Brentwood Leisure Centre. Also a special word of thanks to Debs Sidwell, Gareth Roberts and Dave Ryan. The management team has seen several changes over the years but Dave and i have been the two constants in the day to day running of the club. i would also like to thank my family for their support especially my wife sue who has washed thousands of pieces of kit over the years and used gallons of Lenor to give our players that special aroma.!!!
I retire as your chairman at the end of this season and will then have time to reflect on all the ups and downs over the last 10 years. But I have met some wonderful people in the basketball world and have made so many friends.so many great memories.!!!
So as we move on to the next 10 years the leopards organisation are making plans to move the club forward. Your new chairman is Tony “the voice of reason” Shorey. I wish Tony and the new management team all the very best for the future.
Best wishes and thanks for having me.
Fred Dicker.

When myself and Fred spent a frustrating month trying to save the original Leopards in July 2003, I don’t think we had any idea what we were letting ourselves in for! We failed on that count, but 11 years later we can look back on a successful decade of running the New Leopards.
It’s never been easy, we’ve had our ups and our downs, but throughout it all, Fred’s been there ensuring that we have one of the best clubs in Division One. We’ve lifted five trophies in that time, hopefully we’ll make it six before the end of this season.
Having worked with Fred throughout the last decade, I probably appreciate more than anyone just what he’s done. It’s been immense, and it isn’t an exaggeration to say we wouldn’t still be here if it wasn’t for Fred.
He’ll always be part of the Leopards family, and I hope we’ll see him back here regularly next season. It’s the start of a new era for the club, but the work Fred’s done won’t ever be forgotten.
Dave Ryan

 

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