25 seasons of the Leopards – The National Trophy

The National Trophy was the – generally – the early season competition for Division One clubs, providing a chance for teams to fine-tune their roster before the league campaign started, while giving them the opportunity to win some silverware.

The first competitive game for the new Leopards was a Trophy tie and it was a proud night for the new club as they overcame a stacked London United 86-72 in front of a big Brentwood Centre crowd. That proved to be something of a false dawn as the Big Cats finished second the in the three-team group – winning both home games, losing both on the road – while the following season saw a tough group alongside Worthing and Reading saw a bottom place finish with a 1-3 record. The 2006/7 Trophy campaign started well with a home win against Nottingham Hoods, only for the midlands side (who defined the word “shambles”) to promptly fold about 48 hours later! Leopards split their remaining four games in a new format that saw bigger groups one a national basis with sides only playing each other once.
The 2007/8 season provided Leopards with a second straight visit to Sheffield Arrows, which wasn’t great for the bank balance, and it was another tough campaign as they were one of three sides to finish with a 1-3 record. The following campaign saw Division One down to ten sides, with the Trophy comprising of two five team groups, playing each other home and away in a format that went on until last Januay Rockets won all eight games on their way to a unbeaten season but the Big Cats won five of the other six games to progress to the knockout stages for the first time. A trip to Manchester wasn’t much of a reward, and Magic won a tight semi-final 89-81 to set themselves up for a loss against Reading in the final.
Revenge was gained against Rockets with a 56-45 home win in 2009/10, but with the groups returning to three teams, Leopards, Reading and London Mets all finished with 2-2 records and the Big Cats finished bottom of the group on points difference. Mets’ second place finish saw them progress to the quarter-finals and they won the competition before promptly folding!
It was a return to the bigger group format for the 2010/11 season as the it was a rollercoaster of a campaign for the new look BA London Leopards. A heavy home loss against Reading was followed by a trip to Capital City Academy where it was found the court had been wrongly marked out. Capital insisted on playing the game, and won by 14 points but Leopards appealed the result and the game was ordered to be replayed (on a newly marked out court) but in the meantime Capital had lost their other three group games, and gave Leopards a 20-0 walkover. A loss at Bristol had set Leopards up with a winner-takes-all final group game against Brixton Topcats at Brentwood. A 91-77 victory put the Big Cats through to the knockout stages where a second trip to Bristol had a much happier ending with a dominant 78-58 victory before Mark Clark’s team lost a heart-breaker 62-60 at Reading in overtime
The 2011/12 season was the most successful in the Leopards’ Division One history, but the Trophy proved to be the one that got away for Dejan Mehavic’s team. A home loss against Derby Trailblazers was the only blip in the group stage as wins against Reading – courtesy of a buzzer beating triple from John Lister – Bradford, Medway Park and London Capital set up a home quarter-final against Worthing. An 84-74 victory at the Brentwood Centre set up a trip to Bristol where a disappointing performance saw Flyers gain revenge for Leopards’ Cup final victory with a 89-82 win. Irrationally it’s a defeat that still rankles eight years later, as this team should have completed a clean sweep of all four trophies.
With Robert Youngblood becoming Leopards’ fourth coach in as many years, the Big Cats finally lifted the National Trophy. Youngblood’s coaching debut – ended in a controversial 83-81 loss at Tees Valley (and to rub it in there was no post-game food!), but despite a (seemingly traditional) loss at Leicester Warriors, home wins against Medway Park, Worthing and Brixton along with a 20-point victory at Hemel gave Leopards a home quarter-final against Derby Trailblazers in the New Year. Trailblazers were hammered 81-59 at Brentwood in the last eight and their reward was a trip to Hemel – one of the quirks of the competition was that they’d finished two places below Leopards in the group stage – where they continued their domination against their Herts neighbours with a 92-84 victory to put them in the final.
Tees Valley Mohawks were Leopards’ final opponents at the rather uninspiring venue of Braunstone Leisure Centre, where Leopards always seemed to lose against Leicester Warriors, and managed to do so the week before the final. The game proved to be a classic, befitting of somewhere more salubrious and, despite the loss of Taner Adu, Leopards came out on top 99-91 in overtime. The result meant that Leopards had lifted all four pieces of BE silverware in the space of 13 months.
The defence of their trophy didn’t exactly go well for Leopards, with home losses against Bradford and Manchester before an 80-69 defeat at Worthing left their qualification hopes hanging by a thread. Mohawks gained revenge for the final defeat with a 72-70 overtime victory at Brentwood and although Leopards wrapped up the group stage with wins against Reading and Meday Park, the loss against Dragons had proved to be fatal as the Big Cats went out on the head-to-head rule.
2014/15 saw another game replayed due to an illegal court as Leopards went down by 13 and then 14 points at Kent Crusaders. It was decided not appeal against the result of the second game despite the alternative court also being sub-standard. but it proved irrelevant as wins against Worthing, Hemel, Westminster, Reading and Newham saw them top the group. A home tie against Leicester Warrior was the reward and after the sides had met in Harlow the night before – with Leopards winning comfortably – arguably the Big Cats’ worst display of the season saw them lose 74-50 at Brentwood just 21 hours later.
Youngblood moved on for the 2015/16 campaign and his replacement Steve Ogunjimi made a winning start in the competition with a 71-68 victory against London Lituanica but that proved to be as good as it got as five straight losses – including a first ever defeat against Hemel Storm – saw Leopards finish bottom of the group.
Despite opposition from the clubs, the 2016/17 season saw the competition return to smaller groups, but the sides only played each other once. The format didn’t work for the Big Cats as a last second home loss against Hemel proved crucial and despite wins at Lituanica and Westminster, their Trophy campaign was over.
Relegation brought the joys of the Patrons Cup for the 2017/18 season, also played on a small group format and a 79-73 home loss against Nottingham Hoods effectively ended their hopes despite a 87-58 win at Ipswich.
The 2018/19 campaign saw a return to Division One and the Trophy, opening with a 114-105 loss at Thames Valley Cavaliers. A comfortable 85-69 win against Reading at University of Essex (the eighth different home venue Leopards had used for a Trophy tie) saw Leopards travel to Hemel knowing a win would put them in the semi-final but two missed Asante Sandiford free-throws in the final seconds saw Storm hold on to win 96-95.
They proved to be the final shots taken by a Leopard in the competition as it was discontinued – against the wishes of member clubs – in the summer of 2019.

Blood looks for final glory – February 21, 2013
Leopards’ player-coach Robert Youngblood is ready for his first final in his coaching career as the Big Cats prepare to face Tees Valley Mohawks in Saturday’s National Trophy final after passion film for free.
“It’s absolutely fantastic to be in a final in my first year as a coach, and I’m really happy to be given the opportunity to coach the Leopards” said Youngblood. “I set out to put a good product on the floor who would compete night in, night out, and to have a good team who would contend and win things like they did last year.
Youngblood knows what to expect from the Middlesbrough team having already faced them twice this season: “They’re a really good team. They’re guard orientated with three really good guards, but you can’t just key in those guys as they have Jamie Kohn who’s a beast on the board. If you gang up on the guards, he’s shown he’s a force to be reckoned with.
“They like to run the fast-break and they like an up and down game, so we have to slow them down. They’re well coached, and well organised so we have to be ready for them. I’m sure a weekend coming off two losses they’ll be hungry for a win.”
Youngblood took over as Leopards’ coach last season and admits that he’s both excited about the prospect of winning some silverware but knows that there’s pressure to succeed at a club who won three trophies last season: “Winning something in my first year as coach would be brilliant, and have a title would be a pressure release as there are expectations when you coach a club who won the treble last season. Winning the one we didn’t get last year would be sweet.”
The Leopards play-caller has been working his side hard in the build-up to Saturday’s game in Leicester: “We’ve had some good extra practice, working on our fitness as well as some plays. All the guys are getting game from last time we played them to watch, and I’ll be testing them to make sure they’ve watched it.”

Excitement grows ahead of final – February 21, 2013
As Leopards look to win their fourth piece of silverware in the last 13 months, forward Carl Josey and guard Simon Cummings are excited about facing Tees Valley Mohawks in the National Trophy final, on Saturday.
Josey can’t wait to take to the floor on Saturday: “I am very excited about reaching a final as it takes us one step closer to achieving one of our goals for the season. Obviously, to start my career at the Leopards with a piece of silverware would be fantastic and set the started for years to come.
“I have only played in one of the two games against the Mohawks this season. They are a guard heavy team who strive in the open floor. We will look to put pressure on them from an offensive stand point as we have depth and a good combination of an inside outside presence. On the defensive end it is about controlling the tempo and make them play our game. All this said if we come out and play unselfish team basketball and out forth the effort on both ends of the floor I am positive the outcome will be to our liking.”
The former MK Lions forward is determined that the Big Cats will continued to improve regardless of what happens on Saturday: “To be honest it has been a development year across all aspects of our team. Yes, we have a lot of talent, probably the most across the league but continuity wins basketball games not individuals. We have seen success and also failure this season which has helped us grow and mature. To be in this final is a credit to the organisation, coach and players but the work is not finished. We need to keep growing as a unit and learn from our mistakes in order to achieve our goals.”
Cummings – who scored 38 points in the semi-final win at Hemel – is also excited to be in a title game in his first year as a pro player: “I am very excited to be a part of the final and having a chance of being a part of history. From my knowledge the Leopards have never won a Trophy final and to get it done this year would be a great accomplishment.
”The Mohawks are a good team led by high scoring guards. Their three guards are their main players so it’s up to me, Taner and Josey to keep them under control. The last time the played them we did a decent job on making them take a lot of contested jump-shots and we led from start to finish This season has been up and down! But as up right now we are on the up and gelling as a team. This year has been a fun experience and to be in a final with a chance to win it makes it even better”

Leopards complete the set! – February 24, 2013
The Big Cats collected their fourth piece of silverware in 13 months with a thrilling 99-91 National trophy victory against Tees Valley Mohawks on Saturday evening.
Coach Robert Youngblood poured in nine points in the extra period as he scored the first five points of overtime and never looked back to win the one piece of silverware which eluded them last season. Greg Hernandez won the MVP award with 26 points and 12 rebounds along with two steals and as many assists as he played all but 38 seconds of the 45 minutes.
But the unsung hero was probably Carl Josey who finished with eight points and nine boards, but locked down David Hanson who had poured in 27 first half points, and limited the talented British youngster to just three points in the second half and overtime combined. The win was achieved despite losing captain Taner Adu with an ankle injury midway through the fourth period, with the former England international finishing with 25 points and two assists. Simon Cummings had 23 points, seven boards and six assists, while player-coach had a season-high 15 point, 12 rebound double-double in 35:34 of playing time.
Hansen opened the scoring, only for Cummings to reply, and Hernandez gave Leopards their first lead at 8-6 with three minutes gone. An Adu three at the five minute mark capped a 9-2 run to put Leopards 15-8 ahead and Leopards captain put his side 19-10 with 3:20 remaining in the first period before Mohawks big men Jamie Kohn and Lee McLaughlin scored five straight points to cut Leopards’ lead to 19-15 at the first break.
The second period belonged to Hansen as he poured in 20 points including six treys to put his side in the driving seat. The Big Cats still led by three win as many minutes left in the half after a Youngblood basket but Mohawks replied with a 13-2 run before Adu scored shortly before the buzzer to cut the deficit to 51-42 going into the locker room.
Cummings opened the second half scoring to launch an 8-0 run which saw the Big Cats pull within a point before Hansen drained from downtown for his only field goal after half-time. A pair of three-point plays from Cummings gave Leopards their first lead of the second half with three minutes gone but there was little to choose between the teams in the rest of the period before Tom Martin sent Leopards into the fourth period with a 70-68.

Adu hit a single free-throw to open the fourth quarter before Rowell Graham made it a five point game. DJ Glavin hit a long two to put Mohawks back in the lead with six minutes of regulation time remaining and it took until 40 seconds from the end of the fourth period before an and-one from Hernandez put the Big Cats back into the lead at 84-83.

Kohn replied with a three point play of his own to put Mohawks up by two before Hansen fouled Cummings with 25 seconds left, and the American guard coolly drained bother shots at the charity stripe to level things. Kohn missed a shot with eight seconds on the clock and Youngblood grabbed the rebound to set Hernandez up for an attempted buzzer-beater, but it rimmed out and the game went to an extra period.

Overtime belonged to Leopards even without the injured Adu as Youngblood showed that even as he approached his 43rd birthday he can still take over a game. The Leopards’ coach hit the first two baskets of the additional period, and although Cummings missed a pair at the foul line, Josey made it a five point game with a single free-throw.

Jorge Ebanks hit a three to cut the lead to 91-89 with 2:09 on the clock before Youngblood doubled the advantage after Josey had pulled down a rebound. Youngblood and Cummings both split pairs of free-throws to make it a six point game with 22 seconds remaining before the same pair both hit two foul shots to wrap things up and let the celebrations start..

Hansen led the Mohawks with 31 points, seven boards and three assists while Glavin added 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

Leopards: G Hernandez (26), T Adu (25), S Cummings (23), R Youngblood (15), C Josey (6), R Graham (2), T Martin (2), I Fontaine, D Dunscombe, L Brown (DNP), D Camile (DNP), D Davis (DNP)

Trophy joy for Blood

February 25, 2013

Leopards’ coach Robert Youngblood couldn’t hide his joy after the Big Cats won the National Trophy with an overtime victory against Tees Valley Mohawks: “It was a fantastic final, and a real up and down game” he said

“In the first quarter we came out very strong playing good defence and got a lead but they were on fire in the second quarter, hitting threes from everywhere. We took the players in at half-time and got them composed and told them we had to play better defence. I put Carl Josey on Hansen and he really locked him up, and restricted him to four points in the second half and overtime

“We got together and started playing as a team and outscored them by 13 points in the third period. The fourth period was back and forth, but we lost Taner with four minutes to go and everyone was worried, but I told Taner we’d winner it for him.

“Greg could have given us victory in regulation, but we were great in overtime and the old man [himself] stepped up and scored nine points in overtime.”

“It means the world to me, coming back to coach at the first club I played for in this country and giving the fans the one trophy they didn’t win last season. It was also great to give the Trophy to the club owners as they gave me my first chance at coaching.”

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