The Big Dogs 2020/21 – 1

While the name Leopards disappeared from the league tables for the 2020/21 season, the club continued as Oaklands Wolves, and we look at first campaign of The Big Dogs.

October 10

Wolves senior men’s coach Thomas Baker was in a positive mood despite seeing his side go down 102-74 against Thames Valley Cavaliers in their opening L Lynch Trophy game, on Saturday.:“It was great to see basketball being played again and it was fantastic to have it at Oaklands” he said.
“Early on we played really well and we showed what we can do. Unfortunately we got punished when we stopped competing by a tough Thames Valley team. Excellent job by everyone involved at Oaklands in terms of getting the court ready. I’m looking forward to stepping out on court again next weekend.”
Wolves’ predecessors Essex Leopards had never beaten the Cavs in eight attempts, and they went into the game as massive underdogs, but they stayed in touch during the first period and a Toby Gastaldi-Davies three-pointer saw them cut Cavs’ lead to 22-20 at the first break.
The second quarter saw both sides go on big runs, and it was Wolves who struck first as Jordan Santiago opened the scoring to launch an 18-2  run in which he scored ten points as the hosts opened a 38-24 lead with four minutes gone.
That was as good as it got for the home side, though, as Blaine Freckleton broke the run with an and-one and Cavs proceeded to close out the half on a 20-0 run to lead 44-38 going into the locker room. Though the locker rooms weren’t actually open.
Freckleon made it a ten point game early in the second half before Wolves’ captain Evan Walshe finally ended his team’s drought but Cavs dominated the second half to wrap up the win.
Santiago and Walshe each finished with 13 points for Wolves while Obi Egbunike showed little rust after 15 months out through injury with 12 points. Cavs’ Taylor Johnson picked up where he left off last season with 34 points, while another star from last year – Hakeem Syla finished with 22 points. Thames Valley Cavaliers’ coach Robert Banks had praise for hosts Oaklands despite their Division One debut ending with a 28-point loss:” Getting back to playing competitive basketball again is one of the best feelings in the world” he said . “Many thanks to all the support staff for making the L Lynch Trophy a real success & an excellent atmosphere! The two teams competed hard 40 minutes, hats off to the Oaklands Wolves , we feel very fortunate to be able to complete and get the win”.

October 17
Hemel Storm finished strongly as Wolves were beaten 107-80 in their second L Lynch Trophy
A young Wolves’ team produce a fighting performance before being blown away in the final quarter. Evan Walshe – who led the hosts with 33 points, five rebounds and three assists – tied the score at 67 with a trey, but from then on it was all Storm as they finished the game on a 40-13 tear.
Hemel’s American duo Mike Williams and Greg Poleon led the way for the visitors as the former hit 28 points and pulled down 14 rebounds while the latter had five boards to go with his 26 points. Storm had three former Leopards – Wolves’ predecessors – also finish in double figures, with Shaq Lewis bouncing his way to 17 points, Bode Adeluola hitting 12 points and pulling down eight boards and ex-Big Cats’ waterboy Jack Burnell having three triples on his way to 14 points.

Jordan Santiago had 14 points and six rebounds for the home-town Wolves, with Jerel Layne added 11 points.

A high scoring first period saw Poleon put Storm 13-2 up after just over three minutes, but Wolves stayed in touch as Tony Gastaldi-Davis hit a trey to make it an eight point game before Santiago reduced the hosts’ deficit to six at the midway stage of the quarter, and Storm went into the opening break 36-25 ahead.

A strong start to the second quarter saw Walshe hit five points as Wolves stayed in touch and Walshe rounded off a 23-18 period in his team’s favour as they cut the deficit to 54-48 at half-time.

Ray Akpofure made it a one point game with just under two minutes on the clock before Walshe levelled from outside the arc before Lewis replied with five straight points to give his side a 72-67 final break lead and seven consecutive Williams points put Storm in the driving seat as they blitzed the hosts to wrap up the win.

Wolves’ coach Thomas Baker remained positive after a good three quarters from his side: “A tough start to the game had us chasing early but credit to the guys we fought our way back in. We always knew Storm had the quality to cause us problems and credit to Dru [Spinks] and his guys they were ruthless in the fourth.

“Overall we had moments of success in the game and we managed to play our brand of basketball for longer than the previous week which is pleasing, if we can correct a few issues and continue our learning in the same vein, it will be an exciting year.”

October 31

Oaklands Wolves’ senior men went agonisingly close to opening their first NBL Division One season with a victory as they went down 76-72 against Nottingham Hoods, on Saturday.
The home side were up by a point with three  minutes remaining only to see Hoods close out strongly to start the league season with a victory.
Jordan Santiago – the only Wolves player with no previous connection to Oaklands or their predecessors Leopards – led the way for Thomas Baker’s team with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists, with Jerrell Layne adding 13 and Toby Gastaldi-Davies nine.
Victor Olerarin’s 19 points led Hoods while captain Delaney Powell added 17 as Hoods gained revenge for a hammering at Oaklands in what proved to be Leopards’ final game last season.
Former Oaklands junior Jerell Layne took the honours as the first player to score for Wolves in Division One before Kane Daley hit the club’s first three points as the hosts rushed into a 5-0 lead, but after James Cummings had levelled the score at 15, Hoods scored the final five points of the first quarter to lead 20-15..
Captain Santiago hit a trey to open the second period with a triple, and Wolves kept in touch throughout the quarter without ever taking the lead as they reached half-time trailing 40-31.
Cummings hit a trey to open the second half for Wolves before Daley took over with six straight points to take the home six within two at 49-48 and Oaklands outscored Hoods 23-16 as eight straight Santiago saw the visitors’ lead cut to 56-54 at the final break,
 A great start to the fourth period saw a pair of Ray Akporure baskets give Wolves a 60–58 lead three minutes into the quarter. Gastadi-Davies hit a triple to keep the home side ahead and Santiago give Baker’s team a six point lead with six minutes remaining.
 Gastadi-Davies kept the five point lead intact with three minutes on the clock, but that way as good as it got for the home side as Hoods finished strongly to take the win.

November 21

Wolves’ coach Thomas Baker had praise for his side’s youngsters despite a 95-63 loss against neighbours Hemel Storm, on Saturday.
The home side held the big-spending visitors scoreless for more than five minutes to open the fourth period and finished on a 12-0 run to leave Baker pleased with a good finish:
“It was great being back out on the floor with the guys, another step on the journey that this new programme is going on” he said. “Credit to Hemel, we knew they would be tough and they proved their quality throughout the game. I was extremely impressed with a number of the college guys, they stepped up and demonstrated what it means to be part of this team.”
Jordan Santiago led Wolves with 24 points nine rebounds and five steals, while Oaklands Academy graduate Ahmed Ketiri added eight points, five rebounds three, blocks and two assists. American pair Mike Williams (27 points and four rebounds) and Greg Poleon (18 points and eight boards) led the visitors.
Although captain Santiago twice levelled in the early stages, it was one-way traffic for much of the first three periods as Storm showed why they are one of the favourites for the league title. Despite treys from Santiago and James Cummings, it took a late basket from the latter to cut Hemel’s led 26-16 at the opening break.
Youngsters Kane Daley and Ollie Wright along with Santiago both scored from downtown in the second period but Storm hit four three-points as they outscored Wolves 30-14 to lead 56-30 going into the locker room.
The onslaught continued in the third period as they opened with a 16-2 run, Santiago the only home player to trouble the scorer, and although Ray Akpofure capped an 8-2 tear following a lovely Ketiri assist, before Ketiri hit a triple, Storm went into the final break leading 83-43.
Daley launched a strong fourth period for Wolves as they scored the first eight points of the quarter before a pair of Jack Burnell treys in a 10-0 Storm run took the visitors’ lead to 42 points before Oaklands finished strongly with Ketiri launching the 12-2 run as a young lineup finished well.
November 28

A massive fourth period comeback wasn’t quite enough as Wolves’ men went down 101-93 at high-flying Thames Valley Cavaliers, on Saturday.
Thomas Baker’s team outscored the big-spending hosts across three of the quarters but a poor second quarter proved costly as the 36-15 in the stanza proved fatal, but the Wolves’ coach was pleased with his side’s second half display:
“We started well, showing our intent to play our style and we looked good getting some early success” he said. “Unfortunately we backed off and struggled in the second quarter and TVC punished us with their firepower. What was pleasing that we pushed and carried on until the end and this is something to build upon for our next game.”

Jordan Santiago again led the way for Wolves with 33 points – including three massive triples – 13 rebounds, five steals and three assists. But unlike last week’s loss against Hemel, he received plenty of support from his team-mates with Kane Daley adding 18 points, Ahmed Ketiri finishing with 15 points and six boards and Ollie Wright posting 15 points in just 15.5 minutes.
A Wolves team missing probable starters Jerrell Layne and Dom Scott-Robinson along with Toby Gastaldi-Davies stayed in touch throughout the first period as Ketiri hit back-to-back lay-ups to open their scoring before Wright’s basket put the visitors 12-11 up with six minutes gone.
A pair of Ray Akpofure baskets kept Wolves in touch but despite Santiago’s free-throw, Oaklands trailed 21-15 at the first break. The second period proved to be little short of a disaster as Cavs outscored the young visitors 36-14, and despite Santiago tying things at 23 with a dunk early in the period the home team led 57-32 going into the locker room.
Five Daley points from Oaklands Academy player Daley opened the visitors’ second half scoring with a shot inside and a trey and Ketiri hit a triple before Santiago’s floater made it a 15 pints game as Oaklands started well. But that proved to be as close as it got in the third period and despite a Santiago triple the home side pulled away again to lead 80-56 at the final break.
Scores from Wright and Ketiri narrowed the gap at the start of the fourth, only for Hawley to convert three at the foul line following a Veiz Cani foul, and it was a 29-point game going into the final seven minutes although Santiago’s massive triple reduced the arrears the lead grew to 31 a minute later.
It was Daley launched the late run with a trey before Santiago hit five straight points and some excellent defence saw Wright score from both inside and outside the three-point lane as Wolves’ defence saw them repeatedly score in transition.. It was Wright’s steal and score that forced a timeout from Cavs’ coach Robert Banks with 55 seconds on the clock and the lead down to 11, and Adan scored on the resumption to effectively end the comeback but there was time for Daley to add to his tally at the foul line and Wright to hit a trey as Wolves kept playing until the final buzzer.
Blaine Freckleton led the hosts with 18, while Hakeem Syla was kept relatively quiet by his standards as he finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

December 5

A big three pointer from Dave Walsh with 20 seconds on the clock ended Wolves hopes of a first league win as they went down 89-85 against Bradford Dragons, on Saturday.
Thomas Baker’s side had fought back from a 17 point third period deficit before just coming up short down the stretch and – despite being obviously frustrated by the result, the Wolves play-caller had praise for his team:
“This one was tough to take” he said. “I thought we had it but unfortunately it got away from us. It was a crazy game with lots of fouls and free throws. We did excellent to battle back from being down 17 to end up leading.
“We needed to show a bit more belief on the offensive end and fight a bit harder on the defensive end. Nevertheless we are heading in the right direction, we must keep pushing ourselves to get better every game.”
Dragons coach Chris Mellor was impressed with the young Wolves team: “We never really got into any kind of rhythm but credit to Oaklands they played hard and we never could quite put the game out of reach” he said “65 fouls in the game added to the entertainment along with 86 free throws, I’m just relieved we got the win and didn’t run out of players.”
The current Wolves side can trace its roots back to 1994 as London/Essex Leopards and at two hours and 15 minutes it was the longest game, excluding overtime, in club history as the referees called 65 fouls and sent the teams to the foul line an eye-watering 86 times.
Jordan Santiago again led Baker’s team with 18 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and three steals before fouling out. Kane Daley also finished with 18 points, adding three rebounds and as many assists. Obi Egbunike also had a double-double with 14 points and ten boards, adding three blocks. while Jerrell Layne had 11 points despite foul trouble limiting him to just 15 minutes of action. Ollie Wright and Ahmed Ketiri completed a balanced scoring effort with ten points apiece.
Rihards Sulcs led Dragons with a 16 point, 12 rebound double-double, with Andreas Lycoudis also adding 16 points, while Ricky Fetske and Walsh both finishing with 14 points apiece.
A slow start from both teams saw a pair of Ketiri free throws give Wolves a 4-2 lead after four minutes but despite a pair of triples from Layne, the home side went into the first break with a 23-12 lead.
Wright scored from downtown to open the second period, but Fetske extended Dragons’ lead to 31-19 after four minutes before Egbunike launched a personal 7-0 run with a three-point play to drag Wolves back within five points but Dragons finished the half strongly as six points from Tyme Regent-Bascombe helped them lead 45-35 at the half-time break.
Wolves only shot 21-from-37 at the foul line, and Wright missed three free-throws to open the third period before the youngster made amends with a pair of jump shots. Santiago kept the deficit at ten with a drive to the basket after five minutes before Walsh hit a triple to cap a 7-0 run which put Dragons 62-45 ahead.
But a feature of the young Wolves team this season has been their refusal to quit, and six Daley points together with a Santiago triple trimmed the deficit to 68-59 at the final break. Santiago and Lycoudis exchanged triples to open the fourth period before treys from Santiago and Layne helped Wolves score ten unanswered points to tie the game at 73 with five minutes on the clock.
But Layne left the game a few seconds later and was swiftly followed by Santiago after a highly debatable double-foul call. Daley hit a trey to put the hosts ahead for the first time since the early stages as Wolves took a 79-78 lead into the final three minutes.
Daley kept Wolves in touch as Dragons lived at the foul line, going to the stripe 13 times compared to the hosts’ zero attempts,, but an unsportsmanlike foul on Toby Gastaldi-Davies and a rare technical foul on Baker saw Bradford take an 86-81 lead into the final minute.   Daley’s lay-up trimmed the lead before Wright assisted on a Ketiri basket made it a one point game into going into the final 30 seconds before Walsh drained to kill the hosts’ hopes.
December 19

Wolves’ coach Thomas Baker was pleased with his side’s first half performance as they went down 83-77 at home against Worthing Thunder, on Saturday.

“We made a great start to the game with playing some of our best basketball defensively in that first half” he said. “Unfortunately we struggled to continue this in the second half and this coincided with Worthing hitting more shots and gaining in confidence particularly in the third quarter.
“As with other games with finished the game strong which we know we can do against anyone”.
Baker acknowledged that his side have found the going tough in NBL Division One; “It has been a tough start to this season with everything around COVID and it is great that we have been able to play games. We will continue to push and grow as a team but for now it is time for reflection on the early parts of the season as we break for Christmas.”
Oaklands can feel aggrieved about some of the refereeing decisions, with a massive discrepancy in fouls with Thunder being called just eight times (one of which was for trying to sub in Jack Sutherland who wasn’t on the scoresheet) in comparison to his team’s 24. Thunder managed to go an incredible 17 minutes – including the entire third period – without being called for a foul.
Jordan Santiago led Wolves for the fifth time in as many league games, finishing with 31 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Ahmed Ketiri had three treys on his way to 13 points and four board while Jerrell Layne finished with 13 points and four assists. Kane Daley struggled with foul trouble all evening, finishing with 11 points in 12 minutes.
18-year-old Cameron Hildreth, who was recently included in the senior GB team, again led Thunder as he finished with 30 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Max Richardson had a 20 point, ten rebound double-double and former Leopard Howard Crawford had 10 points and six boards.
Crawford opened the scoring, but a triple from Santiago launched a 7-0 run by the American guard, and with Layne  also scoring twice from downtown the hosts led for virtually all the opening period before going into the first break with a 20-15 lead.
Five straight Josh Goddard points saw Thunder tie the score at the start of the second period, but Ketiri drained a triple to put the hosts back in front. With Daley also hitting a three Wolves opened a 39-28 lead with 90 seconds remaining in the half as Ketiri and James Cummings converted lay-ups before Hildreth scored five straight points to cut the advantage to 39-33 at half-time.
All the good work done in the first half was undone with a third period that saw Thunder outscore Wolves 32-15, with only a pair of triples from Daley and one from Santiago keeping the hosts in touch as Thunder finished the period on a 15-3 run to lead 65-54 at the final break.
Daley opened Wolves’ fourth quarter scoring before fouling out, and seven points from Santiago kept Wolves in the game but six unanswered points saw the hosts trail by 15 with five minutes remaining.
But Wolves have consistently refused to give up in the final quarter, and Layne’s assist for Ketiri’s trey made it a nine point game with two and a half minutes remaining before Santiago saw another triple rim out for what would have been a momentum changer. Layne did make it a seven point game but Tom Ward answered, and despite Layne’s late three, Wolves were unable to get any closer than six points as Thunder collected the win.
January 16
Wolves survived a late comeback from Rebels as they picked up their first victory of the campaign as they returned from Essex Sports Arena with a 91-88 win, on Saturday.
At the venue where Wolves’ predecessors Leopards spent a season, Thomas Baker’s young side were 11 up going into the final two minutes before showing their naïvity to set up a grandstand finish.
Jordan Santiago again the led the scoring, missing a triple-double by two assists with 32 points and ten rebounds, going 10-from-11 at the foul line. AJ Roberts marked his return to the club he played for four years ago with 20 points and nine boards, while James Cummings added ten points and seven boards with Jerrell Layne finished with nine points.
A tight first period saw Santiago pour in eight points, and Seth Wylie’s three pointer looked to have tied the score at the first break only to see Josh Moore sink a buzzer beating triple to give Rebels a 20-17 lead.
That lead was doubled as former Leopard Sam Newman opened the second quarter with a trey before Santiago replied with a three-point play.
Roberts scored his first points in a Wolves kit to keep the visitors in touch as Rebels started the quarter strongly, but a 10-0 run started with a Jerrell Layne three and capped with a similar shot from Kane Daley put the visitors 32-30 ahead with six minutes gone.
Layne hit another three as the sides remained within a few of points of each other, and Ahmed Ketiri put his side up by a point before Moore beat the buzzer to the hosts a 46-45 lead going into the locker room at half-time.
Baker’s half-time team-talk had the desired effect with Layne hitting his third triple of the game and Santiago completed a 10-3 run to open the half and despite a growing foul count – Wolves were called for 29 fouls while the hosts picked up 19 – they led throughout the third period as James Cummings’ put-back sent them into the final break 73-63 ahead.
Cummings hit a triple to increase that lead with the opening score of the fourth period but Rebels captain Tom Child – one of five former Leopards in the home line-up – hit two-from-three at the foul line to launch a 10-0 run to make it a three point game with six minutes remaining.
Scores from Santiago and Roberts put Wolves back up by seven and baskets by Ray Akpofure and Santiago made it a double-digit lead with three minutes left.
Moore and Child chipped away at the lead at the foul line before a pair of Santiago turnovers split by a Rory Winter basket saw the lead cut to  89-85 with 45 seconds on the clock. Newman halved that lead with 40 seconds left as he was again sent to the foul line before Ahmed Ketiri turned the subsequent inbound of at half-court.
Moore and Newman both missed efforts before Wolves grabbed the rebound and Santiago was sent to the line after a foul by Newman, and he scored the first before missing the second. Newman grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled by Ketiri with four seconds on the clock. After a timeout, the former Leopard hit the first and deliberately missed the second in the hope that his side would get the rebound but Caleb Tabanar collected the board and was immediately fouled. The former Oaklands academy star split a pair at the foul line, and some great defence prevented Newman’s three point shot going in to give Wolves the win.
Newman and Winter led the hosts with 20 points apiece against their former club, the former adding 11 rebounds.

January 17

Kane Daley poured in 30 points as Wolves men made it two wins in as many days with a 108-101 home victory against Leicester Warriors, on Sunday.
The 18-year-old Oaklands Academy student scored three three-pointers in the final quarter as he led his side’s scoring for the first time this season and added six rebounds in 30 minutes of action.
He was given great support by Jordan Santiago who finished with 24 points, nine boards and five assists while AJ Robert pulled down an incredible 18 rebounds to go with his 11 points and eight assists, and Jerrell Layne also added 11 points.
Roberts was delighted with a successful first pair of games with the Wolves: “It was a great weekend for us at Oaklands basketball” he said. “To go two for two this weekend was huge for us! Now it’s time to shift our focus and get ready for next weekend!”
The teams hit a combined 30 three points in a game where offence ruled defence, and Warriors’ Martyn Gayle opened the scoring from behind the arc.
The visitors led for most of the period, but Santiago kept Wolves in touching distance with 12 points, including two triples, in the opening six minutes. and with Seth Wylie also scoring from downtown and Daley hitting a pair at the line, Wolves stayed in touch as they went into the first break 35-26 down,
That deficit grew to 40-28 as the impressive Henry Langton hit five points but Obi Egbunike sparked a 6-0 run before leaving the game with concussion, and triples from Layne and Nick Powdrell saw the deficit cut to 55-51 at half-time.
Daley was on fire in the opening minutes of the second half as he hit six straight points to give his side a 59-57 lead, and treys from Roberts and Layne kept the scoreboard ticking over, while sunk a pair of triples at the other end.
Lamin Willan hit a jumper to put his side ahead by a point as the clock ticked down but it was Wolves who went into the final break with a 77-75 lead as Wylie drained from the Land of Plenty.
Santiago opened the fourth period with a trey and Wolves never trailed in the final quarter without ever being able to pull away.
Five Caleb Tabanar points in a 7-0 run capped by Roberts saw Wolves open a ten point gap with five minutes gone. A pair of Ellis Haggith three-pointers saw the lead trimmed to 100-96 with two minutes remaining but any risk of the previous day’s frantic finish were ended as Daley hit his third trey and James Cummings added three points as Wolves closed out the victory and moved up to tenth in the Division One table.

January 23

Wolves were unable to collect a third straight win as they went down 102-72 against Bradford Dragons, on Saturday.
In a game staged in Nottingham due to both of Dragons’ courts being unavailable, the “home” team’s size an experience proved to be too much for the young Wolves side.
With Thomas Baker unavailable, Ibrahim Gariba coached the team for the first time, and Wolves were also without forward James Cummings  who picked up a injury in training along with Jerrell Layne and Caleb Tabernar. To add to their woes leading scorer Jordan Santiago left the game with an ankle injury in the third period having already suffered a cut chin earlier in the quarter.
Academy player Kane Daley continued the form he had shown in the win against Leicester Warriors, leading Wolves with 28 points, including three three-pointers, while Santiago added 12 points and seven rebounds. Obi Egbunike finished with eight points despite sitting out the second period due to foul trouble while AJ Roberts added seven points, four assists, three rebounds and as many steals.
Wolves started well with Egbunike and Santiago converting layups before Roberts drained a trey to give them a 7-0 lead but that was as good as it got for them as Dragons replied with a 9-2 run. Ahmed Ketiri put the visitors up by two midway through the first period and Tony Gastaldi-Davies marked his return to the team with a floating jump shot to put his side 13-11 ahead.
Fetske and Santiago exchanged pairs of free-throws to Wolves ahead but Tyme Regent-Bascombe, hit a trey to give Dragons the lead and Chris Mellor’s side closed out the quarter on a 12-2 run to lead 25-17 at the first break.
Daley hit a jump shot to open the second period and drained three at the charity stripe after being Cousins but Dragons’ size and experience showed as they outscored 19-8 during the rest of the quarter as Sulcs’ free-throw gave his side a 46-31 half-time lead.
Lycoudis opened the second half with a triple, and although Egbunike marked his return with a jump shot, Dragons outscored Wolves 32-17 in the period to effectively end the game as a contest. Santiago returned in a fresh vest after cutting his chin, but he landed badly later in the period and left the game as his side trailed 78-48 at the final break.
Daley opened the fourth period scoring, and Gariba used the quarter to give his remaining nine players court time with point guard Tom Hughes hitting a couple of nice jump shots as the teams wrapped up the game by sharing 48 points in the final stanza.
Dragons were led by Ricky Fetske’s 25 point, 16 rebound double-double, while Rihards Sulcs added 21 points and Great Osobor also had a double-double with 18 points and 13 boards.


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