25 years of Leopards – season 12

It was all change to open the 2006/7 season as Leopards looked to build on their National Cup triumph.
After seeing their rent on the Brentwood Centre raise by 17 percent after the first season following their reformation, the Big Cats were hit with a whopping 186 percent increase in the summer of 2006. Considering that they were already paying more than any Division One club following their rebirth (and probably more than any NBL side in the 2019/20 season), there was simply no way that Leopards could afford to remain at what they considered their spiritual home. It was a massive blow considering that part of the reason for the supporters bringing the club back from the dead was to see BBL basketball back at the Brentwood Centre, but the decision was made to play the majority of games at Goresbrook, with Wodson Park. With the majority of their home games now inside the M25, the club also “reverted” to the name London Leopards and there were also plenty of changes of the playing front – the most notable of which saw National Cup MVP Troy Selvey – one of the few Americans to play more than a single season for the new Leopards – depart, with former Leopards’ coach Chris Pullem helping the club sign guard forward Calvin Fowler (pictured) as they started the season with a single import. Young forward Joe Ikhinmwin became the first in a long line of Barking Abbey Academy players to sign for the club, while key men from the Cup win Eroll Seaman and Sam Salter returned.
Unfortunately the Goresbook situation didn’t work out with a change of management seeing Leopards receive a level of service they weren’t very happy with (that might be an understatement, the article from the website is “interesting”!) and by the turn of the year they were back exclusively at Wodson Park.
The season wasn’t without it’s normal American drama, either. Fowler proved to a model professional and went onto have solid career, while Jerrid Campbell proved to be a bit of a nightmare – writing off the club car on a Harlow roundabout being one his many achievements. He did, at least, last the season (having joined in January) though his performance in the play-off game suggested he couldn’t wait to get home. A week later he signed for a club in the American Basketball Association.

The season opened in late August with a narrow loss against French at Wodson before a tight loss against Team USA Select at London Capital led a busy pre-season campaign. The National Trophy started with a laboured 93-84 victory against Nottingham Knights at Goresbrook, only for the midlands side to promptly withdraw from the EBL! The Trophy campaign proved be a bit of a rollercoaster after that, with their interest again ending at the group stage, and the National Cup also saw contrasting results. Wellingborough Phoenix were defeated by an eye-watering 73 points at Goresbrook before dreams of repeat
of returning to the NIA were ended with a home 123-85 crushing by Capital. Having already lost to the London side – coached by former Leopard Pete Deppisch – during pre-season and in the Trophy, they became something of a bogey side for the Big Cats during the season. However the away league game proved to be entertaining with coach Burnell ejected in the first half and Leopards going on to win in overtime.
Leopards again received an invitation to play in the BBL Trophy, opening with a heavy defeat at Leicester Riders. A home game against a London United, who had stepped up for what proved to be a “blink and you’ll miss it” spell in the BBL was a bit underwhelming but a packed out Wodson Park saw the Big Cats push MK Lions all the way – getting Robert Youngblood ejected in the process – before losing 88-73.
A rare win at Sheffield helped Leopards finish the season strongly, and they went into the final game of the league season knowing that a win or defeat by two or less points against Capitals would see Leopards finish in fourth place as give them a first home play-off game since entering Division One. The game was a thriller – unfortunately I’ve been unable to locate a report – but the final play saw Leopards defending a one point deficit. They got the stop, sparking some rather surreal celebrations having lost 89-88, to set up a home quarter-final against (yes, you’ve guessed it) Capital.
And what a massive anti-climax that proved to be as the home side came out flat and never looked like progressing to the last four, ending the season with an 80-70 loss.

JB – ejected but not dejected

Leopards coach Jon Burnell was delighted after seeing his side win their away games at London Capitals and Coventry Crusaders.

Burnell was ejected from Saturday’s overtime win at Capitals for laughing at the referee, but he refused to allow the incident detract from an excellent result: “It was a massive game for us because they absolutely hammered us at Goresbrook. It was an onslaught in that game and we didn’t have any answers. So we had to go down there and beat them as that was the only way to put that result behind us.”

Burnell praised the reaction of the players and stand-in coach Lloyd Gardner following his ejection: “I tip my hat to the players and Lloyd. He probably wasn’t going to get on the court anyway because of his ankle injury, but he stepped up when we needed him. My ejection could have really cost us, but luckily we still won the game, and that was down to Lloyd, Dave [Ryan] and the players for collectively pulling together.”

“It’s rare that you get a technical that you don’t deserve, but getting one for laughing is amazing. I would like to think that you can have a laugh in basketball, it’s supposed to be enjoyable. Obviously it’s not always going to be fun, but you should be able to enjoy yourself. We had a nice lead when I went, and not having the coach at the end of he game is bound to make a difference. They ended up with a chance to win the game in regulation, but we showed great character, and despite getting in trouble for having one laugh too many, I went home with a smile on my face.”

Leopards faced a different situation at Coventry on Sunday, but despite again travelling with only seven fit players they romped to a club record away victory:

“It was different at Coventry as they are a bit hurt at the moment, with two starters missing, so we were facing a wounded animal” said Burnell. “We were sore and tired from an overtime game the day before, and although Lloyd played a couple of minutes there was no point trying to give him major court time, so we only had seven guys all weekend. It showed in the first half when we couldn’t put the game to bed, and scraped a ten point lead.”

“We talked about stepping it up at half time, and we increased our defensive intensity and ran the fast break. We made them run on defence, and it showed in the scoreline. It had been a poor week in practice, we couldn’t get all of the players there on Thursday because of the weather, but it ended up being a very successful weekend.”

Leopards leave Goresbrook
London Leopards have announced that they have played their last game at Goresbrook in East London, and will finish the season at Wodson Park, Ware. The Big Cats have always played some games at the Hertfordshire venue, and practice there as well as staging youth team games there, but will now play all their games for the foreseeable future there.

“The decision to leave Goresbrook was not taken lightly – we had hoped to continue playing at least some of our games there this season, but the finances have made it impossible” said general manager Dave Ryan.

“We did a lot of work in the East London area, but for whatever reason, and I really have no answer, it hasn’t worked. The hope that a reasonable percentage of our fan-base from our original base in Brentwood would make the relatively short trip to Goresbrook never came to fruition, despite still receiving coverage in the Brentwood Press.”

“The other contributing factor was the level of service we received at Goresbrook. Staging a basketball game at this level isn’t exactly a major operation, but games at Goresbrook have proved to be a nightmare this season – noticeably following a change of management during the summer. Some of the staff defined the work “lackadaisical”, and considering the amount of money we were paying, it simply wasn’t acceptable – and clearly it wasn’t going to improve either.”

“Ultimately the decision has been made to safeguard the future of the senior club. We could have played out the season and Goresbrook and closed down in the summer, but too much work has gone into Leopards to allow that to happen. We are determined to make Leopards a success, both one and off the court. We have a done a pretty good job on the court in a short space of time, but clearly there is still a lot of work to be done for the finances to add up.”

Ryan hopes that basketball fans in East Hertfordshire will support the move, and hinted that the club may stay at Wodson in future: “This is a chance for people who want to see a decent level of senior basketball at Wodson Park to show there support and prove to us that it is worth playing some or all of our games here.”

“We will be spending the next few months looking for a venue for next season. The easiest course of action would be to stay here at Wodson – it’s a good venue and if we can get average crowds close to capacity it becomes financially viable.”

Leopards played their first game at Wodson since moving there permanently on Saturday, and were encouraged by the crowd which watched their record win – a 115-69 victory against King’s Lynn. they return to Wodson on Saturday January 27 when Tees Valley Mohawks are the visitors.

Leopards add Campbell

London Leopards have strengthened their squad ahead of Saturday’s key National Trophy tie at Sheffield Arrows with the signing of American forward Jerrid Campbell. The 6’ 8” forward joins the Big Cats having graduated from Southern University after four impressive years with the Jaguars.

The 23 year old had an injury-hit third year at college, but during the season immediately proceeding and following the 2004/5 campaign he averaged 8.6 points per game and over seven rebounds. The signing of Campbell ends a long chase for Leopards coach Jon Burnell, and he delighted to have secured Campbell’s signature: “We thought we’d get Jerrid earlier in the season, but for one reason and another it didn’t happen, so it’s great to have signed him now. We’ve been playing people up a spot for most of the season, and they’ve done well. But this gives us a genuine inside threat, and the flexibility to go with several different line-ups.”

Campbell played for the Lansing Magic team which toured Germany early in the season, and was signed through Marvin Betz of the F4L-Basketball agency.

Until the signing of Campbell, the Big Cats had been one of the few EBL Division One sides to only have one import player. Leopards are hopeful that Campbell’s licence will be received in time for their must-win trip to Sheffield on Saturday, and he will make his home debut on January 27 when Tees Valley Mohawks are the visitors to Wodson Park.

Ogilvie “a real asset”

Jon Burnell could see the improvement his side has made following Saturday’s 83-82 victory against Reading Rockets at Goresbrook, on Saturday.

“We’re making inroads, and I’m pleased with how we played” he said. “It’s a learning curve, especially for players like Calvin [Fowler], but it was a good win and compared to last week, we played far better. There was a good spread of scorers, and although I could have given a bit more court time to the younger players, I think I did the right thing to go with experience down the stretch.”

Burnell was pleased with the performance of new signing Duncan Ogilvie. The 27-year-old scored 18 points on his debut, including 14 in the second period as he marked his first game since a knee injury.

“I’ve known Duncan since he was a kid sitting on the end of the Ware bench” said Burnell. “You could tell then that’ he’d succeed. He’s got the size and the athleticism, he can shoot the three and also play inside. He’s got experience in Europe and with the England team. He gives us a lot more options, and if he can stay healthy he’s be a real asset. “

“I asked a lot of Calvin and he came good” he said. “He had to guard their star player for 38 minutes and also be our leading scorer. It’s a big ask, and hopefully as the season progresses I’ll be able to give him a bit more rest.”

Coach Burnell: “We showed some real grit”

Leopards coach Jon Burnell was delighted after his side returned from Sheffield with a tight 80-74 victory against the Arrows.

“Going up to Sheffield was tough, we’ve lost to them twice this season, and although we should have won the previous game, we didn’t. We tried something different at the beginning with the match-ups, and it got us off to a better start. Unlike last week when we were down by 20, we started reasonably well, and it gave us self belief which proved to be a big turning point.

“I know everyone was tired, but when you’re in the game and playing well it puts that tiredness to the back of your mind. James [Nicholson] was playing well and scoring, if he’d missed those shots he’d have felt how tired he was.

“Losing James with an injury, and being forced to sit Calvin [Fowler] down due to foul trouble could have given us an excuse to lose, but people stepped up. We started the second half with two starters on the bench, and the risk that I’d have to play, but had an exceptional period of defensive pressure. If you can sustain that level of defence for a few minutes a couple of times a game, you’ll win games. It’s impossible to play like that all the time, but it breaks teams down and gives you the chance to win.”

Despite losing at Reading the previous day, Burnell was pleased with a Leopards’ performance that saw them in with a chance of winning the game until the closing stages.

“It was always going to be tough, they are not second in the league and winners of the National Trophy for no reason. Generally we played quite well, and we put ourselves in a position to win the game. We had our chances, but we seem to make vital errors when it really matters. They got a couple of shots, and the scoreline really didn’t reflect the game, but they found a way to win, and hats off to them.

“The concern was that, having played well at Reading, we’d be tired for the trip to Sheffield, especially as they hadn’t played on Saturday. We don’t do well on double headers, but we stepped up and showed some real grit.”

Leopards v Capitals – who can secure ‘home court advantage’

Leopards face arguably their biggest game of the season when they host London Capitals at Wodson Park on Saturday – tip-off 7.30pm.

The game is a dress rehearsal for the following weekend’s play-off first round match-up – but there’s still home court advantage to play for as the teams wrap up their league programme.

Leopards go into the game occupying the key fourth place in the EBL Division One table, and will seal home court advantage if they can beat Pete Deppisch’s side on Saturday. The Big Cats can actually afford to lose the game by two points, due to their three-point overtime win at Capital City Academy in January – a game that saw coach Jon Burnell ejected in the first quarter for laughing.

Despite being able to lose by a narrow margin, coach Burnell is determined to get the win on Saturday. “You coach a certain end-game situation where you accepted a one or two point loss, but we have to go for the win from the star” he said. “We’re in fourth spot and we aim to stay there. Obviously there is a lot to play for, because both teams want to be at home in the play-offs.

“The teams are pretty well balanced, and other than when they destroyed us in the National Cup, it’s been pretty close from when we met pre-season. Both teams have changed since then, and we won down there in overtime. That game could have gone either way, but the fact that we came out by the skin of our teeth was good for us.”

Burnell expect a tough game when Leopards meet the Capitals: “They are a good side in all area, Ataha, Mumuni and Gariba are all quality British players, thy have a high scoring American guard in Marlo Saunders, and a good American big man. Pete [Deppisch] has lots of experience, and it will be tough.

“If we should up with the right mentality, if we can get Duncan [Ogilvie] and James [Nicholson] fit and we can get a good game out of Calvin [Fowler], I think we can win. On the other hand, on any given day, it can all go wrong.”

BBL Trophy reports – from BBL website
DMU Leicester Riders 109 (28,49,72) (McGee 31, Williams 25, Alleyne 10)
London Leopards 72 (15,42,53) (Seamon 18, Fowler 15, Ogilvie 9)
Last year’s BBL Trophy runners-up, the DMU Leicester Riders, opened this season’s competition with a comfortable 109-72 home win over the London Leopards.
The EB Division 1 outfit actually led 6-7 early in the game, but the Riders soon took over as a 13-4 finish to the opening stanza made the score 28-15 in the home side’s favour.
David Aliu scored 6 points in a 16-4 burst in the second quarter that pushed Leicester’s lead out to 44-21, but the Leopards got right back into the game around the half-time break. They scored the last 10 points before the interval, including two triples from Fowler, and the opening 5 points of the second half to trail just 49-47.
The Riders responded as Terrence McGee scored a pair of three-pointers, and 8 points in total, in a 14-2 run that saw the lead swell to 63-49.
The game was put beyond any doubt with 17 unanswered points midway through the final period, and the lead reached it’s peak at 109-65 with 1:00 left before the Leopards scored the last 7 points.
Roger Lloyd sparked a melee at the end of the game as he aggressively fouled Rob Paternostro, who was running the clock down, on the buzzer.
McGee netted 31 points to lead the scoring, ably supported by 25 from Yorick Williams. Errol Seamon had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Leopards.
London Leopards 84 (16,38,60) (Fowler 20, Ogilvie 20, Seaman 13)
London United 113 (25,55,88) (Johnson 19, Perre 18, Haslem 17)
The battle of the capital turned out to be quite lame as London United showed their class to see off London Leopards 113-84.
United put together a 7-0 run, including five from Philip Perre (pictured), to start the match which set the pace for a 25-16 advantage at the first interval. The lead was stretched to 55-38 by half time and was at 30 (81-51) deep into the third quarter.
A young Leopards team, which featured 16-year-old Levi Noel – son of BBL veteran Leon Noel – and 16- year-old Mike Jarvis battled throughout but were no match for United’s experience.

And one from Leopards’ site

Leopards give BBL leaders a fright
London Leopards 73 (16.35.52) Milton Keynes Lions 88 (25,47,69)

A good performance saw Leopards give Milton Keynes a fright before losing their BBL Trophy game at Wodson Park, on Saturday. Duncan Ogilvie led the Big Cats scoring on his return to Wodson with a 21 point haul as Leopards made the BBL leaders fight to maintain their 100 percent record in the competition.
After two scoreless minutes Ogilvie gave the Big Cats the lead with a jump shot, and the 27-year-old scored five of the first seven points as the two sides reached the midway point in the first quarter tied at 7-7. Four points from Shawn Jamison helped the visitors move into a 16-10 lead, but with Ogilvie taking his tally to ten by the seventh minute the home side kept in touch. Back-to-back baskets from Calvin Fowler, however were split six straight points from the Lions, and with Joe Ikhinmwin missing a pair of free-throws after former Leopards captain Robert Youngblood had been called for an intentional foul, the visitors reached the first break with a nine point lead.
Ikhinmwin made amends with the first four Leopards points of the second period, although they were split by a Kevin Griffin three, and with Youngblood scoring six points in an 8-0 run, Lions moved into a commanding 36-20 lead in the fourth minute of the quarter. Five straight points from Ogilvie cut the deficit and Sam Salter drained a three-pointer to cut it back to ten. Scores from Errol Seaman, James Nicholson and Salter saw the margin reduced to eight, but two Youngblood free-throws and a buzzer-beating trey from another ex-Leopard, Ronnie Baker, sent the visitors into the locker room with a 12-point lead.
Baker and Salter exchanged threes in the opening minute of the half before six points from the visitors saw them take the lead out to 18.Another Salter three and three points from Fowler could not prevent Lions taking the lead up to 21 before Youngblood was ejected from the game after another committing another intentional foul on Ikhinmwin. The Great Britain junior international again failed to take advantage from the foul line, and despite fine points from Nicholson and a pair of Ogilvie free-throws, Leopards went into the final break trailing by 17.
Any thoughts that Leopards would take things easy in the last quarter as they prepared for the following day’s National Cup game against London Capitals were dispelled as they produced a fighting performance to outscore the visitors during the final ten minutes. A pair of Fowler baskets plus a Seaman put-back cut the deficit to 13, and they matched Lions until the midway point in the quarter when six straight points saw Lions end any thoughts of a comeback.
The home side still refused to give up, and cut the margin back with scores from Fowler, Ogilvie and Nicholson as they finished the game on a positive note despite the defeat.

London Leopards 102 (32,56,80) Wellingborough Phoenix 29 (4,16,22)
Leopards opened their defence of the National Cup in emphatic fashion as EBL Division Four Wellingborough Phoenix were crushed at Goresbrook, on Saturday.
The difference in class between the two divisions was clear as the Big Cats simply steamrollered the Northamptonshire side with one of the most dominant performance anyone is ever likely to see on a basketball court. Despite only using his starting five players for around 12 minutes each, Jon Burnell’s side never looked back after scoring the first24 points of the game.
Youngsters Joe Ikhinmwin and Tom Christie led the scoring with 17 points each, and all 12 Leopards players got on the scoresheet. Leopards will now face London rivals Capitals at Goresbrook in the last 16 competition.
With a new look starting line-up which saw Roger Lloyd and James Nicholson make their first start of the season, the Big Cats won the tip opened the scoring through Calvin Fowler after just four seconds. Fowler added another six points and Duncan Ogilvie scored four as Leopards simply blew Phoenix away in the opening minutes. Nicholson and Errol Seaman both added to the score before Seaman managed the first of five opening period assists for Roger Lloyd’s dunk to put Leopards 20-0 ahead.
A Phoenix time-out made little difference as Fowler stole the ball and produced a dunk before Ogilvie also jammed the ball home after a Nicholson steal. Phoenix finally broke their duck after just over six minutes of play when Chris Houghton scored a lay-up, but as Burnell started tor un his bench, a pair of treys from Lloyd Gardner and a three-point play from Ikhinmwin saw Leopard go into the first break with a 32-4lead.
The second period proved to be the visitors best spell of the game, though even with no sign of the Leopards’ starting five they wereoutscored 24-12.
Ikhinmwin and Christie led the home side with six points apiece, withChristie also collecting four rebounds and three fouls, while Dave Peacockmarked a rare outing with five point, including an “and-one” to send Leopards into the locker room with a commanding 56-16 half-timelead.

Burnell reverted to the starting line-up for the opening minutes ofthe second half, with all of them except Lloyd – who missed twofree-throws – getting on the scoresheet. The return of the benchplayers saw Christie complete his double-double as he took his pointstally to 12 and his rebounds to ten. Sam Salter made it 78-20 with hissecond trey of the afternoon, but it was Peacock who again scored thefinal points of the quarter to send Leopards into the final break withan 80-22 lead.
Ikhinmwin led the Leopards’ scoring with eight points in thefourth quarter, including a massive dunk which threatened to bring thebackboard down, while Christie chipped in with six. The century markwas brought up be a Peacock three-pointer, before Spanish guard MarioLapiedra completed the biggest win in Leopards’ history – just 20 hours after their biggest defeat – with a lay-up.

The one I “coached”

Capitals beaten in overtime
London Capital 87 (18,32,53,82) London Leopards 90 (13,42,60,82)

Leopards finally broke their hoodoo against local rivals Capital in an overtime thriller, on Saturday. The Big Cats had suffered defeats in pre-season, National Trophy and National Cup games against Pete Deppisch’s team, but a depleted squad dug deep to collect their seventh EBL Division One victory of the season.
The only disappointment for the visiting side was the ejection of coach Jon Burnell in the first period. Burnell collected a technical foul for dissent with 3:22 of the quarter, and as referee Roberto Mazza handed out the T, he slipped. The Leopards coach laughed at the slip – and he wasn’t the only one – and was promptly hit with a second, and final, technical.
With Burnell ejected from the arena as possibly the first coach to be thrown out for being happy, General Manager Dave Ryan assists by injured point guard Lloyd Gardner, took over the coaching duties leaving assistant coach Sam Salter to concentrate on playing for a Leopards roster which had only seven fit senior players on it.
The Big Cats had led 9-8 at the point where Burnell left the game, as a scrappy encounter had seen both sides struggle offensive. James Nicholson had proved to be Leopards’ main offensive weapon with five points.
Capitals point guard Santa Ataha drained only one of the four technical free throws, levelling the score, but the loss of Burnell obviously unsettled the visitors as Capitals scored nine of the next 13 points to go into the first break with an 18-13 lead.
An excellent start to the second period looked to have put Leopards in control with an 18-2 run. Calvin Fowler – on his way to a game-high23 points – opened the scoring with a three-pointer, all five Leopards on the court scored in the first three minutes, with Joe Ikhinmwin also draining a trey.
Fowler wrapped up the run with a jump-shot, to leave Leopards 31-20 ahead with four minutes of the half remaining. The rest of the period saw the teams exchange basket, but with Errol Seaman finishing the quarter with back-to-back baskets, the visitors went into the locker-room 42-32ahead.
That advantage was quickly cut back to four as the Big Cats started slowly and Capitals hit six straight points before Fowler broke the run with a successful and-one. Capitals top scorer Marlo Saunders replied with a score from downtown, and back-to-back scores from his brother Marcus saw the home side regain the lead with four minutes of the period remaining.
Leopards’ reply was immediate as they hit 11 unanswered points, helped by successful and-ones from American duo Fowler and Jerrid Campbell, and although Marcus Saunders scored the final points of the period, Leopards reached the end of the quarter with a 60-53 lead.
Single free-throws from Seaman and Ikhinmwin kept Leopards in front, but a 7-0 run from the home team saw them move to within a point four minutes into the fourth period. Leopards responded with six unanswered points, with scores from Nicholson, Ogilvie and Salter.Thatlead was cut by another trey from Marlo Saunders, but a pair of Fowler baskets looked to have put Leopards into the driving seat and Deppisch called a time-out with 91 seconds remaining and his side trailing 78-71.
However the visitors lost composure at this point, and allowed a trey from Marlo Saunders to cut the lead to four with a minute remaining. Seaman replied with a jump shot, but point guard Nicholson turned the ball over twice in the final 30 seconds. Leopards still had the chance to win the game in regulation time, when they inbounded the ball with six seconds remaining. Somehow they managed to completely mess it up, giving Ataha the chance for a last second buzzer-beater which, thankfully for the visitors, proved to be short.
Lewis-Parry opened the scoring for Capitals in the extra period, with Seaman responding for the visitors before a single free-throw from Ibrahim Gariba put the hosts back in front by a point. Seaman again replied to put the Big Cats back ahead, but Fowler missed a pair of free throws after Deppisch had been T’d. Those misses looked costly as Gariba converted a pair of free-throws after Campbell had fouled out. However, Nicholson was fouled to also send him to the line, and he coolly drained both shots to put Leopard back up by one.
After Capitals had turned ball over with 18 seconds remaining, Salter shook off the attempts of two home players to send a long pass to Fowler, and the American forward unselfishly passed to Ogilvie who dunked the ball to wrap up a deserved win.
Leopards: C Fowler 23, D Ogilvie 18, E Seaman 17,J Nicholson 13, J Campbell 9, J Ikhinmwin 8, S Salter 2
Capitals: S Attaha 19, Marlo Saunders 18, I Gariba15

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