25 years of Leopards – season 18

It was all change again for the 2012/13 season. If you’ve read the previous 17 seasons you won’t be shocked by this news. Barking Abbey Academy decided to go their own way and end their partnership with Leopards citing lack of playing time for their young players. Coach Dejan Mihevc had faced a difficult balancing act between giving youngsters a chance and winning trophies with senior players who were clearly good to dominate Division One. The parting was amicable but it left Leopards needing to find a new coach, recruit a whole team rather than just the senior end of the roster as well mundane things such as finding (and funding) somewhere to practice.

The third coach in the history of the new Leopards was a familiar face to fans of the original club as Robert Youngblood – who had twice lifted the BBL title as well as a National Cup – returned as the Big Cats’ player-coach. The naturalised Brit had presented the Division One trophy on the court at Basildon Sporting Village (it was a bit far for anyone connected to BE to travel) and had previously expressed an interest in the position when being interviewed by general manager Dave Ryan prior to his appearance for Leicester Riders against Leopards.

It was an almost entirely new Leopards team that took to the floor during pre-season with only Lukas Volskis returning from the treble winning team, although he departed for Medway Park after a couple of months, but with the Hoops 4 Health funding continuing Youngblood was able to recruit a strong squad which included the previous season’s Division Two MVP Greg Hernandez, his fellow American Simon Cummings, England international Taner Adu and three of his former London Lions’ team-mates Carl Josey, Ish Fontaine and Lawrence Brown.

The National Trophy campaign – Youngblood’s coaching debut – ended in a controversial 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.

The defence of the National Cup proved to be disappointingly brief. Brentwood Fire failed to make the long trip to Basildon before third division London Lithuanica won a tight game at Brentwood. The irony that Leopards were forced to leave Cummings on the bench due to rules designed to limit foreign players while they faced a side full of Lithuanians was lost on no one. The BBL Trophy campaign was also predictably brief, although Leopards did put up a decent display against the high-flying Riders and have them a good warm-up before the start of 2013.

League form proved to be patchy throughout, starting with a big win at Worthing but it was a case of win one, lose one as they went into the Christmas break with a 4-3 record and continued that form in the first month of 2013. But the National Trophy – the one competition that had eluded them the year before – continued to be the bringer of joy to Leopards and revenge was gained for a double-digit loss at Derby in the league as the Trailblazers were hammered 81-59 at Brentwood in the quarter-finals. The 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 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.

Obviously – and there’s clearly a pattern emerging here – there was mid-season venue dramas as Basildon Sporting Village demanded a 60 percent rent hike and banned pre-game birthday parties. While crowds had been reasonable, they certainly weren’t high enough to consider paying more and the parties/pre-game coaching were a vital source of income. Bizarrely, the venue also objected by Leopards being sponsored by an east London gym (it was near the club accommodation and was basically a freebie) as it might entice people to travel from Basildon to Romford to work out! There wasn’t any negation, so Leopards were (again) temporarily homeless. An extra date at Brentwood was gained, and the week before the Trophy Bradford Dragons were hosted at Southend Tennis & Leisure Centre, a venue where Leopards had previously trained and hosted a couple of BBL games and several pre-season games as well as having been home to the ill-fated Essex Pirates. The following week, the day after the Trophy win in Leicester, Leopards staggered down to Crystal Palace for a “home” game against Medway Park where a knackered (and possibly hungover) side lost an awful game 68-65.

The Trophy hangover didn’t last long as Hemel were (again) beaten in overtime on the road, but league form continued to be inconsistent and Leopards went into the final fortnight of the season with only an outside chance of a top four finish. A comfortable home win against Brixton Topcats in front a big Good Friday crowd at Brentwood kept their hopes alive but going into a final weekend double-header in the north east , the Big Cats were still in sixth place. The reports are below, but two excellent wins and other results going Leopards’ way saw them snatch fourth place. It was a lively trip home on the minibus!

Leopards’ opponents in the play-offs were – naturally – Mohawks. Steve Butler’s side must have been sick of the Big Cats. We’d knocked them out of the previous season’s National Cup at the semi-final stage, beaten them in the Trophy final and denied them home court advantage in the play-offs on the head-to-head decider with a pair of tight league wins. The trend continued at the Brentwood Centre with Leopards winning 90-75, thanks mainly to a dominant second period, to set up a fourth visit to the final four in the space of five years.

That proved to be as good as it got as they pushed league champions Reading Rockets all the way before going down 75-70 in overtime, but it had been a good first season under Youngblood.

Leopards to split home games
August 16, 2012
Essex Leopards have announced that they will again split their home games between Basildon Sporting Village and the Brentwood Centre for the 2012/13 season.

The Big Cats played the majority of their games at Brentwood last season, but their decision to play five post-Christmas games as the brand-new facility in Basildon was rewarded with some big crowds, and the new season will see a more even split of games.

“We’re excited to be returning to two of the best venues in the EBL for the coming season” said Leopards’ Managing Director Gareth Roberts.

“We hope to have a successful season and will have a lot of home games, so it makes sense to use both venues. They are near enough for fans from both towns to travel to the other venue, and we are hoping to build on some encouraging crowds at both Basildon and Brentwood in the second half of last season.”

The Big Cats will open their home season at Brentwood on Friday September 28 when Brixton Topcats are the visitors, and just two days later they return to Basildon to face Medway Park Crusaders. Both games are in the National Trophy.

Lukas is back for Leopards
September 4, 2012
There will be one familiar face in the Big Cats’ line-up this season with the announcement that Lukas Volskis will return for a sixth season.
The 22-year-old first signed for the Leopards in 2006 and spent four seasons with the club before going to college in the States. He returned to the Leopards last September and started in last season’s National Cup final winning team. An injury ruled him out action in February, but he returned to help lead the Big Cats to the treble as he added Division One League and Play-off medals to his collection.
“It really was a no-brainer re-signing Lukas” said Leopards General Manager Dave Ryan. “He’s been with us for a long time, he can play both guard spots and his commitment is excellent.”
Volskis Is looking forward to returning to the Big Cats: “I’m really pleased to be back with the Leopards. I’ve always felt like I had a basketball home with this organisation so it was only right for me to return. I’m hoping for another successful year and I know myself and the rest of the team will do everything to make that happen.”

MVP signs for Leopards
September 4, 2012
Leopards have announced their first new signing of the season with the news that American big man Greg Hernandez has put pen to paper for them.
Hernandez had an outstanding season with Division Two side Glamorgan Gladiators last season as they finished third in their debut season at that level.The 24-year-old gained MVP honours after leading the division in both points and rebounds. He finished with an incredible 35.33 points and 16.92 boards per game, adding 1.67 assists for the Welsh side.
The Big Cats were one of a number of sides chasing the Miami, Florida, born player, and chairman Fred Dicker was delighted to have captured his signature: “We really pleased to have signed Greg. He has a fantastic season in Division Two, and we have no doubt that he is ready to make the step up to Division One, and hopefully the BBL in 2013.”
Hernandez is excited to be joining the Division One champions: “I am very excited about joining the Leopards this season. I look forward to next season in Essex as I hope to help continue the great success of the club.”
The 6’8” forward played NCAA Division III basketball while at college, averaging around 20 points and 10 rebounds at Maryville College in Knoxville, Tennessee was a Division III All American .

Youngblood to coach Big Cats
September 7, 2012
Former captain Robert Youngblood will be the Leopards’ new player-coach for the Division One treble winners. The 42-year-old steps into the hot-seat at the Big Cats as they look to repeat last season’s success which saw them win the EBL Dıvısıon One league, play-off and Natıonal Cup titles.
Youngblood was the original Leopards’ first captain when they joined the BBL in 1994, leading them to a BBL League and National Cup double in 1997 before they repeated their league success in 1998. He left the club in November 1999, and went on to play in Germany before returning to England to play for London Towers, MK Lions (two spells) and Leicester Riders. He started last season with the Riders, playing against Leopards in the BBL Trophy, before seeing out the season with the Lions.
Leopards chairman Fred Dicker is delighted with the Big Cats new signing: “It’s great to have Robert back with us the club’s first ever player-coach. He was our first choice for the job, and he will bring a wealth of experience to our team.
“It will be fantastic to see Robert back on the court for the team where he started his professional career, and we are sure he will make a success of his first coaching job.”
The new Leopards coach can’t wait to start his job with the Big Cats: “I was a Leopard as captain for five years, winning three championships, and I’m very happy to being going back to my old stamping ground for my first coaching job. I always intended to go into coaching when I finished playing, and I’m sure that I won’t be a disappointment.You will see a team that will play hard and passionately. We’ll be together as a team and play tough defence. When you come up against the Leopards you’ll know you have a tough game on your hands.”

Adu thrilled to join Leopards
September 7, 2012
TANER Adu has completed a move to the Essex Leopards. The former Essex Pirates star, who has also played internationally for England, has been added to Robert Youngblood’s new look squad.
And the 28-year-old is glad to have finally become a Leopards player:m“I’ve been close to signing with Leopards for a few years now so I’m really pleased,” said Adu, who has agreed a two-year deal with the club.
“I’ve always like their set up and the Brentwood Centre, plus I’m told the Basildon venue is really good too. I also like the chairman Fred (Dicker), who is a straight up guy, and on top of that, having played against Youngblood for many years, I know how much he wants to win. That helped me to make up my mind and with my child being born last year I wanted to be situated in London for this season, so everything has worked out well and I’m really pleased.”
Adu came to prominence in south-east Essex after two fine seasons with the Southend-based Essex Pirates. But when they folded at the start of last season, Adu headed to Italy and played in Milan which he felt helped to improve him as a player.
“I joined a team in the fourth division but then broke in to the top leagues there which was brilliant,” said Adu. “I played in their A2 league for the last three or four months which was a great experience and definitely helped my game.”
Adu now wants to prove that when Leopards start their season later this month, and he is hungry to secure more success for the club who won a treble of titles last term. “I want to win everything this year with Leopards,” said Adu. “They won three trophies last year, so let’s try and win all four this year because I believe we have the squad to do this – if everyone gels together.”

Leopards announce roster
September 14, 2012
As they prepare to travel to Tees Valley Mohawks for their opening National Trophy game, Leopards have announced their roster for the forthcoming season.
American point guard Simon Cummings will join up with the squad next week after a delay in the issue of his visa, but the Big Cats welcome back Josh Johnson who left the club midway through last season, and he will run the point along with Lukas Volskis who holds the record for the most appearances for the new Leopards. Big signings Taner Adu and Greg Hernandez are expected to play a key role at Mohawks on Saturday, and the Big Cats also welcome back forward Simonas Bublys. Fellow forward Tom Martin played for Bradford Dragons last season before moving to London and kitting up for Division One rivals Westminster Warriors. while Dan Dunscombe joins after graduating from Brunel University.
England junior Rowell Graham and Dwayne Camille are both coached by player-coach Robert Youngblood at academy level, while big man Lawrence Brown has BBL experience with MK Lions and has impressed in the two pre-season games against Team USA Select.

Controversial end in Leopards’ opener
September 17, 2012
Leopards’ season started in controversial fashion as they lost 83-81 at Tees Valley Mohawks in the National Trophy.
Player-coach Robert Youngblood looked to have tied the game with eight seconds remaining only for the referee to rule that his toe was on the three-point line and gave a two-pointer, leaving Mohawks to wrap the win up from the foul line.
“It was definitely a three” said a clearly frustrated Youngblood. “I looked over at their bench and they all clearly thought it was a three. The ref said my toe was on the line, but he must have been looking through a microscope. But we didn’t lose it because of that, we lost it because of our turnovers. I told the players that if we won it on the boards and had less turnovers, we get the win. We out-rebounded them by six, but had 21 turnovers to their 12, and they scored 27 points off them. We’ve simply got to take better care of the ball, but when [Simon] Cummings joins us we should be a lot better.”
Greg Hernandez marked his competitive debut with a 22 point, 13 rebound double-double for the Big Cats, with Lukas Volskis adding 15 points and three assists, and Taner Adu finishing with 12 points, five assists and three steals. Jamie Kohn led Tees Valley with 25 points and 11 boards, with Jorge Ebanks (24) and David Hanson (22) completing the bulk of the Mohawks’ scoring.
Hernandez opened the scoring, and Leopards led by six at the five minute mark when the American forward converted a Lawrence Brown assist. and although Mohawks fought back, Simonas Bublys scored off Adu’s assist to send them into the final break 23-21 ahead.That lead was eight points after two and half minutes following a Hernandez basket, but Tees Valley rattled off 13 straight points capped by a Kahn basket to take control and Hanson sent them into the locker room with a 40-34 lead as he hit a trey after a Lee McLaughlin steal and assist.
Volskis scored off Brown’s assist to open the second half and brown levelled the score at 54 with 4:25 on the clock before Adu hit a pair at the foul line to put Leopards back ahead, and Adu hit a jumper to endure that the teams were tied at 60 going into the final break. England junior Rowell Graham converted a pair of free-throws to put Leopards ahead with the opening score of the final stanza, but there was little to choose between the teams before Hanson sent hit team into the last minute with an 80-76 lead.
Hanson missed a pair at the line to keep Leopards in touching distance and Volskis chipped a point off with one of two foul shots. Henson then converted a pair of charity shots, only to see Volskis hit a two to set up the final, controversial ending to the game.

Cummings to debut at Brentwood
September 24, 2012
Leopards will give a debut to new American guard Simon Cummings when they host Brixton Topcats at the Brentwood Centre on Friday evening. The 6’1″ point guard arrived in the UK last week and hit 16 points in the Big Cats’ 68-66 loss in a friendly at NASSA on Sunday, adding six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 26 minutes for Robert Youngblood’s team.
Leopards fought off interest from three BBL clubs to sign the Florida Tech star, with coach Youngblood’s persistence paying off as he made a personal visit to the 23-year-old to clinch his signature. Cummings was coached by Billy Mims – who led the original Leopards to back-to-back BBL titles with Youngblood as his captain – and he gained national prominence in The States in December when he tied a 23-year-old NCAA Division II record by hitting 10 consecutive three-pointers in a victory against Trinity College.

Lukas ready for home double
Posted on September 25, 2012

Lukas Volskis

Leopards’ guard Lukas Volskis is looking forward to this weekend’s home double-header for the Big Cats.
Robert Youngblood’s team host Brixton Topcats at the Brentwood Centre on Friday evening (8pm) before Medway Park Crusaders visit Basildon Sporting Village on Sunday (4pm) with both games being in the National Trophy group stage. Volskis, who celebrated his 23rd birthday a fortnight ago, is reasonably happy with how pre-season has gone, and is ready for this weekend’s action
“I think the pre-season games went okay,” he said. “Of course winning all three would have been good but sometimes it takes a while to get going especially when a team is full of new players. I think our main concerns were turnovers and rebounding.
“The two games against USA Select were up and down in my opinion. Many of us had never seen each other let alone played together so it was always going to be a challenge. I do think we improved game by game so I know we’ll be more than good to go when coach Youngblood puts out the 12 players for the games against Brixton and Medway.
“Having touched on that I think this weekend will go according to plan. We’ve been working very hard in training and during the pre-season games to improve each day and I think it’s coming along well and steady. I know both Brixton and Medway will give us tough games this weekend but it should not be anything we can’t handle.
“Without sounding too arrogant I am expecting two wins on the weekend and a nice push towards the rest of the season.”

Carl’s delighted to be a Leopard
October 3, 2012
LEOPARDS’ new forward Carl Josey certainly made an instant impression as he made his debut for the Big Cats last weekend.
The 25-year-old forward was only licensed by England Basketball on Friday afternoon after Leopards had obtained his transfer from Newham Neptunes, and he marked his debut with a 10 point, 12 rebound double-double, adding four assists and three steals as Leopards defeated Brixton Topcats 77-63 at Brentwood on Friday evening.
He completed a good weekend with his second double-double in as many games with 13 points and 14 boards 80-63 against Medway Park Crusaders at Basildon Sporting Village on Sunday.
Josey played college basketball in The States for Virginia Military Institute before spending a season with KFI in the Icelandic Express League.Last season saw the 6’5″ forward play at MK Lions where he averaged 5.4 points and two rebounds in nine minutes of action per game.
And the British forward is pleased to be a Leopard: “I had been talking with coach Youngblood since the end of last season about coming to the Leopards, but due to some external factors things got a bit off course, though I am very glad to be playing for him and to be part of a great organisation,” said Josey.
“I feel very privileged to be playing for the Leopards as they are team with a fantastic history in English basketball and surrounded by a great people.”
Josey was also delighted to help Leopards to a pair of wins: “The weekend just past was a hectic one getting everything sorted for me to be able to play, ” said Josey.
“I wasn’t sure if it would get sorted on time but the Leopards organisation did a great job – Dave Ryan in particular – so I took my shoes and things to work on Friday just in case.
“The two game were scrappy as the team is still getting to know each other and I hadn’t actually been to a single practice yet so continuity between everyone was a bit off.
“But everyone stepped up and play unselfish and with lots of effort that carried us to two wins. I think there is a lot of work to be done still and we are missing Greg [Hernandez], though we are just taking it one game at a time and moving forward together.”

Win some, lose some for Leopards
October 8, 2012
It was a mixed Sunday for Leopards as they managed to both win and lose on the same day. The Big Cats received a 20-0 walkover against Brentwood Fire in the first game of their defence of the National Cup before going down 85-71 against Reading Rockets in a hastily arranged Clarendon Cup game at Basildon Sporting Village.
Fire had been reinstated into the Cup after Eastside Eagles were expelled for failing to provide valid licence cards for the players in the previous round, but the Division Four side refused to play the game claiming that they couldn’t raise a team.
“We’re a bit disappointed that Fire wouldn’t play us” admitted Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan. “They had five days notice for a game on their doorstep, non-league football teams manage that kind of thing all of the time and we played a game at Crystal Palace earlier in the season with only a couple of days notice.
“A tough game against Reading was probably better for our team, and we’d like to thank them for stepping in at the last minute, but it was a disappointing way to start our Cup defence.”
With American big-man Greg Hernandez still missing with an injured foot, the Big Cats produced a disjointed performance against the Rockets.
Simon Cummings overcame a poor shooting night to lead all scorers with 27 points, while Carl Josey scored all of his 19 points in the second half, adding eight rebounds and four assists. Taner Adu finished with 15 points, four boars and three assists.
A poor start to the game saw Leopards concede the first seven points, and they went into the first break 30-14 down. The Big Cats shaded the early stages of the second period, but trailed 48-31 going into the locker room.
A basket from Adu with 6:43 remaining in the third period made it a nine point game as Leopards started the second half well, but that was as good as it got for the home side as Rockets led 68-52 at the final break and they could only chip two points of the deficit in the fourth quarter.

Lukas moves on
Posted on October 9, 2012
Leopards’ longest serving player Lukas Volskis has joined Division One rivals Medway Park Crusaders after the Kent side offered him a community coaching job. The Big Cats allowed the 23-year-old to leave as it presented a chance for the guard to earn money to put himself through university.
“We’ll miss Lukas” said general manager Dave Ryan. “He’s been with us a long time, and it will be weird to see him play against us. But Medway offered him the chance to work in schools and earn money, which we’re not is a position to do as our community work is currently fulfilled by our full-time players. We wish him all the best for the future, and he knows that he’s always welcome at the Leopards.”
Volskis clearly leaves the Big Cats with a heavy heart: “I’mbot too sure where to start, it still hasn’t sunk in yet! I will start by thanking everyone who is involved with the club and the organisation. I’m blessed to have met some truly wonderful people and I will never forget the success we had in the 2011-2012 season. It’s still a little hard to take in as I have been a Leopard for six years of my career, may not seem like a long time but the memories and experiences are endless. I would like to thank all the fans who continually showed their sport every season, week by week and game by game. It’s an honour to have been part of such a great establishment.
“This was a very hard decision to make and it still seems like a blur to be honest. I thank everyone at the club for being so understanding and I’m glad that I will be able to keep relationships with everyone I have become close with. It’s time for a new challenge in my life and my career and I’m looking forward to seeing how I’m able to handle it with the help and experiences I have attained at the Leopards. Fred Dicker told me ‘big men make big decisions’ and I feel like this one was a very big decision in my life.
“I will stay in touch and try to be around as much as I can- if you guys have me that is! Once again thank you and I wish the Leopards, their fans and the organisation a successful 2012-2013 season!”

Leopards crush Thunder

Leopards moved to within touching distance of a place in the National Trophy quarter-finals as they hammered Worthing Thunder 90-64 on Sunday. The Big Cats led from tip to buzzer at Basildon Sporting Village, and a win at Hemel Storm on Saturday will seal qualification and give the big Cats an excellent chance of getting a top two finish and home court advantage in the quarter-finals.

Carl Josey led the Big Cats with an 18 point, 12 rebound double-double, adding five assists. Simon Cummings had eight assists to go with his 14 points, with Taner Adu also finishing on 14 points All nine Leopards – Rowell Graham and Simonas Bublys were again missing due to injury – got on the scoreboard Tom Martin having his best game as a Leopard with 13 points and four assists, and Greg Hernandez continued his comeback with 12 points and nine boards.

Robert Youngblood’s side out-rebounded the visitors 39-24, and dished out an impressive 26 assists as they shot 53 percent from the floor including seven from 17 outside the arc.

Adu opened the scoring and Josey hit the first of three treys as Leopards blew into a 5-0 lead after two minutes, and Josey drained another from downtown to make it 10-4.

Martin hit a pair at the foul line to keep Leopards ahead, and Youngblood scored off Adu’s assist to send Leopards into the first break 20-11 ahead.

Despite Cummings sitting down on two fouls, the opening minutes of the second period saw Leopards take complete control as Hernandez, Martin and Duane Camille put them ahead by 15 before Adu (below)hit a three and Camille wrapped up the 15-0 run off Martin’s assist. Worthing never got closer than 16 points in the rest of the half, and despite a harsh foul call and technical of Martin, they went into the locker room leading 43-27 at half-time

Hank Rivers – who led Thunder with 17 points and nine boards – opened the second half scoring and although Lawrence Brown replied, scores from Rivers and James. But Josey stopped the rot with three free-throws after being fouled by Brame, and pairs of foul shots from Brown and Cummings made it a 22 point game with three third period minutes remaining and although Worthing replied with a 9-2 run, the Big Cats went into the final period with a 60-45 lead.

Again it was Josey who ended the run by sinking a trey, and the lead never dipped below 16 again. The lead peaked at 32 with 71 seconds remaining when Dan Dunscombe followed up a three-point play with a massive dunk as the Big Cats moved up to third spot in the Group A table.

Leopards: C Josey (18), S Cummings (14), T Adu (14), T Martin (13), G Hernandez (12), D Dunscombe (7), L Brown (5), D Camille (5), R Youngblood (2).

Ish is raring to go!

October 17, 2012
Leopards’ coach Robert Youngblood has strengthened his backcourt with the addition of guard Ishmael Fontaine. The 6’3″ Englishman joins the Big Cats after just over three seasons with London Lions where he played alongside Youngblood and fellow Leopards Carl Josey and Lawrence Brown.

“I’m raring to go!” said the Leytonstone-born player “I’m ready to work hard and very happy to be here. Coach Robert was instrumental in helping me progress from a junior to a pro and has instilled confidence and hard work in me. I intend to give him my best work! The Leopards have been amazing! Fred [Dicker] and Dave [Ryan] have made me feel right at home and I’m ready to help this team be successful!”

With Lukas Volskis and Josh Johnson having both left Leopards in recent weeks, Fontaine will give coach Youngblood additional options at both guard spots, and the 22-year-old is expected to make his debut in the Big Cats’ National Trophy game at Hemel Storm on Saturday. A win on Saturday will seal a place in the last eight of the competition for the Leopards and give them an excellent chance of home court advantage in the quarter-finals. A loss will leave them relying on other results to qualify.

Leopards seal home advantage

October 22, 2012
Leopards sealed home court advantage in the National Trophy quarter-final with a comfortable 81-61 victory at Hemel Storm on Saturday. For the second straight game the Big Cats led from tip to buzzer, and will now host Derby Trailblazers in the last eight at Basildon Sporting Village on Sunday January 13.

Greg Hernandez led the Big Cats with a 22 point, ten rebound double-double as he converted ten of his 15 field goal attempts. Carl Josey finished with 17 points and five boards, with Taner Adu adding three assists to his 14 points. Simon Cummings shook off a poor shooting night as he finished with ten rebounds and four assists to go with his seven points.

Hernandez opened the scoring with a hook shot, and Josey split a pair at the foul line to give Leopards an early lead, and it was Louis Sayers who kept the home side in the game in the early stages with five points. Captain Taner Adu launched a long two pointer to spark a 12-0 run that included back-to-back treys from Josey as Leopards took a hold on the game they would never relinquish, and despite Williamz Omope draining a buzzer-beating three, it was the Big Cats who led 25-15 at the first break.Tom Adorian opened the second quarter scoring for the home side, but that was the only time in the period that Leopards’ lead dipped into single figures and eight straight Hernandez points – including a pair from downtown – gave Leopards a 37-22 lead with four minutes of the half remaining. Josey stretched the lead to 17, before scores from Tom Marin and Josey sent the Big Cats into the locker room with a 48-30 lead.

With Leopards knowing that a victory would seal second spot as the news filtered through that Medway Park had beaten Leicester Warriors, the visitors started the second half strongly as Cummings hit a pair at the line and Adu scored back-to-back baskets to make it a 24 point game. The lead never dipped below 20 in the period, and Leopards finished strongly with a pair of Martin free-throws before he provided the assist for coach Robert Youngblood to give the visitors a 73-51 first quarter lead.

Dru Spinks – a former MK Lions team-mate of Youngblood, Lawrence Brown and Ishmael Fontaine – opened the fourth period but Henandez replied with three points to keep the Leopards’ scoring ticking over. Dan Dunscombe completed the Leoaprds’ scoring with three minutes remaining , and both coaches sent their bench players onto the court with 2:33 on the clock, and only Storm’s Sayers troubled the scorers in the dying stages as Leopards comfortably wrapped up their place in the last eight.

Bola Adeluola led Hemel with 14 points, with Sayers and Adorian getting 11 apiece.

Leopards: G Hernandez (22), C Josey (17), T Adu (14), D Dunscombe (10), S Cummings (7), L Brown (7), R Youngblood (2), T Martin (2), I Fontaine, D Camille, J Davis.

Josey leads Leopards to victory

October 27, 2012

Leopards started the 2012/13 EBL Division One season the way they finished the last campaign with a comfortable victory on Saturday evening. Carl Josey produced a superb first half performance to lead the Big Cats to a 102-83 victory at Worthing Thunder as his side ended the first night of action on top of the table.
Jose was perfect in the first half as he hit five three-pointers, three shots from inside the arc, and six free-throws on his way to 27 points at the break. the former MK Lion didn’t add to his tally in the second half, missing both shots he took, as coach Robert Youngblood restricted him to eight minutes of action in preparation for Sunday’s National Cup, but he added a total of seven rebounds and three steals to his impressive stat line.
Simon Cummings and Taner Adu picked up the slack in the second half to finish with 17 points apiece, with Lawrence Brown adding ten points and six boards, with Greg Hernandez and Tom Martin each chipping in with nine points, and the former adding seven rebounds.

Hank Rivers led the hosts, who controlled the first period before being over-ran in the second, with 18 points and ten rebounds, but failed to trouble the scorers in the middle two quarters.

Dominic Baker opened the scoring for the home side with a three-pointer, and although Josey replied with two at the foul line, Thunder shot well in the first period and never trailed.

The hosts’ biggest lead was ten when Baker again drained from downtown, but Hernandez replied with a hook shot and it was the American big-man who split a pair of foul shots to reduce the arrears to 31-24 going into the first break.

That Thunder lead was quickly cut to one as Martin and Ishmael Fontaine both scored from the Land of Plenty, but back-to-back treys saw Worthing’s lead back out ten with three minutes gone.

That was as good as it got for Worthing, and a pair of three-point Hernandez plays dragged Leopards back into the game before Adu gave them their first lead of the game with two-from-three foul shooting and 3:54 on the clock.

Leopards only briefly trailed during the rest of the second period, and they closed out the half on an 11-1 run capped by Youngblood’s late basket to lead 61-49 going into the locker room.

Cummings, who’d had a quiet first half, opened the third period scoring, and the Big Cats’ lead only briefly dropped into single figures before it peaked at 21 with 4:35 on the lock when Cummings (below) converted an and-one.Both teams struggled to trouble the scorers in the final three minutes of the period, but it was Martin who sent Leopards into the final break with a 78-63 lead when he converted with 69 seconds remaining after a steal by josey. Martin scored the opening two baskets of the final period, and Cummings hit back-to-back baskets as Leopards opened the quarter with a nine unanswered points to extend their run to 11-0.

Fontaine ensured that Leopards hit the century mark with 2:06 remaining as their lead peaked at 26, and Youngblood was able to run his bench is the closing stages as his team wrapped up their third straight win.Leopards: C Josey (27), S Cummings (17), T Adu (17), L Brown (10), T Martin (9), G Hernandez (9), D Dunscombe (6), I Fontaine (5), R Youngblood (2), D Camille, J Davies.

Cup woe for Big Cats
October 29, 2012
Leopards saw their defence of the National Cup ended at the last 16 stage with a 73-70 loss against Canary Wharf London Lituanica at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday afternoon.

National Cup rules state that Division One teams may only play one American against lower division teams, meaning that guard Simon Cummings was left out of the side, and against a side packed with quality Lithuanian players, the Big Cats found the going tough.

The home side led by as many as six with three minutes of the third period remaining, but two Sidagas free-throws with 11.3 seconds remaining gave the visitors a three point lead, and after a time-out Leopards were unable to get the ball to Carl Josey and coach Robert Youngblood ended up taking a hail-Mary three pointer which failed to connect.

Taner Adu led the Leopards’ scoring with 25 points while Josey had another double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Youngblood also had 12 boards to go with his eight points, while Greg Hernandez finished with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Jakumavicius opened the scoring for the visitors with a three and added a pair of foul shots as Canary Wharf started well, but a Josey trey capped an 8-2 run that saw Leopards take a 10-5 lead after five minutes of action.

That lead grew to eight following another Josey score from the Land of Plenty, but the visitors finished the period on a 7-2 run to cut Leopards’ lead to 20-16 at the first break.

Josey was the only Leopard to trouble the scorer in the first four minutes as his five points kept them level as Rasamavicius tied the game at 25 and the same player put Canary Wharf 30-25 up as he capped a 7-0 run.

Adu stepped up in the final three minutes of the half as he hit six points, including the final basket as the teams went into the locker room tied at 34.

Lawrence Brown opened the second half scoring for the Big Cats, but the game remained tight until Josey made it 51-45 with 4:29 on the clock.

That proved to be as good as it got for the hosts, though, as Canary Wharf replied with an 8-0 run capped by Bagdonas’ long two to send his side into the final break with 53-51 lead.

Adu put the Big Cats back into the lead with an and-one to open the fourth period, and they looked to have taken control of the game as Josey hit a jump shot to make it 60-55 with three minutes gone.

But the Lithuanians wouldn’t lie down, answering with a 9-0 run as Bernotas put them 64-60 ahead and forced a timeout from Youngblood with 6:20 on the clock.

Scores from Hernandez and Youngblood tied the game again, but the visitors regained a narrow lead and held it until 1:26 mark when Youngblood scored off Hernandez’s assit.

Virketis put the Lithuanians up by two with 61 seconds remaining, and they never let that lead slip despite a massive block from Youngblood as Leopards suffered only their second defeat by a lower division team in their nine year history.

Leopards: T Adu (25), C Josey (21), G Hernandez (12), R Youngblood (8), L Brown (2), T Martin (2), D Dunscombe, D Camille, I Fontaine, J Davis (DNP)

Leopards storm to victory
November 26, 2012
Leopards bounced back from their defeat at Derby to pick up their third vcars.co.uk Division One victory of the campaign with a 70-59 against Hemel Storm at Basildon Sporting Village, on Sunday.

Taner Adu led the way with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Carl Josey had a massive 14 point, 15 rebound double-double. Greg Hernandez finished with 12 points and eight boards, while player-coach Robert Youngblood started himself for the first time since taking the job, and had eight points, five boards and three assists.

Youngblood provided the assist for Hernandez to open the scoring, but the first period proved to be very even, with Leopards’ biggest lead coming with two minutes remaining when Simon Cummings set Tom Martin up for the three pointer to put them 18-15 ahead.

The biggest Hemel lead was also three, and Dru Spinks – a former team-mate of Youngblood at MK Lions – drained from downtown to tie the score at 21 going into the first break. Williamz Omope – who led Hemel with 14 points – hit a trey to open the second period scoring for the visitors, but Dan Dunscombe restored Leopards’ lead and Carl Josey hit a three-pointer off a Youngblood assists to send Leopards into the locker room with a 39-35 half-time lead.

Youngblood changed his line-up shortly after the start of the second half, with Martin replacing Cummings at the point, and the move worked as a Josey three followed by an Adu jump shot capped a 12-1 run to open the half. The lead peaked at 19 with 4:26 in the third period remaining when Adu scored again, and despite Hernandez pickup up a technical foul for moaning at himself, the Big Cats went into the final break with a 59-44 lead.

Bola Adeluola hit a pair at the foul line to cut the Leopards lead with the opening score of the fourth period but Josey replied with a score from the Land of Plenty, and Leopards’ lead never dipped into single figures again, with English point guard Martin having arguably his best game for the Leopards since joining in the summer.

Youngblood was able to run his bench for the final minute as Leopards moved up to sixth in the table, and the Leopards’ coach was pleased with his side’s performance: “It was a lot better today” he said, “though to be honest it couldn’t have been worse than the game at Derby. The unit we played in the second half worked well, and now we need to build on that.”

Leopards: T Adu (15), C Josey (14), G Hernandez (12), T Martin (9), R Youngblood (8), S Cummings (8), L Brown (2), D Dunscombe (2), D Camille, I Fontaine, J Davis, J Anderson.

Riders impressed with Leopards

December 31, 2012
Jelson Homes DMU Leicester Riders’ forward Anthony Rowe and coach Rob Paternostro were impressed with the Leopards despite his side’s big win against them on Sunday afternoon.

The high-flying Riders won 105-63 in front of a big crowd at the Brentwood Centre to progress to the BBL Trophy quarter-final, but Rowe had some encouraging words about the Big Cats:

“It was one of those games against a side a division below you where you know you have more talent but it comes down to desire. I was impressed with Leopards, though. They showed a lot of heart, we blitzed them early on, but to give them some props they stuck at it and made it a nine point game at half-time.

“They kept battling and had some calls that they weren’t happy with, but they have some talent in that side.

“We definitely needed the game after the Christmas break so we could go through a few things and get back to playing good defence. They wanted that win so we had to focus and not take anything for granted. We needed to be turned in, and I think the game will help us as we prepare for the [BBL Cup] final”
Paternostro was also happy with the victory: “I thought we played pretty well against Leopards, we had a poor few minutes at the end of the first half but was happy with the effort from all of our players. I thought Zaire Taylor was very active on defence and was able to make plays, he has been playing very well, he is a guard that impacts the game in many ways.
“Drew Sullivan had a nice all around game, I thought he distributed the ball very well and Pavel Losonsky was effective and able to finish at the basket. I thought Jay Cousinards shooting in the second half really opened things up for us on offence, and defensively we played an intelligent game. Greg Hernandez played well for Essex and I was impressed with how hard they played.”

Leopards through to semi
January 14, 2013
Leopards swept into the National Trophy semi-final with a dominant 81-59 victory against Derby Trailblazers on Sunday. The Brentwood Centre crowd saw Robert Youngblood’s team produce arguably their best performance of the season as they led for all but 32 seconds of the game to set up a last four tie at Hemel Storm in February.

The Big Cats were 48-24 ahead at half-time and led by as many as 30 in the third period as Youngblood was able to give at least five minutes of court time to all 12 of his players and, despite starting the game, the Leopards’ coach was able to restrict his own playing time to 12 minutes.

Simon Cummings led the way for the Big Cats with 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and as many steals, but it was Greg Hernandez who had the most impressive game with a 14 point, 13 rebound double-double, adding six assists and three steals. Taner Adu added 13 point, while England junior Rowell Graham continued his comeback from injury with seven points and three blocks.

Hernandez opened the scoring with a three point play, and although scores from Martyn Gayle and Jeff Smith briefly gave the visitors the lead, Leopards responded with a 13-2 lead capped by Cummings’ three-pointer and Lawrence Brown’s put-back sent them into the first break with a 24-14 lead.

Simon Allaway hit a three to cut the lead to seven at the start of the second period, but scores from Graham and Brown quickly put the lead back in double figures. Cummings’ steal and assist to Tom Martin saw the lead go about the 20 mark with 75 first half seconds remaining before Cummings drained another three to send the Big Cats into the locker room with a 24 point lead.

Adu hit the first six points of the second half to effectively as the visitors were held scoreless for almost four minutes and the lead never dipped below 26 in the third quarter before Dan Dunscombe hit a free-throw to send the hosts into the final break with a 63-37 lead.

Youngblood was able to run his bench in the fourth period as Leopards’ lead never dipped below 24, and it was Martin who wrapped up the scoring as Leopards reached the Trophy semi-final four the fourth time in five seasons.

Leopards: S Cummings (15), G Hernandez (14), T Adu (13), C Josey (9), L Brown (8), R Graham (7), I Fontaine (5), D Dunscombe (5), T Martin (5), R Youngblood, D Camile, L Robertin.

Final beckons for Leopards

February 8, 2013
Leopards reached the National Trophy final for the first time with a 92-84 victory at Hemel Storm on Saturday evening.
Led by a career high 38 points from Simon Cummings, the Big Cats led for almost the whole game despite the hosts’ never-say-die attitude. Cummings added five rebounds and four assists, while Greg Hernandez finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, and Carl Josey added 11 and nine boards for Leopards as they never looked back after a 28-17 first period.
They will attempt to lift their fourth piece of silverware in 13 months when they play either Tees Valley Mohawks or Bristol Academy Flyers in the final at Braunstone Leisure Centre, Leicester, on Saturday February 23.
Louis Sayers led the home side with 29 points while Williamze Omope added 21.
Josey opened the scoring for the Big Cats after Hernandez had won the tip, but Omope replied with the first of four three-pointers to give Hemel what proved to be their only lead of the evening.
But Leopards quickly took control as six points from Hernandez and four from Cummings saw them open a 12-4 lead, and the Hernendez continued to do most of the damage for the visitors in the first period as he hit 16 points to send his side into the first break with an 11 point lead.

Only Cummings troubled the scorers for Leopards in the first three minutes of the second period as Storm cut the lead to eight, but Ish Fontaine drained a trey , and with Josey also scoring from downtown, the Big Cats led 40-27 with six minutes gone.

Hemel responded with a 10-4 run to close out the half, but Taner Adu’s two baskets in that tear ensured the Big Cats went into the locker room with a 44-37 lead.

Cummings opened the second half on fire, draining back-to-back threes, and Josey also hit one from the Land of Plenty to put the Big Cats 56-42 ahead with four minutes gone.

A 7-0 run in which Cummings scored five point saw the lead grow to 65-46 heading into the final two minutes of the third period, but Hemel again finished strongly as they scored the final five points to cut Leopards’ advantage to 69-55 at the final break.

That run continued as Rodney Bryn-Hussey and Sayers made it a ten point game before Cummings ended the drought with a drive to the basket.

Leopards were ahead by ten with six minutes remaining when Omope hit a hot-streak from downtown with three straight threes, split by a Cummings jump shot and a Josey trey, but Sayers got in on the act to make it three point game and force a timeout from coach Robert Youngblood.

Although Adu missed a pair at the foul line, the move worked as a 14-4 run wrapped up the win for the Big Cats. Cummings proved unstoppable down the straight as hit nine straight points to cap his best night in a Leopards’ vest and sent the Big Cats into the Trophy final for the first time.

Leopards: S Cummings (38), G Hernandez (25), C Josey (11), T Adu (9), R Youngblood (4), I Fontaine (3), D Dunscome (2), T Martin, L Brown, R Graham, J Davis (DNP), D Camile (DNP)

Blood looks for final glory

Posted on February 21, 2013 by admin
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.

“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-fina 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 by admin

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.”

Ish leads Leopards to victory

April 1, 2013

A depleted Leopards side had no problem dispatching relegation-bound Brixton Topcats 81-69 in front of a big crowd at the Brentwood Centre on Good Friday.

Captain Taner Adu is out for the season with an Achilles injury, while Robert Youngblood injured his shoulder in training the previous evening. Young forward Rowell Graham was away with Great Britain under-20s and Jamelle Davis was also unavailable.

Despite that short roster, the Big Cats had little trouble against the London side as Ish Fontaine led the Leopards’ scoring for the first time, draining seven of his 11 shots from outside the three-point arc on the way to a 21 point haul in a team-high 35 minutes. Greg Hernandez missed out on a double-double by a single rebound, finishing with 17 points in 31 minutes, adding five assists, while Carl Josey added 12 points and nine boards as all eight Leopards got on the scoresheet.

Simon Cummings, who had a quiet night with nine points and four assists in 28 minutes, opened the scoring before Fontaine drained his first three of the night as Leopards led from tip to buzzer. The Big Cats led 18-12 at the first break but the lead ballooned to 17 in the second period when Hernandez drained a three with 2:42 remaining in the period, and they went into the locker room 37-24 ahead.Topcats never got any closer than that 13 point margin in the third period as Tom Martin sent Leopards into the final break 59-40 ahead, and the lead peaked at 22 a minute into the final period when Fontaine scored from downtown as Leopards wrapped up their 14th league win of the campaign.

Leopards ready for north-east double

April 2, 2013

Leopards travel to the north- east for a double header finish to the regular season knowing that they must win both games and hope other results go their way if they are to get home court advantage in the play-offs.

A comfortable 81-69 win against Brixton Topcats on Good Friday wasn’t enough to lift Robert Youngblood’s team out of sixth place in the table, and if they are to retain their play-off crown, it looks like they will have to win on the road in the quarter-final.

Four sides are tied in second-fifth place in the Division One table, with Leopards facing two of them, Tees Valley Mohawks on Saturday and Team Northumbria the following day. Mohawks also host Westminster on Sunday while Northumbria travel to Bradford on Saturday. The other two top five teams are Leeds Carnegie and Bristol Academy Flyers who meet twice over the weekend, and Leopards need two of the four sides to lose twice over the weekend if they are to seal a top four place.

Leopards have already beaten both north-east teams at home in the league, as well as winning against Mohawks in the Trophy final, and a pair of victories over the weekend would give them the head-to-head decider against all of the four sides immediately above them.

Coach Youngblood will be hoping to take a stronger squad to the north-east than faced the Topcats as Leopards look to move up the table.

The Comeback Kids do it again

April 7, 2013

Leopards recorded another come-from-behind win as they kept their hopes of home court advantage in the play-offs alive with a 94-91 win at Tees Valley Mohawks on Saturday.

The Big Cats had a brief lead in the first period and then trailed until Rowell Graham put them ahead with 94 seconds remaining as they repeated their National Trophy final success against the north east side.

Greg Hernandez led the way for the Big Cats with 28 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while Carl Josey hit five three-pointers on the way to a 19 point, eight rebound game.

Graham added 14 points and eight boards for Robert Youngblood’s team while Simon Cummings finished with 12 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and four steals.

Josey’s three pointer gave Leopards an early 7-6 lead, but the home side quickly took the initiative and DJ Glavin’s basket sent them into the first break with a 30-23 lead.

Cummings opened the second quarter scoring with a three off Tom Martin’s assist, but the period saw a catalogue of Leopards’ turnovers and the hosts led by as many as 16 when Glavin scored with 4:32 on the clock.

Youngsters Graham and Duane Camile chipped away at the lead and Lawrence Brown made it a nine point game going into the last minute before Mohawks scored the final five points of the half to send them into the locker room with a 55-41 lead.

Jorge Ebanks opened the second half scoring from the foul line to extend the Mohawks lead to 16 again and the closes Leopards came in the third period was when Hernandez scored with 2:27 on the clock to make it a ten point game.

Josey drained a three to make it 76-66 heading into the final 40 seconds, but Glavin wrap up the third period scoring to take his side into the final break

Hernandez opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back baskets to make it an eight point game but Glavin replied with a jump shot and David Hanson – who had a superb game in the Trophy final – hit his only three point shot of the night to take the lead back up to 13

Hernandez hit a pair of jump shots split by a Martin trey as Leopards cut the deficit to eight and Tees Valley began to look shaky. It was still a seven point game with four minutes on the clock before Graham grabbed Josey’s miss and scored to cut the lead to 87-82.

Cummings made it a three point game heading into the final three minutes and with 2:02 remaining Josey nailed a three to tie the score. Mohawks were clearly rattled now, and Ebanks was called for an offensive foul before Graham gave the visitors their first lead since the opening stages off Cummings’ assist.

After Ebanks had missed a trey, another offensive board from Graham saw Josey hit a dagger three to put Leopards five up with 49 seconds on the clock. Ebanks finally got a shot to fall, but that was as good as it got for the home and Hernandez wrapped up another memorable victory from the foul line.

Leopards seal fourth spot

April 8, 2013

An excellent defensive performance saw Leopards seal fourth place in Division One with an 89-79 victory at Team Northumbria, on Sunday.

Northumbria were held scoreless for over six third period minutes as the Big Cats turned a one point half-time advantage into a 68-51 lead at the final break, and they never looked back to seal a home quarter-final in the play-offs.

Greg Hernandez again led the Big Cats, finishing with 21, while Simon Cummings added 16 and Lawrence Brown had one of his best games as a Leopard with 15 points.

Duane Camile, making his first start for the Leopards, hit a trey to open, and Ish Fontaine also scored from downtown as the visitors took an early 6-5 lead.

Scores from Hernandez and Cummings kept the score tied at 17, before Brown put them up by four with a put-back and Hernandez sent them into the first break leading 25-19.

Fontaine drained another three to keep the visitors up by six, and they led by eight with just over two minutes gone when coach Robert Youngblood called a timeout which failed to prevent a run which saw the lead reduced to 34-31 at the mid-stage of the quarter.

Treys from Camile and Tom Martin put Leopard back in charge before Youngblood received a technical foul which the hosts barely took advantage as they hit one of the two free-throws before Josey stole the ball.

The Big Cats were still up by six heading into the final minute of the half before the home side finished with five unanswered points to make it 44-43 at half-time.

Leopards forced a shot-clock violation to open the second half, and that set the tone for third period, with Cummings and Fontaine both draining from long range. Brown converted a three point play, and perfect foul shooting from Cummings and Hernandez made it a 14 point game before Martin converted from close range to make the score 68-49.

Jamie Glen reduced the lead to 17 with a score on the buzzer but Leopards started the fourth period well with Hernandez and Cummings both scoring to keep them ahead by 15. Dan Dunscombe scored after a mover that could best be described as “controlled chaos” and Cummings made it a 19 point game before fouling out with 3:39 on the clock. The home side never managed to get closer than the final ten point margin, with Brown scoring six more points capped by a dunk and Fontaine draining a trey to complete a successful weekend in the north east.

Leopards at home in the play-offs

April 8, 2013

A thrilling final weekend of the regular season saw two victories for Leopards along with other results going their way seal home court advantage in the play-offs. The Big Cats will now host Tees Valley Mohawks at the Brentwood Centre on Saturday evening tip-off 7pm in a repeat of the National Trophy final.

Robert Youngblood’s side produced another stunning comeback to win 94-91 at Mohawks on Saturday before an excellent second half defensive performance at Team Northumbria on Sunday saw them win 89-79.

The Big Cats finished level with Mohawks and Leeds Carnegie with a 16-10 record as both sides lost their two games over the weekend, but won three of the four games against the northern pair and took fourth spot on head-to-head decider.

Coach Youngblood was a happy man after the weekend: “I’m very pleased with both games. We went up there to get two wins and hope the basketball Gods would help up. They were looking down on us, and to get a top four finish was one of our goals at the start of the season. We’ve achieved two of our goals as we’ve already won the Trophy, and now we want to win the play-offs.

“We refuse to lose – that’s been our motto and we’ll stick to that. Sometimes we play better from behind, and when we’re ahead we can be lackadaisical. I’m very happy with how we’ve played since we lost Taner [Adu] and I was worried how his injury was effect us. But everyone’s stepped up, Duane Camile’s been excellent and Lawrence Brown showed me this weekend that he can do what I signed him for.”

We’re off to the Final Four!

April 14, 20

Leopards reached their third straight Final Four and fourth in five years with a 90-75 victory against Tees Valley Mohawks, on Saturday.

A blistering second quarter at the Brentwood Centre saw the north-east side outscored 35-12, and the Big Cats never looked back as they made it four straight victories.

Robert Youngblood’s team will face vcars.co.uk Division One champions Reading Rockets in the first semi-final at the Amaechi Centre on April 27 – ticket, travel and hotel details will be announced later this week.

Simon Cummings led the Leopards with 31 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals as he continued his good late-season form. Ish Fontaine added 17 points, while Carl Josey finished with a 13 point, ten rebound double-double, and added three assists.

Greg Hernandez and Lawrence Brown also finish in double figures with 12 points apiece, adding nine and seven rebounds respectively.

Mohawks were led by 29 points and seven rebounds from DJ Glavin, with Dave Hensen adding 21 points and Jamie Kohn had a 17 point, 12 rebound double-double, but without the injured Jorge Ebanks, their short rotation was unable to cope with Leopards once they got into their stride.

Leopards again started slowly against the Mohawks as only player-coach Youngblood troubled the scorers in the first 225 seconds, and the visitors rushed into a 9-2 lead with some good shooting from downtown.

Five points from Cummings finally got Leopards going and Josey also drained from the Land of Plenty, before Cummings made it 20-15 in the visitors’ favour with a three point play before the first break. Josey opened the second period scoring with a trey, and Hernandez hit a pair of jump shots to keep the Big Cats in touch, and with 5:25 on the clock Fontaine finally got a three-point shot to drop to give Leopards their first lead of the game at 29-28.

Cummings and Hansen exchanged baskets before a Fontaine three ignited the 19-2 run which effectively sent Leopards into the semi-final. Fontaine hit two more treys in the run and Cummings scored once from downtown before Dan Dunscombe’s dunk sent the Big Cats into the half-time break with a 50-32 lead.The visitors did show they would make a fight of it at the start of the second half, with Kohn opening the scoring as they went on a 9-0 run. Fontaine’s fourth three-pointer of the night broke the tear, and the Leopards’ lead never dipped into single figures again in the period, peaking at 15 following a Josey score with 43 seconds remaining and they went into the final break with a 64-53 lead following a Glavin buzzer-beater..

Glavin also opened the fourth period scoring with an and-one, but the eight point margin was as close as the Mohawks would come in the final stanza. A pair of Brown baskets split by a Cummings score was followed up by a Fontaine three-pointer and a dunk saw the lead grow to 15 with a 9-2 run. The Big Cats never looked in trouble after that and it was Cummings who wrapped things up with a pair of free-throws to send Leopards to Manchester.

Leopards: S Cummings (31), I Fontaine (17), C Josey (13), G Hernandez (12), L Brown (12), R Youngblood (2), D Dunscombe (2), T Martin (1), R Graham, J Davis.

Blood ready for Final Four

April 22, 2013

Leopards coach Robert Youngblood can’t wait for this weekend’s Final Four as his team look to end the season by lifting the Division One play-off crown.

The Big Cats won the competition last year with victories against Leicester Warriors and Derby Trailblazers at the Manchester showpiece, but Youngblood is looking to win a final four competition for the first time.

“I haven’t been in one since 2002 with [London] Towers, and I was two seconds away with the old Leopards in 1997. I won a lot of trophies in England, but I want to get my hands on it this time.”

Youngblood and his team will face Reading Rockets in the first semi-final at the Amaechi Centre on Saturday afternoon, with the winner playing either Team Northumbria or Worthing Thunder in the final on Sunday.

The Leopards’ player-coach is well aware of the task facing his team: ““We’ve had two weeks to prepare, and I’ve done a lot of scouting. They’re a tough team to guard inside and out. He may be only 17-year-old but Luke Nelson leads their team – as he goes, they go. We need to keep him under control if we’re going to win the game.

“He’s not their only guy, though. They have two really good inside players in Ryan Lohfink and Danny Carter. They complement each other and play well together, they’re tough around the basket and play smart.

“They’re well-coached and organised, and they’re a tough to play against. We’ll have our hands full need and we need to stick to our game plan.

“But I’m really looking forward to it, everyone’s fit and ready to go, and we’re practicing every day this week. We’ll be ready for them.”

Leopards have lost out in both of their games against Division One regular season champions Rockets this season. A poor start in the home game was erased by a stunning second half comeback and they could have won the game with the last shot of regulation time before losing 84-76 in overtime.

The Rockets also finished strongly when the sides met at Rivermead in January, outscoring them 28-19 in the final period to win 74-63.

Final challenge for Ish

April 25, 2013

Ish Fontaine is ready for the challenge of the Final Fours this weekend as Leopards prepare to face Reading Rockets in Manchester.

“Being in a final four proves that we had a very good season” said the guard. “We weathered a lot of storms along the way and have had some amazing comebacks. We all definitely brought into what coach was trying to achieve.
“Winning any game has always been about us. Earlier in the season when we took nights off and didn’t execute we got thrashed. However in a lot of comebacks we were down big to some great teams and collectively felt it was time to step up and we got the win!”

Fontaine has worked his way into the Leopards’ starting line-up in recent weeks, and he’s pleased to be playing a bigger role with the Big Cats: “I’m happy I was able to contribute to this point I’m hungry to take it two steps further and I’m really happy for Robert [Youngblood] to have such success in his first year of coaching.”

Play-off dreams shattered

April 29, 201

Leopards’ dreams of repeating as Division One play-off champions were cruelly shattered in Manchester as they went down 75-70 in overtime against league champions Reading Rockets.

The Big Cats led for almost all of regulation time, but three key calls went against them in fourth period – the main one being the foul on leading scorer Greg Hernandez which saw him forced to sit down with eight minutes remaining – and the Rockets capitalised in overtime.

“It’s very frustrating” said general manager Dave Ryan. “We’ve worked hard all season to get to the finals, and to have the same referee make three calls that basically changed the game is very disappointing.

“But we’ve had a great season. With an entirely new team we’ve won the National Trophy for the first time, finished in the top four in the league and reached the Final Fours. Robert [Youngblood], Roger [Malpass] and the team deserve a lot of credit.

“Our crowds really picked up at Christmas and we have a great future ahead of us at the Brentwood Centre. We’re already preparing for next season, and come September we’ll be ready for another shot at it.”

Hernandez finished with a 21 point, ten rebound double-double, with Simon Cummings adding 15 point and four assists. Carl Josey also had a double-double, finishing with 12 points and ten boards.

While Leopards may have justified complaints about the refereeing late in the game, they helped their own downfall by missing ten of their 30 free-throws, and a foot injury to Cummings – which would have ruled him out of Sunday’s final – clearly limited his effectiveness down the stretch as they let a big lead slip.

Lewis Champion gave Rockets what proved to be their only lead of regulation time with the opening score of the game but Josey replied and Ish Fontaine drained a three to make it a five point game midway through the first period.

A Tom Martin buzzer-beating three put the Leopards 19-14 up at the first break an an Hernadez free-throw at the mid-stage of the second period gave them a nine point lead before a pair of Liam Carpenter free-throws cut their lead to 31-25 at half-time.

Cummings opened the second half scoring, and Leopards’ lead ballooned to 11 with 17 third period seconds remaining when Josey hit a three before Rockets’ Sam Simon made it 53-44 going into the fourth period.

Hernandez sat down on four fouls when he appeared to be held by Simon while going for a rebound, and with Cummings limping and being called for an offensive foul as well Rowell Graham’s block being ruled as a goal-tend, Rockets chipped away at the lead.

The Big Cats were still five up when Hernandez returned to the game with 3:41 on the clock and he immediately increased that advantage with a hook shot.

But a pair of Luke Nelson threes dragged Reading back into the game and Cummings could only convert one of two foul shots to leave his side up by two with 26 seconds remaining.

Ryan Lohfink tied the game with a pair at the foul line with 25 seconds remaining, and Cummings saw his last second shot fall short to send the game into overtime.

Cummings opened the extra period scoring with a pair free-throws, but after Robb Parker had halved that lead at the foul line Danny Carter put Reading ahead with 3:35 on the clock and they never trailed again.

Josey levelled the score at 67 with 84 seconds remaining, but a Parker three made it a four point game, and although Cummings halved that with a drive to the basket, he then pissed a pair of free-throws and Nelson ended Leopards’ season at the foul line.

Simon takes MVP award
May 6, 2013

Robert Youngblood presents Simon Cummings with the MVP award for 2012/13.

After the closest vote in club history, American guard Simon Cummings won the Leopards Most Valuable Player Award. Just two votes split Cummings, his compatriot Greg Hernandez and co-captains Carl Josey and Taner Adu. In his first season as a professional, Cumming stepped up after season-ending injury to Adu in the National Trophy final and was instrumental in a late charge which saw Leopards finish fourth in the Division One table and reach the Final Four in Manchester. Cummings finished the season averaging 17.3 points per game, along with four rebounds and 4.1 assists which placed him seventh in the assist leaders.
Hernandez finished third in the Division One MVP voting, and fourth in the statistical ranking table for the league. His 18.48 points per game placed him seventh in Division One and 9.94 rebounds saw him in sixth place.
Josey, so often the glue for the Big Cats, averaged 11 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while Adu chipped in with 14.9 points and 3.8 boards. England juniors forward Rowell Graham led the league in effective field goal percentage with 68.35 percent and was fourth in effective play percentage, one spot ahead of player-coach Robert Youngblood.

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