25 years of Leopards – season 22

Of all the 25 seasons, never has one shown so much promise, but finished so disastrously.  The signings of England international Mike Martin – a former Leopard from the BBL days – and American guard AJ Roberts along with a link-up with Oaklands College set the Big Cats up for a promising season. But a seemingly never-ending injury list and some truly awful luck at times saw Leopards suffer a first relegation in their history.

Returning coach Steve Ogunjimi brought back the core his side from the previous year, with David Ajumobi returning after a season with Reading, butit was a mixed start to the campaign. A slimmed down National Trophy competition saw only three games, and a single point home loss against Hemel Storm in the first game proved key despite wins at Lituanica and Westminster. The league season didn’t start well, and Leopards’ only win in the next seven games was a walkover against Ipswich in the National Cup as the Suffolk side failed to show up at Harlow. To prove that every silver lining has a cloud, Leopards’ reward was a humiliating 94-67 loss at second division Kent Crusaders. Clearly things had to change, and following a loss at Derby Trailblazers an announcement was made, with Ajumobi, Ladi Brown and Bode Adeluola (who had struggled with injury after joining in the summer from Hemel) were all released. In their place came Perry Lawson, who had helped Mersey Tigers to a BBL treble a couple of years before, and former GB under-20 international Darrell Bethune.

The changes worked – at least in the short-term – with a crushing win at Westminster Warriors along with tight home wins against Solent Kestrels and Bradford Dragons, and although they then lost close games against Leicester Warriors and London Lituanica, Tosin Oyelese hit a game-winner against Lancashire Spinners to send Leopards into the Christmas break with a 4-7 record.

January proved to be possibly the most surreal month in the club’s history with first victories in an “international” game and a BBL Trophy tie before a run of losses started the slide into Division Two. A capacity crowd at Oaklands saw Wales comfortably beaten in an opener for 2017 and that provided a boost as Manchester Giants arrived at Brentwood for what proved to be a thriller – and after a decade of trying, the new Leopards finally got their first BBL Trophy victory. The good form continued two days later as Worthing were beaten 86-71 at the Brentwood Centre to complete an excellent first week of the year.

And that really was as good as it got as Leopards lost their next 12 league games, starting with a pair of defeats against Team Northumbria and Loughborough. The BBL Trophy provided a break, with Plymouth Raiders visiting for a second straight season. The previous game had ended with a brawl on the court and continued in the Plymouth Herald, and the fallout had seen Leopards initially not invited into the competition before Manchester Magic pulled out. Things were a bit more sane this time around as Raiders comfortably won in front of a big crowd at Brentwood.

The win against Giants had come at a cost, with the influential Martin suffering an Achilles injury which ruled him out for most of the remaining games. Leopards managed to beat the signing deadline to add big man Alex Scotland-Williamson, who had been with the club as a junior in their Ware days before going to college in the States. His debut came in a double-digit loss as Reading, but his season was abruptly ended the following week when he tore his quad muscle and damaged his knee in an overtime loss at Hemel.

And just when it appeared things couldn’t get worse, they certainly did. A heart-breaking loss at Manchester the day after losing Scotland-Williamson at Hemel was followed by the visit of basement side Westminster Warriors to Harlow. The Londoners had lost every game against Division One opposition but a truly dismal performance saw that run end with a 64-58 victory against the Big Cats. In hindsight the loss of Bethune with a season-ending injury in the following day’s defeat at Solent was the nail in the coffin, leaving them with few defensive options and a rapidly diminishing roster..

A narrow loss at Bradford gave some hope but the following day saw an abysmal 89-63 loss against Hemel at Brentwood. It was clear that something had to change, Ogunjimi had offered his resignation following the Westminster game and the day after the Hemel debacle it was agreed that the club and coach would part company.

With four games remaining and at least two wins needed, Leopards needed an immediate replacement – with assistant coach Roger Malpass unable to commit – and turned to Oaklands for a solution as Thomas Baker became the sixth head coach (initially on an interim basis) in the new club’s history.

Baker’s first game saw Leicester Warriors visit the Brentwood Centre and it proved to be another “what if” as a couple of key calls went against Leopards down the stretch as Karl Brown’s side went home with a 68-66 victory.  It was a similar tale the following week as Leopards made the short trip to the University of East London to face Lituanica and led for the first 39 minutes of regulation time before a couple of shocking calls from a ((Lithuanian) referee saw the game go into overtime. The first extra period proved to be a war of attrition with only eight points shared but the second period saw the hosts live at the foul line as they edged Leopards out 88-83.

So it was do or die for the trip to Myerscough to face Lancashire Spinners. Martin had clambered off the treatment table to play at Lituanica, finishing with 19 points, but he was in no condition to play back-to-back games. Preparations weren’t helped by the mini bus getting caught up in the Brentwood marathon for an hour, but the Big Cats started strongly they built on a 30-20 first period lead to go into the locker room 53-38 up. But after a half-time whine from the home coaches, Spinners started the second half strongly and the previous day’s 50 minute game together with the nightmare trip began to take their toll and the lead was shaved to 70-62 at the final break. The fourth period was like torture as Leopards’ advantage , gradually ebbed away, but although Spinners briefly grabbed the lead, the Big Cats were 82-81 up going into the final play of the game. Leopards were still in Division One when Dave Walsh’s shot left his hand and the buzzer sounded a split second later, but it dropped and Division Two basketball beckoned.

We live in difficult times at the moment that put things in perspective. But this was horrific. Tears were shed in the locker room, Spinners were fairly shitty about it all (and their car crash of a 2017/18 season was a joy to behold as a result), but somehow we all got home in one piece.

There was still one more league game to play and Baker collected his first victory in double overtime at Worthing (the last side Ogunjimi’s Leopards had beaten) and such was the success Leopards were enjoying off the  court that they staged a friendly against Oaklands to raise some cash for the following season’s attempt to escape from the abyss they call Division Two.

I still haven’t really got over it.

Oaklands link for Leopards –

Levett Essex Leopards are delighted to announce an agreement with Oaklands College to form an exciting partnership over the coming years for elite player development. The partnership will allow Oaklands Academy player’s opportunities to compete at the highest levels of senior competition, whilst supporting the Big Cats with elite youth players.

The Leopards will benefit by utilising the outstanding basketball facilities as well as the world class coaching development at Oaklands College. The Big Cats side will continue to play out of their home at Brentwood & Harlow, looking to add the Wolfpack to their current fan base.

evan v worthing
Off the back of the under-18s winning the NBDL National Championships last weekend, Oaklands will now have a complete competitive pathway. The academy program can now offer opportunities in Division One, the EABL, under-18 NBL and the NBDL (Division Four)

Leopards’ General Manager Dave Ryan said: “We’re delighted to be working with Oaklands, and excited about the possibilities it brings both organisations. The have some fantastic facilities which can help us immensely, and although we’ll continue to have one session a week in London during 2016/17 we believe that a massive upgrade in practice facilities will be a real benefit.

“We’ve always wanted to work with a qualify junior set-up and showed in 2012 – when we won the treble – that it’s possible to combine the best senior players in the area with talented youngsters who can provide key back-up and develop their game. Evan [Walshe] showed with us this season that he could be an important member of our side, and we hope we can develop more players for the junior national teams.”

Oaklands Wolves Basketball Director Michael Ball had this to say “this is a hugely significant agreement for the Academy. It will enable every one of our current and future male performance players to access the appropriate playing opportunity at the weekend. I want to thank Essex Leopards for agreeing to work with us to develop talented British players.”

Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi is also delighted to with the new partnership: “I’m very happy to be working with Oaklands. It’s a perfect opportunity for both the club and the players.”

Evan’s off to Miami  –

evan @ hemelLevett Leopards’ guard Evan Walshe has fulfilled his dreams of playing in the States by signing for Barry University.

The 18-year-old guard will join the NCAA Division II side for the 2016/17 season having been a regular in the Leopards’ team that finished sixth in the Division One table this year.

The Miami-based university include ex-Leopards’ coach Billy Mims among their former coaches and had a successful 2015/16 season, finishing with a 26-7 record and reaching the Sunshine State Conference final before losing 93-75 at Lincoln Memorial.

Walshe was the first Oaklands College player to link up with the Big Cats, paving the way for the formal link-up that the two organisations announced last week.

“It’s a great move for Evan, and we hope that he is successful in the States” said Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan. “It shows that giving young players a chance to p;ay for Leopards can help their development and we hope that Evan is first of many players that we can help improve their chances of playing in America.”

Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi admitted that he would have liked the chance of coaching Walshe for one more year: “I’m disappointed that Evan won’t be with us next season as it think he could have played a big part for us” he said. “But I’m delighted for him that he’s got the chance to play in the States, and I wish him all the best.”

Leopards look for a Giant killing –

Levett Leopards will face Manchester Giants in the BBL Trophy first round, following Wednesday night’s draw. The game will be played at the Brentwood Centre on Friday January 6, tip-off 8pm.

The Giants will be looking for an improved season after finishing the 2015/16 campaign second-from-bottom of the BBL Championship table with eight wins from 33 games. The game will see a return to Brentwood for Giants’ coach Yorick Williams who played with the original Big Cats in their final season, 2002/3, when he was a team-mate of the current Leopards play-caller Steve Ogunjimi.

While the new Leopards and Giants have never met, their predecessors met on many occasions and the final ever game for the original Giants was a heavy defeat against the Big Cats at Brentwood early in the 2000/1 season. The new Giants have struggled since their formation in 2012, only qualifying for the play-offs once in four years and recording only one win in the two knockout competitions.

It is the tenth time in the 13-year history of the new Big Cats that they have been invited into the league cup competition of the British League and they are one of four non-BBL taking part in the 16-team competition. Last season saw Leopards host Plymouth Raiders in front of a big crowd at the Brentwood Centre in what proved to be a feisty affair, while the previous season saw them go agonizingly close to knocking Surrey Heat out of the competition

Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan is delighted that the Big Cats will again compete in the competition: “It will be good to test ourselves against BBL competition again, we’re proud to have been invited into the competition more than any other non-BBL team.

“We’d like to thank Brentwood Leisure Trust for their help in ensuring that we can again enter the competition. It’ll be good to host Giants, and those of us who’ve been around long to remember him playing for Leopards will be pleased to Yorick back at Brentwood.

Tosin’s back for Leopards –

Levett Essex Leopards have announced their first signing of the summer, with the news last season’s club MVP Tosin Oyelese will return to the Big Cats. The 6’ 5” forward re-signs for Steve Ogunjimi’s side for what will be his third season with Essex club.

Oyelesie played only a back-up role when Leopards won the National League in 2015 but the experience he gained in that title winning team saw him step up to become a key member of the team last season, regularly starting for Ogunjimi’s team. He was rewarded by the club’s supporters when they voted him Most Valuable Player at the end of the campaign.

Ogunjimi is delighted to make the 23-year-old his first signing of the summer and believe he will continue to improve: “I’m very happy to have last year’s MVP returning for the coming season” he said.

“Tosin brings hard work and effort to our team which has been the motor to our success. He is one season away from being considered one of – if not the – best rebounder in our league, and he continues to develop offensively.“This really is a break-out year for Tosin, look out for more of his trademark doubles for the Big Cats!”

Oyelese can’t wait to return to action with the Leopards: “I am overjoyed to return to the Leopards’ family. I’m also looking forward to continuing to give my all on the court and pushing towards having the best season yet!”

Young players will have the chance to be coached by Oyelese prior to the visit to Team USA Select to the Brentwood Centre on Sunday September.

Bennett’s back for Big Cats –

Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi is delighted to have re-signed guard Dougie Bennett ahead of the 2016/17 NBL Division One season.

The 23-year-old returns to the Big Cats for a second season having been chosen as the club’s Most Improved Player by Ogunjimi at the end of the last campaign.

“I have known Dougie for a while now and he is a high character guy on and off the court” said Ogunjimi.

“His on court savvy and clutch shooting helped us win a number of games last season and I am very happy to have him back on board.”

Ogunjimi believes that Scottish international Bennett will play a bigger part for his team this season: “Dougie has earned a more consistent role in my plans for the team this year and I am very excited to see how he grabs the opportunity.”#

Bennett, who had previous Division One experience with Newham Neptunes, is looking forward to another season with the Big Cats:

“After a successful season personally for me, it was a no-brainer to return as I have unfinished business” he said.

“I felt last year I gave everything I could coming back from injury, however this year I’m fitter and healthier than I have ever been.

“Leopards is such a fantastic club with so many influential people in and around it, it feels like I will get the support needed to further my career and I hope I can bring every success with me to the Leopards.

“Hopefully we can bring home the championship this season.”

Hitchman returns for Big Cats –

Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi continues to build his side ahead of the new season with the re-signing of forward Justin Hitchman.

The 6’7” big man joined last summer from Division One rivals Westminster Warriors had an impressive season with the Leopards, and kept the club’s fans entertained with some massive dunks.

Ogunjimi is understandably pleased to have Hitchman back and believes he can be a key part of his side: “I am very happy to have Justin back on our roster for the upcoming season” he said.

“He is a powerhouse of a player who scores, defends and rebounds very well for us. He carried us to a few wins last season and I expect his second year with us to be even better now he is comfortable in our system.

“Justin also brings a very competitive and in-your-face attitude to the team and I love that. I hope it spreads amongst our players to become our overall identity.”

Brian and Jamie return for USA game – 

#As Levett Essex Leopards prepare for the visit of Team USA Select to the Brentwood Centre on Sunday, coach Steve Ogunjimi has re-signed two more of last season’s squad.

Big man Jamie Hayes and guard Brian Nguru both return after encouraging debut seasons at Division One level, and the Big Cats’ coach is pleased to have them back.

“I am very happy to have secured Jamie and Brian for the upcoming season” he said. “They were both players that really did what I asked of them on the court and brought some great energy when needed in minimal minutes.

“I was very keen to have Brian and Jamie back this season as they made massive plays in big games when the team needed a spark and those are the kind of guys we need coming off the bench if we want to win this year.”

Ogunjimi expects to field a mixture of returning players and newcomers when touring side Team USA Select arrive at Brentwood on Sunday for a 4pm tip-off.

The Americans are bringing 45 players to the UK for an exhausting tour which will them split into three squads to play more than 50 games over a two and half week,

There will also be a pre-game camp for youngsters to train with a Leopards’ players between 2.30-3.30pm, with the coaching and game ticket costing just £6. See www.leopardsbasket.co.uk for more details

The USA team is made of players who have finished their college careers in the States and are looking for pro jobs in Europe. Several have gone on to successful careers in England including big man Greg Hernandez who help the Big Cats win the National Trophy in 2013.

The Big Cats have been regular opponents for the Americans over the years, playing them at Brentwood, Capital City Academy and Crystal Palace as well as training games in east London. Sean Killmartin’s side also visited the Brentwood Centre last season, and with Will Ashby scoring 22 and Ladi Brown 20, Steve Ogunjimi made a winning start to his career as Leopards’ coach with a 76-67 victory. The sides also met in a closed-door scrimmage game just before the start of the season with Leopards winning a thriller 84-83.

The re-signing of Hayes and Nguru comes as captain Albert Margai has returned to BBL side Surrey Scorchers. The 28-year-old spent two seasons with the Guildford-based club between 2011 and 2013 before helping the Big Cats win the Division One title in 2015.

“It’s a shame Albert is moving on” said Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan. “But he’s been straight with us and hasn’t messed us around, we understand if he wants another shot at the BBL. We’ll miss him, he’ll always be the captain who led us to the title in 2015.”

Big Cats edged out –

A big crowd at the Brentwood Centre saw Leopards edged out 81-77 by Team USA Select, on Sunday.

The Big Cats field a mixture of bench players from last season and trialists. Tosin Oyelese and Justin Hitchman both missed the game due to injury, with several other players unavailable due to Courtney Van Beet’s wedding, but the makeshift line-up which starts for Brian Nguru, Jamie Hayes (right) and Dougie Bennett put in a good performance before losing a thriller in the final seconds.

Veteran big man Errol Seaman returned after ten years away having helped the Big Cats win the National Cup in 2005/6, and there was a familiar face in guard Josh Johnson among the six trialists. But it was youngster Shaq Lewis  who stole the show on his Leopards’ debut with 25 points, nine rebounds and a couple of assists. The visitors’ lack of size saw them outrebounded 49-39 by the Big Cats but they used their quickness to cause 24 turnovers which proved crucial down the stretch.

There was little to choose between the teams in the early stages as they shared 20 points in the first five minutes before Leopards looked set to take a lead into the first break only to see the visitors hit a late three-point play to tie the game at 21.

It was a two point game in favour of the Americans heading into the final five minutes of the first half before a crucial stage of the game saw Leopards outscored 15-7 to trail 45-35 at half-time.

Although Lewis made it a single digit game with the opening score of the second half, it appeared to have got away from the hosts as Team USA opened a 52-40 lead at the mid-stage of the third period.

But free-throws from Nguru and Lewis, together with a fast-break from Jamie Hayes saw the hosts claw their way back into the game Nguru cut the deficit to 60-55 at the final break.

Scores from Fraser Glass and Bennett made it a three point game early in the fourth period, and Nguru kept them within five points with as many minutes remaining with a jump shot. Lewis and Jamal Hoffman exchanged baskets before a pair of Lewis close range efforts made it a three point game with 46 seconds remaining.

Johnson set up a grandstand finish with a jump shot six seconds from time to make it a four point deficit but with Leopards forced to foul to stop the club, the visitors wrapped things up at the charity stripe.

Bennett and Nguru finished with 13 points apiece for the Big Cats, while Seaman and Georgian trialist Nodar Tenieshivili each pulled down six boards for the home side with Seaman adding five assists in his first game since tearing his Achilles a year ago.

Isaac Sims led Team USA Select with 25 points with Hoffman adding 17.

Leopards nab Ajumobi  –

Levett Essex Leopards have strengthened their side ahead of the new NBL season with the signing of forward David Ajumobi. The 28-year-old was a key member of the Big Cats’ Division One title winning side in 2015 and his return for a second spell with the Essex club is a major boost for Steve Ogunjimi’s side.

Ajumobi spent the 2015/16 campaign with Division One rivals Reading Rockets, helping them to third place in the table as well as the finals of both the play-offs and National Cup where they found an all-conquering Manchester Magic team too strong.

dave v magicThe former Newham Neptunes player came back to haunt the Big Cats in their first meeting with Rockets, draining a dagger three to send a National Trophy game into overtime which Reading won in overtime.

Ogunjimi’s team gained revenge in the league with a pair of thrilling victories, but the Leopards’ play-caller knows the importance of his latest signing:

“Signing David is a big deal for the entire Leopards organisation” he said. “He is a player that naturally leads through his play and personality, and gives us one of the strongest and most consistent players in the league at both ends of the floor. David is also a fan favourite here at the Leopards, so I know this signing will give our supporters something more to cheer about!”

Ajumobi is excited about his return to the Big Cats: “I’m glad to be back on the Leopards team. Joining the squad along with some key players is an exciting prospect and I’m looking forward to bringing some silverware to the club.”

Ladi returns for Big Cats –

#Levett Essex Leopards continue to build for the 2016/17 NBL season with the announcement that guard/forward Ladi Brown will return for a third season.

The 30-year-old joined the Big Cats in January 2015 having played for Newham Neptunes the previous season and helped Leopards clinch the Division One title three months later.

He returned under new coach Steve Ogunjimi for the 2015/16 campaign and has now signed up for the new season, leaving the Leopards’ play-caller a happy man:

“I said it all the way through last season that Ladi is one of, if not the best, players at both ends of the floor in our when fit and on his game” he said. “Ladi is a player that really allows us to plug weaknesses in the game with his multi-skilled approach.

“When we needed Ladi to score a lot for us last season he was able to do that, but this season with some more help on the offensive end we’ll give him the freedom to play to all the facets of his game and really fill the stats sheet.”

Brown is excited about the forthcoming season: “I’m hoping we can build on our success from last year” he said. “We have a new-look team as we lose a few familiar faces, but I’m excited to see if we can form an identity early and string some wins together.”

Will departs – and returns! – 

Levett Essex Leopards shooting guard Will Ashby has left the club to join BBL side London Lions – but he’ll be back soon!

The 24-year-old departs the Big Cats after two years, having won the club’s MVP award in 2015 after helping us win the Division One title.

He joins a Lions’ side who finished sixth in the BBL Championship last season but he’ll make a quick return to face the Leopards at the Brentwood Centre on Saturday September 17 (7pm) for the Battle of the Big Cats.

“It’s funny how the first game I will be wearing a Lions uniform will be against the Essex Leopards, where I have had an amazing last two years” said Ashby. “I’m really looking forward to that, should be fun.”

“We’d like to thank Will for his time at the club” said General Manager Dave Ryan. “We will him all the best for future and look forward to seeing him back at Brentwood next week.”

England international signs for Leopards –  

As Levett Essex Leopards prepare for a pair of games at the Brentwood Centre this weekend, they have been boosted by the signing of former England international Mike Martin.

The Big Cats host Hemel Storm in the National Trophy on Friday (8pm) before London Lions are the visitors at 7pm the following evening.

The vastly experience Martin is expected to play a big part for the Steve Ogunjimi’s team this season and with Dave Ajumobi having signed last week alongside the returning Tosin Oyelese, Justin Hitchman and Jamie Hayes, the Big Cats have a powerful front court this season.

Martin started his professional career with the original Leopards in 1999, playing for them for two years before joining the now defunct BBL side Thames Valley Tigers. Spells in France and Germany followed before he returned to the BBL for a six-year stint with Guildford Heat where he won all four pieces of silverware available as well as helping England to bronze in the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

A two year spell with London Lions was followed by two years with Leopards’ Division One rivals Westminster Warriors where he provided tough opposition for the Big Cats, and Ogunjimi is delighted to add the 6’6” forward to his roster:

“I am very happy to be bringing Mike back to the Leopards’ family” he said. “I have had him in my sights all summer and to have now signed him is excellent news. Mike is a seasoned veteran player who still has the agility and athleticism at both ends of the floor to dominate at both ends of the floor in our league. He also brings great leadership and experience to the team while will only inspire and challenge his team-mates as we battle for silverware this season.”

“I always said we’d bring Mike back one day” said Leopards general manager Dave Ryan. “It took a bit longer than I expected, but it’s great to have him back with the Leopards. When we played at Westminster last season he showed what a great competitor he still is. Ronnie Baker showed just how valuable veteran leadership is when we won the league in 2015, and I’m sure Mike will be a massive asset to our team.”

Get ready for the Shaq attack! – 

Levett Essex Leopards have added to their forward line with the signing of Shaq Lewis. The 23-yeae-old having had previous experience with Buckinghamshire University, NBL Division Two side London United and BBL club Surrey United.

He made an instant impact on his Leopards’ debut as he finished a rebound short of a double-double with 25 points in Sunday’s narrow loss against Team USA Select at the Brentwood Centre.

Coach Steve Ogunjimi is delighted to have landed the 6’6” forward: “Shaq is very good young and energetic player who has ability above his years” he said. “Shaq had a great knack of putting himself in the right position to score and grab offensive rebounds. Defensively he bothers players with his athleticism and we are very happy to add him to the team. I think he’s definitely going to be one to watch this season!”

Leopards’ latest signing is looking forward to joining the Big Cats: “’I am extremely excited about joining the Leopards for the upcoming season and I’m prepared for any challenges we will face along the way” he said.. “I’m ready to work hard and bring some energy to the team, through my intensity and passion on the court. “This is a great opportunity as it can propel me forward in my career and help me in achieving my ultimate goals.”

Levett love it for three more years

Leopards have received a massive boost ahead of the start of the new NBL season with the news that main sponsors Levett Consultancy  have signed a three sponsorship deal with the club. Levett became the club’s main sponsors at the start of the 2015/16 season and agreed a new one-year deal in May, but the Ongar-based firm have now extended that until the summer of 2019.

“It’s a massive boost to have Levett on board for the next three years” said General Manager Dave Ryan. “To have the security of a title sponsor until 2019 is excellent news for us.

“The support they have us last season was extremely valuable and helps us continue to put a winning team on the floor at both the Brentwood Centre and Harlow Leisurezone. We’re looking forward to working with Paul and his team again.”

Paul Levett, Managing Director of Levett Consultancy, is pleased to be linking up with Essex’s only professional basketball club again: “Levett Consultancy is delighted to be returning as the Leopards’ title sponsor” he said. “We see this as a long term partnership helping the organisation grow and promoting healthy living to adults and children alike via our established community programme. This year will see our partnership go to the next level with new ideas that we hope fans will like and importantly help the Leopards rise to the top of the league once again.”

Heart-breaker for Leopards – 

Leopards were made to pay for foul shooting as they went down 69-68 against Hemel Storm, on Friday evening.
Steve Ogunjimi’s side converted just ten of their 24 visits to the free-throw line, and despite having 14 more field goal attempts and forcing nine more turnovers than Storm, a Leon Henry buzzer-beating three consigned them to defeat.
David Ajumobi appeared to have made the perfect return to the Leopards when he drove to the basket and scored with 3.2 seconds remaining to put his side 68-66 ahead, only to see the visitors take the National Trophy victory in stunning style
Justin Hitchman led the Big Cats with 15 points, with Martin adding 14 and Ladi Brown 13. Martin and Brown both recorded double-doubles with ten rebounds, with Martin adding a team-high four assists.
Martin marked his return to the club after 15 years away by opening the scoring from the free-throws line, and a Brian Nguru trey capped a 6-0 start for the Big Cats.
That was as good as it got for the hosts, though as wrapped up the first period with a 7-2 run to take a 17-16 lead.
Five Ajumobi points helped his side tie the game at 25 midway through the second period, and five Hitchman points followed by a Brown basket sent the Big Cats into the locker room at half-time with a 36-34 lead.
Leopards’ woes at the foul line were particularly prevalent in the third period as they scored just two of their ten attempts and with Jack Burnell – whose father Jon coached the Big Cats for six years – hitting eight straight points midway through the quarter, the visitors went into the final break with a 52-48 lead.
A second trey of the game from Hitchman gave Leopards a 53-52 lead early in the fourth period and Martin tied the game at 61 heading into the final two minutes.
A three point play from Martin set up the grandstand finish before Henry – who appeared to travel before the shot – broke the hosts’ hearts.
Henry led the visitors with 13 points and five assists, with Michael Darlow adding 12 points and eight boards.
Leopards win thriller at Lituanica –

Levett Leopards recorded their first victory of the season as they won a thriller 68-67 at London Lituanica, on Sunday. After David Ajumobi had tied the game with a three pointer going into the final 90 seconds, Mike Martin scored what proved to be the winning basket with just over a minute on the clock.

But it was frantic finish to the game as Tosin Oyelese missed a pair at the free-throw line and in the dying second the home side had the chance to win the game as Leopards’ turned the ball over at a half-court inbound – but the Big Cats played some tough defence to collect the win.

Their chances of progressing to the semi-final are slim, however, as they need to win at Westminster Warriors next Saturday and hope that Lituanica win by a single point at Hemel Storm but score less than 70 points.

Ajumobi led the Big Cats with 19 points and five rebounds in a game where he played as point guard down the stretch against a big and physical Lituanica team. Martin added 15 points, eight boards and three assists, with Shaq Lewis finishing with 13 points for the Big Cats.

Coach Steve Ogunjimi opened with a big starting line-up that saw Tosin Oylese and Justin Hitchman on the floor and Brian Nguru the only guard in the unit, Leopards started well with Ajumobi hitting a jump shot, and a pair of Martin scores helping them to an 8-2 lead – their biggest advantage of the game.

The home side replied with seven unanswered points to take their first lead but three point plays from Hitchman and Shaq Lewis helped the visitors stay in touch as Lituanica went into the first break with a 21-19 lead.

The Big Cats noticeably stepped up their defence in the second period, and scores from Lewis. Bennett and Hitchman tied the score with four minutes gone, and six straight Ajumobi points followed by a shot clock beating trey from Lewis sent the visitors into the locker room with a 39-37 lead.

Nguru doubled that lead with the first score of the third period but a 14-7 run from the home side put them back in charge and, despite a Hitchman basket, the hosts went into the final break with a 58-51 lead.

As the home side continued to live at the foul line, they made it a nine point game before Lewis got Leopards off the mark in the fourth period. A 7-2 run capped by a Nguru trey brought Leopards within four before Ajumobi cut the lead to 62-61 going into the final five minutes to set up the grandstand finish.

Veteran big man Petraits led the home side with 22 points and 18 boards, with Vetrenka adding 19 points for the Lithuanians.

No-show from Ipswich –

Leopards general manger Dave Ryan has criticised Ipswich after the Suffolk club pulled out of Sunday’s National Cup game at Harlow with under six hours’ notice:

“It’s really disappointing, and makes the whole sport look amateurish” said Ryan. “We were called at 9.40 on Sunday morning to be told that they couldn’t raise a team, and it’s really not acceptable. They managed to put a team out for a home game on Saturday evening, but obviously it was too much effort to get on a mini bus the following day.
“We’d put a lot of time and effort into promoting the game and, as I don’t hold out much hope of getting proper compensation, we stand to lose  a lot of money we can’t afford. We spent a lot of time on Sunday morning trying to ensure everyone knew the game was off, but people still turned up at Leisurezone on Sunday afternoon and if they think the whole sport is Micky Mouse and don’t bother coming again it’s hard to blame them.
“We’re through to the next round, but that isn’t much consolation, we wanted to see our team play but instead we all wasted our time. Basketball England revamped the competition in the summer in an attempt to cut down on blowouts and stop teams from lower divisions crying off because they believed they’d get hammered. But I really thought better of Ipswich, they’re an established club who know the repercussions for the home side when you call a game off. They have a decent under-18 side who didn’t have a game, so they should’ve been able to raise a team. We’ve all gone to games short-handed knowing that we’d probably get beaten, but the important thing is to get the game played.”
The Big Cats will travel to Kent Crusaders in the last 16 after the Division Two side hammered an understrength London Lituanica team by 51 points on Sunday. The game is scheduled for Sunday October 30.
Leopards look for AJ’s magic –

Levett Essex Leopards will be hoping to unveil new American guard AJ Roberts when they host Manchester Magic at the Brentwood Centre, on Sunday (4pm).
The 6’5″  Californian can play both guard spots and is expected to fly into the country this week the Big Cats aiming to get international clearance in time for Magic’s visit. The 24-year-old graduated from Union College in the States and played professionally for Buffalo 716ers in the Pro Basketball League in his home country
Roberts transferred to Union from Niagra County Community College in New York where he played two seasons of basketball. He was named third team all-region as a freshman and first team all-region as a sophomore in junior college. The new Leopard earned the team MVP award in both his seasons. In junior college, he averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three blocks per game.
Prior to that Roberts prepped at Niagara Catholic (N.Y.) High School where he played basketball and football. He led his basketball team to the 2005 and 2007 MMCC Title, along with a Catholic State runner-up in 2007. In high school basketball, Roberts earned first team all-Catholic, defensive MVP, team MVP twice, and team captain three times.
Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi is delighted to have Roberts on board: “AJ was in the country during the summer, he’s played with our guys and I think he’ll be a really good fit for us” he said. “We lack depth at the guard positions, especially with Bode’s [Adeloula] knee still causing him problems, and I believe AJ can push us on to the next level and help us win some silverware.”
Halloween horror show for Leopards –

It was a Halloween horror show for Leopards as they crashed out for the National Cup with a dismal 94-67 loss at Kent Crusaders.

On a cramped court in Gillingham the Big Cats saw coach Steve Ogunjimi ejected midway through the third period for arguing with the referee in an erratically officiated game.
But the visiting side could have few complaints about the final result as they were outgunned by a young Kent side who chalked up their ninth successive win and took their second top flight scalp of the competition.
Leopards won the tip but that was as good as it got for the away side as they missed their first three shots, with Tosin Oyelese going scoreless at the foul line before AJ Robert finally got them off the mark to make it 4-2 in the hosts’ favour. Ogunjimi called a timeout at the mid-point of the first period with his side trailing 18-10 but the break made little difference despite a Ladi Brown triple, and despite Kent missing a layup on the buzzer Crusaders went into the first break with a 32-16 lead.
Justin Hitchman opened the second period scoring with a pair of free-throws and Brown sunk another trey but the margin was still 16 halfway through the stanza and Kent pulled away to lead 54-33 at half-time.
Mike Martin  – who led the visitors with 14 points – opened the second half scoring with a long two-pointer but despite the Big Cats getting a rash of calls in their favour after Ogunjimi’s ejection the margin grew to 76-51 at the final break before they were outscored 18-16 in the fourth period.
Brown finished with 12 points while David Ajumobi added 11.
Leopards ring the changes – 

Following a disappointing start to the NBL Division One season, Levett Essex Leopards have announced major roster changes.

The Big Cats have released guard/forward Ladi Brown and forward David Ajumobi, while guard Brian Nguru recently left the club due to work commitments. In addition, point guard Bode Adeluola is unlikely to play against before Christmas as he continues to struggle with a knee injury picked up in the summer.

“We’d like to thank David. Ladi and Brian for their efforts this season” said general manager Dave Ryan. “Unfortunately the season hasn’t started as we would have liked, and after a lot of consideration we have decided that we need to make changes now. We proved in 2011/12 that it’s possible to overcome a slow start, but with a 26-game season it’s important that we start to pick up some victories before Christmas. We hope that Bode will be back in the team after the Christmas break, and we’ll be already moving up the table by then.”

While the Big Cats are continuing to look for additions to their roster, they have moved quickly with the addition of experienced point guard Perry Lawson and they are in the process of signing forward Darrell Bethune for Leicester Warriors.

Former Great Britain and England international Lawson brings a wealth of experience to Steve Ogunjimi’s team. The 34-year-old point guard played NCAA Division One basketball at South Georgia Tech and was a key part of the Newcastle Eagles 2006 team that won the clean sweep of BBL Championship, BBL Play-offs, BBL Cup and BBL Trophy. He was also part of the Mersey Tigers side who went agonisingly close to emulating Eagles in 2011, missing out in the Cup final, as well as playing alongside Mike Martin at Surrey Heat and more recently playing for London Lions.

27-year-old Bethune is a former Great Britain under-20 international and has BBL experience with the now defunct Everton Tigers and Leeds Carnegie. Having come through the Hackney Community College system , where Lawson also started his career, the Londoner has also played in Division One for Westminster.

After playing in a pre-season game for the Big Cats, has top scored for Leicester Warriors this season, and Leopards are hoping that his transfer will be cleared in time for Friday’s game against Reading Rockets at the Brentwood Centre, tip-off 8pm.

Warriors slammed for first league win –

Levett Leopards chalked up their first league win of the campaign with an emphatic 90-57 victory at Westminster Warriors, on Saturday evening. The Big Cats led from tip-to-buzzer as they snapped a five game losing streak in Division One to move up to 11th place.

Darrell Bethune marked his debut with 19 points, five assists and four rebounds (and a technical foul) but it was a good all-round team effort with six players scoring in double figures and all nine available players logging at least 13 minutes of action. Jamie Hayes finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and another bang on the head, with Dougie Bennett and Shaq Lewis adding 14 points apiece. AJ Roberts chipped in with ten points, six rebounds and four assists, while Mike Martin was a rebound short of a double-double with ten points and four assists.

A Leopards side who were without Justin Hitchman (foot injury) and Dominic Scott-Robinson (ill) dominated on the board, our-rebounding the hosts 44-33 and built on good starts to both halves as they won at Capital City Academy for the second time this season. Warriors’ player-coach Jon Johnson led the home side with 15 points and eight rebounds.

Bethune hit a trey to open the scoring and a pair of jump-shots from Hayes, the second leading to a three-point play, saw Leopards rush into an 8-0 lead.

Predictably the home side fought back to cut the lead to three before Hayes hit another jumper, and a score on the break from debutant Perry Lawson saw the Big Cats go into the first break 18-12 ahead.

Lewis converted a lay-up off Martin’s third assist of the game to open the second period, and both Martin and Bethune took the lead out to nine points as the visitors remained in control. Bethune made it a 12-point game with 44 seconds remaining in the first half before Johnson cut the lead to 37-27 going into the locker room.

While that was a comfortable first half lead, it was the start to the third period which effectively wrapped up the win. A massive alley-oop by Martin off Hayes’ assist opened the half before Bennett sunk a trey before a pair of Martin scores and another Bennett basket made it 48-29.

Behtune and Tosin Oyelese wrapped up the 15-2 run to make it a 23-point game before Bethune drained from the Land of Plenty to send his side into the final break with a 62-37 lead having outscored hosts 25-10 in the period.

Bethune opened the final quarter with another triple before Bennett made it a 30 point game on the break and the lead never dipped below 26 before Lewis wrapped things up with a dunk on the break to send Leopards home happy.

Kestrels downed in overtime –

Levett Leopards made it back-to-back wins as Solent Kestrels were beaten 98-93 in an overtime thriller at Harlow Leisurezone, on Saturday.

Former England international Mike Martin (left) rolled back the years with a massive 34 point, ten rebound double-double as Steve Ogunjimi’s team picked up a league victory from an excellent advert for Division One basketball.

The new-look Big Cats allowed a seven point lead with three minutes of regulation time slip away but took control in the extra period for their first home league win of the campaign.

Darrell Bethune (right) marked his home debut with 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds, while AJ Roberts added 16 points, five boards and five assists. Dougie Bennett finished with 12 points while another home debutant, Perry Lawson, had seven assists.

The Big Cats overcame a slow start as five straight Bethune points tied the game at 22 going into the first break, despite the visitors converting two and-ones down the stretch.

A Tosin Oyelese free-throw gave Leopards their first lead of the game as they opened the second period, and a pair of triples from Roberts kept the hosts in the game despite a plethora of and-ones from the visitors  and they looked likely to only trail by one at half-time before R Williams hit a triple on the buzzer to give Solent a 50-46 lead going into the locker room.

Martin scored twice in a 6-0 spurt to start the second half and the game remained tight in the third period buy a trey from Bethune and a three point play by Martin helped the home side go into the fourth period with a 69-62 lead
Leopards never trailed in the fourth quarter and Martin’s basket with three minutes left looked to have sealed it, but Jamie Hayes fouled out and Solent replied with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 82 at force and extra period.
Oyelese opened the overtime period with a lay-up off Bethune’s assist and Leopards led throughout with three-pointers from Martin and Roberts helping them take control and wrap up the win.

Solent were led by American pair Mathis Marquis – who had a 26 point, 12 rebound double-double, and Colt Fason with 25 points and nine boards.

Tosin sinks winner in thriller –

Levett Essex Leopards head into the Christmas break on a high after a thrilling 87-86 victory against Lancashire Spinners, on Sunday.
The Brentwood crowd went through the full range of emotions as Leopards’ depleted line-up trailed by 12 at half-time before a stunning second half comeback saw them lead by seven with just over two minutes remaining.  But the visitors replied with an 8-0 run and appeared to have won the game as they had a one-point lead with 3.2 seconds on the clock only for Tosin Oyelese to hit a buzzer-beating jump shot to spark some wild celebrations.
The odds were certainly stacked against the Big Cats as they went into the game with only seven fit players, a squad that included coach Steve Ogunjimi who played his first number of meaningful minutes for two years.
However Ogunjimi’s appearance only last 12 minutes of court time as he was controversially ejected midway through the second period for what appeared to be nothing more than talking to the referee.
With Justin Hitchman and Dougie Bennett injured, Caleb Tabanar and Dominic Scott-Robinson unavailable, and Perry Lawson suspended following his ejection at Leicester, the remaining Leopards were forced to step up and they were led by a triple-double from American guard AJ Robert who finished with a 24 point, 12 rebound and 12 assist triple-double.
Darrell Bethune added 25 points, four assists and four boards while Mike Martin had 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists in a full 40-minute performance, and Jamie Hayes added 11 points.
The Big Cats had overcome a slow start to cut an early ten-point deficit to trail only 24-21 at the first break but the ejection of Ogunjimi clearly disrupted the home side and they were 50-38 down at half-time.
The visitors made it a 15-point game with the opening score of the second half and there was little sign of the comeback that was to follow until three minutes before the end of the third period when Roberts launched a 10-2 run, and a Bethune lay-up cut the deficit to 67-65 at the final break.
Bethune drained a three to open the final stanza as they took their first lead of the game, and Martin put the hosts 75-69 ahead with 6:31 on the clock.
The lead grew to eight with four minutes remaining as Martin converted a Bethune assist, and Roberts made it 82-75 with 2:19 remaining. As the Big Cats struggled at the foul line, Spinners chipped away at the lead  and Mark Rangely cut the lead to 85-84 with 23 seconds left and a poorly executed play saw the ball turned over as Rangeley put his team ahead by one going into the final play.
A timeout from stand-in coach Roger Malpass saw Robert inbound the ball to Martins who found Oyelese just inside the foul line and he sunk his shot to seal the win.
Oh boyo! Leopards hammer Wales –

Levett Leopards opened the New Year in style with a 97-62 victory against the Welsh national team on Monday.
A capacity crowd at Oaklands College in St Albans saw the Big Cats dominate against a Wales team who were using the game as part of their preparations for the Commonwealth Games qualifying tournament.
Coach Steve Ogunjimi was able to give all 11 players in his squad at least 14 minutes of playing time in an extended, NBA length, game, with ten of them getting on the scoresheet.
Darrell Bethune led the way for Leopards with 21 points and six assists, while Mike Martin finished with a 17 point, 12 rebound double-double. Dougie Bennett added 16 points against a Welsh side he had played against for Scotland before ,,while AJ Roberts was two assists shy of a second successive triple double with ten points and as many boards, and Tosin Oyelese had eight points to go with his 14 rebounds..
Having seen their 25-16 first period lead shaved to 46-38 at half-time as Wales finished the half strongly, but the visitors were blown away in the by a 25-6 third period before being outscored 26-18 in the fourth period as Leopards comfortably wrapped up the win.
The game was won the boards as Leopards out-rebounded the visitors 81-47 ,with the discrepancy allowing them to take an incredible 104 field goal attempts.
Asa Wait led the 14-deep Welsh side with 12 points, with Daniel Welsh adding 11 and Jamie Rodwell recording a 12 rebound, ten point double-double.
Leopards aim for Giant killing –

Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi is looking for his side to start the New Year strongly as they face a pair of home games at the Brentwood Centre this weekend.
The Big Cats host Manchester Giants in the BBL Trophy on Friday evening (8pm) before Worthing Thunder are the visitors for a Division One game on Sunday (4pm).

“We are looking forward to a weekend of tough competition” said the Leopards’ play-caller. “The Manchester Giants game is a good game for us to see where we are at mentally as a team. Of course BBL competition is always going to be tough due to the more consistent levels of talent those teams have but as long as we compete for 40 minutes I will be happy with that regardless of the result.”

Leopards have regularly been invited into the BBL Trophy, which is the knockout competition of the fully professional British League, and the Big Cats are still looking for their first victory in it. Giants will arrive at Brentwood looking to snap a six game losing streak that has seen them drop to the bottom of the BBL table with a 3-12 record.
After losing their first six league game, Yorick Williams’ team looked to have turned the corner with three straight wins but despite going agonisingly close to upsetting high-flying Newcastle Eagles at the weekend they’ve remained winless since.
Williams was a key player in the original Leopards’ final season in the BBL, playing alongside Ogunjimi, and the Big Cats’ play-caller is looking forward to coaching against his former team-mate:
“It’s be good to see Yorick again” he said. “We’re both in our second year coaching and it’s a steep learning curve but it should be fun to coach against him.”
Giants slain by superb Leopards –

Levett Essex Leopards wrote a new chapter in their history on Friday night as Manchester Giants were beaten 86-84 at the Brentwood Centre. The win was the first in the BBL Trophy for the new Big Cats and they became only the fourth EBL side in the competition’s 29-year history to beat a side from Britain’s top league.

Steve Ogunjumi’s team will now host either Scottish champions Boroughmuir Blaze or Plymouth Raiders in the quarter-finals at a venue and date to be announced. Darrell Bethune led the home side with five three pointers in his 32-point haul, adding five rebounds and three assists for the Big Cats in his best performance since signing in early November.

But it was veteran Mike Martin who stole the show as he played through the pain barrier to lead his side to victory. The former England international looked to be out of the game when he was carried off early in the second half with a knee injury, but as his side looked to have lost the momentum midway through the fourth period he dosed himself up with pain killers, ripped off the strapping and limped back onto the court to steady the ship and help secure a famous win – finishing with 20 points and seven boards.

American guard AJ Roberts continued his good run of form with 16 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while Dougie Bennett added ten points and three rebounds.

An even start to the game saw the visitors lead 17-13 with 3:21 on the clock before Martin’s jump shot launched a 13-0 run to close the quarter, with Bethune converting an and-one before Martin hit a three on the buzzer before completing a four point play at the foul line to send his side into the first break leading 26-17.

If Leopards fans thought that was as good as it got they were wrong as Bennett opened the second period with a trey and Bethune made it a 17-0 run with a foul shot to put his side up by 13.

Visockis eventually ended the run but another Bennett triple made it a 15-point game with 6:21 on the clock. The rest of the half was spent with both sides at the charity stripe – Leopards being called for a bizarre double foul at one stage which saw the visitors receive four shots and the ball back – as Giants chipped away at the lead but despite a dubious three-point foul call which allowed Creppy to convert three free-throws with seconds on the clock, the Big Cats ended possibly the longest ever second period with a 49-38 lead.

The second half couldn’t have started in worse fashion for Leopards as Jerelle Okoro (who led the Giants with 17 points) hit a trey before Martin went crashing to the ground – somehow picking up an offensive foul in the process – and had to leave the game.

Treys from Roberts and Bethune kept Leopards’ lead around the ten mark, and Bethune continued to torment the visitors with ten points in the period before a 13-5 run cut the home side’s lead to 65-62 at the final break.

But that lead evaporated as Traianos hit a triple and Okoro converted a lay-up to put the visitors 68-65 ahead.

#Ogunjimi’s timeout with 7:45 on the clock saw Martin return after his enforced break and he hit a pair of baskets to keep his side within two points at the midway stage of the fourth quarter.

Bethune again found the basket from the Land of Plenty to put Leopards up by one and it was nip and tuck down the stretch as the hosts went into the final minute trailing 84-82.

It was Bethune who hit the go-ahead trey, converting off Roberts’ assist with 44 seconds on the clock before grabbing the rebound from Creppy’s miss 18 seconds later.

With six second remaining Bethune was harshly adjudged to have fouled Callum Jones, giving him the chance the put his side back ahead. But the pressure showed on the English guard as he rimmed both shots, leaving Perry Lawson to grab the rebound.

Lawson was fouled, but he too missed both free-throws only for Martin to grab the rebound and pass to Roberts, who was predictably fouled. The American guard missed the first shot before sinking the second and the Big Cats played some good defence in the remaining 2.5 seconds to seal a famous  win.

Thunder silenced by Leopards –

Levett Leopards stretched their winning run to four games with a 86-71 victory against a stubborn Worthing Thunder team who kept the game close throughout before a strong fourth period wrapped things up. A 49-35 margin on the boards proved to be key for the hosts, and the Big Cats never trailed after a Shaq Lewis basket sent them into the first break with a 14-13 lead.

Mike Martin took the MVP honours from game sponsors Curves & Couture as he finished with a game-high 26 points, six assists and as many rebounds. Darrell Bethune added 24 points and seven boards while AJ Roberts had nine rebounds and seven assists to go with his 17 points. The Big Cats also shared the ball well, finishing with 21 assists to the visitors’ 11.
Thunder had arrived on the back of a win against Hemel Storm thanks to 40 points from Division One’s leading scorer Lyonell Gaines, but he was held to a season-low 19 points on nine-from-23 shooting.
Bethune opened the scoring with a three and Martin made it 5-0 before Gaines launched a 9-0 run to give his side their biggest lead of the game.
But five straight Martin points dragged Leopards into the game as they led by one at the first break and the Leopards’ captain converted his second and-one of the game to open the second period before Roberts made it 19-13.
A pair of Bethune treys helped Leopards open a healthy lead before Martin hit a pair at the charity stripe to make it 41-27, only to see Thunder finish strong to cut the lead to 41-33 at half-time.
A technical foul of Jack Sutherland at half-time saw Bethune convert from the free-throw line at the start of the second quarter and scores from Bethune and Tosin Oyelese put Leopards up by 14 heading into the final three minutes of the third period.
Thunder still had one more run in them as Tom Ward scored four points in a 7-0 run but scores from Bethune and Oyelese extended the hosts’ lead to 63-52 at the final break.
Bethune hit another triple to open the fourth period, and an 11-4 run midway through the quarter wrapped things up, allowing coach Steve Ogunjimi to give his younger players some court time down the stretch.
Darrell gets team-of-the-week honours –

Levett Leopards’ stunning win against Manchester Giants in the BBL Trophy not only put them into the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time but also saw Darrell Bethune make history.

The 28-year-old guard became the first EBL Division One player to be named in the BBL team-of-the-week, managing to get a spot in the starting five.

This is the sixth season of the award which is decided by a formula involving all the statistics from each BBL game. To get a place in the  starting five , the player must be on a winning team.

Having previously played for Leeds Force and London Lions it wasn’t Darrell’s first experience of the BBL but it was his first team-of-the-week honour. He finished with 32 points, five rebounds and three assists – and hit a key triple down the stretch.

Bethune, who joined the Big Cats from Leicester Warriors in November, played down the importance of the award: “It’s nice, but to be honest I’m more focused on our team and making the play-offs.”

Darrell and the rest of the Leopards’ team will, of course have a chance to repeat the giant-killing when Plymouth Raiders are the visitors to the Brentwood Centre on Sunday, tip-off 4pm.

BBL dream ends – Posted on

Levett Leopards’ hopes of a second BBL Trophy giant-killing to ended by an impressive Plymouth Raiders side at a packed Brentwood Centre on Sunday as the West Country side recorded a 93-64 victory.
Having beaten Manchester Giants in the first round, the loss of Mike Martin with an Achilles injury in the second quarter proved crucial as the Big Cats had matched the visitors until that point.
But the home side still put on a decent display, with AJ Roberts leading the way for them as the American guard had a couple of huge dunks and won the game MVP trophy presented by Brentwood Leisure Trust CEO Roger Davinson, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Jamie Hayes opened the scoring with a lay-up off Roberts’ assist and treys for Darrell Bethune and Roberts saw the hosts lead 10-6 after four minutes.
That proved to be as good as it got for the hosts despite Bethune putting them 15-14 ahead with three minutes on the clock, and it took a Martin basket to cut the deficit to 20-19 a the first break.
Roberts kept his side in touch with a tip-in early in the second period and Hayes tied the score at 24 as he converted a triple but the visitors answered with a 12-0 run as Leopards were held scoreless for more than six minutes.
Bethune broke the run from downtown and Hayes hit a jump shot to cut the deficit to 39-29 at half-time.
With Martin out of action the second half proved to be a long one for the home side as Peter Hooley took control of the game, hitting three triples in a 17-4 to open the third period, effectively killing off the game, and despite treys from Behune and Hayes the visitors had the game effectively sewn up at 77-50 going into the final break.
Hooley hit his eighth trey of the game to open the fourth period but coach Ogunjimi was able to give some valuable court time to youngster Dom Scott-Robinson and Shaq Lewis while Justin Hitchman hit four points as he continued his comeback from injury.
Bethune finished with 14 points and five boards, with Hayes adding 12 points and nine rebounds. Hooley had a season-high 33 points for Raiders.
Alex faces operation – 

Levett Leopards’ centre Alex Scotland-Williamson faces an operation today (Monday) following a season-ending injury in Saturday’s overtime loss at Hemel Storm. Alex landed badly while attempting to catch AJ Roberts’ perfect pass into the paint in the opening minute of the extra period, tearing his quad muscle and damaging his knee.

With the score tied at 77, the game looked likely to be abandoned as the English big man waited from an ambulance on the basket, but he managed to slide off the court allowing the game to continue.
He was taken to Hemel hospital and will be operated on at lunchtime.
Alex re-joined the Big Cats a fortnight ago after nine years away playing at college in the States and as a pro in Belgium. He made his first start as a Leopard on Saturday and had looked to be a key member of Steve Ogunjimi’s side as the season enters its final phase. Everyone at Leopards sends their best wishes to Alex, and Hemel have also been in touch to send their best wishes and check on his progress.
Heartbreaker in Manchester – 

Levett Leopards went agonisingly close to recording a much-needed victory at reigning champions Manchester Magic before going down 91-90, on Sunday. After going down in overtime at Hemel on Saturday night  – losing centre Alex Scotland-Williamson with a season-ending injury in the process – a depleted a clearly tired Leopards team match their high-flying opponents throughout the game and had a chance to take the win in the dying seconds with Justin Hitchman’s shot rimming out and AJ Roberts’ attempted tip-in being blocked.

Ultimately the Big Cats were beaten by an incredible performance from Magic guard Stefan Gill who hit six threes on the way to a 24-point game and proved to be unguardable at time before scoring the winning basket with 21 seconds on the clock.
Jamie Hayes opened the scoring with a dunk, and Leopards led throughout the first period before Caleb Tabiner sent them into the first break with a 25-18 lead.
A pair of Tabiner baskets saw that lead grow to nine early in the second period and Leopards’ lead peaked at ten with 81 seconds of the half remaining on a Shaq Lewis lay-up.
Magic finished the half strongly to cut Leopards’ to 48-43 and the hosts continued that run as they hit the first five points of the second half to tie the game and their was little to choose between the sides as they went into the final break tied at 62.
Bethune opened the fourth period with a long jump shot, but the lead continued to repeatedly change hands before a three-point play from Hayes put his side 85-83 ahead going into the final 100 seconds.
But a massive trey from Gill put his side ahead, only to see Hitchman hit a pair at foul line and Roberts put them 89-86 ahead with 50 seconds remaining.
But it was clearly Gill’s night as he hit a seemingly impossible three off the dribble, and although Roberts put his side ahead by one with a free-throw with 30 seconds remaining only to see Gill drive from the left to hit the game winner.
Bethune finished with 19 points, with Roberts hitting 14 points and added seven assists and six rebounds. Hitchman recorded a season-high 13 points, with Bennett adding ten points and Perry Lawson eight as all nine Leopards’ players got on the scoresheet.
Warriors woe for Leopards

A dismal display at Harlow Leisurezone on Saturday saw Levett Leopards lose 64-58 against basement side Westminster Warriors.
The London side arrived in Harlow bottom of the table with an 0-17 record and had lost all 21 games against Division One opposition this season, but the Big Cats managed to let a double-digit lead in the third period slip as they crashed to an embarrassing defeat.
It took more than two minutes for Warriors to get the scoreboard moving, and although AJ Roberts tied the game, the tone was set as Warriors opened a 7-2 lead
Scored from Dougie Bennett and Darrell Bethune saw gap narrowed but the hosts finished the period strongly and despite a free-throw from Dominic Scott-Robinson, Warriors led 13-9 at the first break.
Leopards opened the second period strongly with Justin Hitchman hitting a trey and Shaq Lewis’ dunk gave them their first lead of the game.
The run was stretched to 7-0 on a Perry Lawson lay-up and the former GB international hit from downtown to put Leopards 19-17 up after Juan Manning had briefly put the visitors back in the lead.
A pair of Bennett lay-ups plus a score from Roberts saw the lead grow to 25-17 before Warriors’ player-coach Jon Johnson made it 25-19 going into the locker room at half-time.
Lawson made it an eight point game with a pair of free-throws to open the second half and scores from Bethune and Roberts put their side up by 11 at the midway stage of the third period.
But that proved to be as good as it got for the hosts as their offence again dried up with only Scott-Robinson troubling the scorers as Warriors closed the quarter on a 14-2 run to lead 41-40 at the final break.
Roberts broke the drought with the opening score of the fourth period but Johnson put his side back up by a point at the five minute mark.
Bethune drained a triple of free-throws after being fouled and Roberts kept Leopards ahead by two heading into the final three minutes and Hitchman scored a pair at the charity stripe to put his side up by one with 100 seconds on the clock.
But a technical foul on Roberts saw Johnson tie the game at the foul line, and the game was tied heading into the final 35 seconds before Roberts saw a shot rim out. Johnson – who led all scorers with 29 points – hit a dagger trey before Bethune missed a triple and the visitors wrapped up the win at the foul line.
Bethune and Hitchman each finished with 13 points, adding eight and five rebounds respectively, while Roberts finished with ten points.
Official statement – 

Levett Essex Leopards have announced that they have parted company with coach Steve Ogunjimi, with the play-caller leaving the Big Cats by mutual consent.

A run of ten straight league defeats have seen the Leopards drop to second-from-bottom in NBL Division One, and with four games remaining the club’s board of directors felt that a change was necessary in the hope of avoiding relegation.

“We’d like to thank Steve for everything he has done for the clubs, and we genuinely part as friends” said general manager Dave Ryan.

“Steve’s been a fantastic part of both the original and current Leopards, and it was a difficult decision for everyone at the club but he agreed with us that something had to change.

“While we haven’t enjoyed the success we’d have liked since Steve took over, he led us to a fantastic victory against Manchester Giants in the BBL Trophy and prior to the recent run we’ve had some enjoyable times under his coaching.”

Luck certainly hasn’t been on the Big Cats’ side this season, with season-ending injuries to Darrell Bethune and Alex Scotland-Williamson as well as long term injuries to Mike Martin and, earlier in the season, Justin Hitchman.

“I know Steve’s give 100 percent, unfortunately it just hasn’t worked out” continued Ryan. “He will always be welcome at the club, Hopefully the players will turn things around on the court, starting at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday.”

Leopards expect to make an announcement regarding coaching arrangements for the rest of the season on Thursday.

Thomas to coach Leopards – 

Levett Leopards have announced that Thomas Baker will coach the Big Cats for the remaining four games of the NBL Division One season. Baker replaces Steve Ogunjimi who parted company with the club by mutual consent on Monday, and will make his debut in Sunday’s game against Leicester Warriors at the Brentwood Centre (4pm).

He will be assisted by long-time assistant coach Roger Malpass, who is unable to commit to all the club’s practice sessions due to work commitments, while Lee Ryan – who works with Baker at Oaklands Academy – will assist at practice while continuing to coach the Oaklands women’s team in the WBBL.

Baker is a BTEC Lecturer in Sport at Oaklands, and previously coached the colleges Division Four side. He is also the University of Hertfordshire men’s head coach as well as the East of England under-15 boys head coach. He has also been involved in the England national team as the under-18s women’s performance analyst and also the East Region under-17 women’s head coach

Ryan has 12 years of academy coaching experience, including the six years as Head of Performance at Oaklands. He has also coached at national junior team level for the last seven years.

Baker is excited about taking over a Leopards team that desperately needs to start winning games if they are to avoid a first relegation in their 13-year history: “I’d like to thank Leopards for the opportunity to coach at Division One level. I’m looking forward to coaching the guys, and I believe we can turn things around. I watched a lot of game tape I know that we have some talented players who can help us move up the table.

“Clearly the team have been playing well in spurts, we just need to work on things so we play well for longer and pick up the wins we need. We’ll look to change some things in practice but having Roger around to provide some continuity is important as we aim to win our final four games.”

Leopards general manager Dave Ryan welcomed the club’s new coaches: “We’re delighted to have been able to bring Thomas and Lee on board at a crucial time in the season. We believe they can help us win some key games, and it strengthens our links with Oaklands.”

Heartbreaker against Warriors –

While they’ve won their share of close games, Sunday’s loss against Leicester proved to be a heartbreaker as a key call with 41 seconds on the clock saw AJ Roberts foul out on an offensive call, and the visitors held on for the win.

In front of another big crowd at Brentwood, Leopards trailed early in the game but four Roberts points helped them tie the game at 8-8 and a Jamie Hayes trey kept them in touch at 16-14 down going into the first break Although a Roberts trey put his side p by one at the start of the second period, the visitors reeled off 11 straight points to take a commanding 29-17 lead
But a trey from Caleb Tabiner (right) launched a 14-1 run and seven straight points from Roberts sent his side into the locker room with a 31-30 half-time lead.
Justin Hitchman opened the second half scoring before a four minute drought saw Warriors score 12 unanswered points to open a nine point lead.
Perry Lawson ended the run with a trey, and with Dougie Bennett scoring five points and Roberts also scoring from long range, Leopards closed out the period on a 15-7 run to only trail 69-68 at the final break.
A Shaq Lewis free-throw saw Leopards regain the lead early in the fourth period and Hitchman again take a one point lead going into the last minute before Warriors finished strongly, and with Roberts fouling out, Lawson’s late trey was too late to prevent an 11th straight loss.
Roberts led his side with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, while Lewis had 12 points and four boards in probably his best performance of the season. Bennett added 11 points while Hayes finished with ten points and seven rebounds.
We’ll be back – 

Levett Essex Leopards general manager Dave Ryan has vowed that the Big Cats will immediately bounce back after a heart-breaking weekend saw them relegated from NBL Division One.
Saturday saw Leopards lead for 39 of the 40 minutes in regulation time at London Lituanica before losing 88-83 in double overtime before a buzzer beater saw them go down 83-82 at Lancashire Spinners.
The Big Cats now face their first season in Division Two in their 13 year history, but Ryan is determined that his side will make a swift return to the top flight:
“It’s absolutely shattering” he admitted. “I can’t fault the players for their effort in the last three games since we had to change coach, they gave everything but we came up just short both times.
“The atmosphere in the locker room afterwards was unbelievable, it’s easy to exaggerate things but it was like someone died. To see the ball go through the hoop with nothing left on the clock was heart-breaking. I’ve been a supporter of football and basketball since I was a kid – and I’ve certainly cried before –  but nothing has ever felt that bad.
“Ultimately three season-ending injuries to players who would’ve been starting killed us.
“But we have no right to stay up, we have no right to win games. What we have to do now is regroup, get better and make sure we bounce back immediately – no excuses, we just have to come straight back.
“We’d already spent a lot of time building for next season, making changes we felt were necessary and trying to improve things on the court.
“It’s not arrogant to say we have had the best game-day experience in Division One this season, all the work a lot of people have put in has paid off in that respect with the biggest crowds in the league and reaching the point we had to turn kids away from the pre-game coaching because there was too many of them to fit on the court.
“Now we have to make sure that not only do we have the best club in Division Two but we also have the best team and come straight back with silverware to show for our efforts.
“AJ [Roberts – Leopards’ American guard] said after the game ‘I’m not going out like that, I’m coming back to get us back where we belong’ – that’s the attitude we have to have.”
Ryan had praise for new coach Thomas Baker who stepped in after Leopards and Steve Ogunjimi agreed to part company a fortnight ago: “Tom’s been great. Talk about being chucked in the deep end without armbands, but he’s been up to the challenge.
“We’ll sit down and talk with Oaklands about next season, our partnership with them is vital to our club and will only make us better, but I hope he’s going to continue to be part of Leopards next season.”
The Big Cats wrap up their season with a trip to Worthing on Saturday.
Baker reflects on weekend – 

As his side prepare to wrap up their season at Worthing on Saturday, Levett Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker reflected on the weekend which saw the Big Cats relegated: “It was such an emotional weekend and it is a shame we now find ourselves in Division Two next year” he said

“However, I am confident that this club will bounce back stronger and be back in Division One in no time. On Saturday we’ll go to Worthing and try to finish with a win. What a weekend! It had everything! In both games we executed our game plan really well particularly in the first half. We came out we were aggressive, we were finding multiple ways to score the ball and disrupt the rhythm of the opposition. However, we allowed both opposition teams to find their rhythm as the game went on. A couple of bad decisions when the game was tight, gave our opponents opportunities to capatilise, which they took and at this level you can’t give your opponents confidence to play.

“Losing in double OT and then to lose on the buzzer is heart-breaking, particularly, when you have led for nearly the whole game we must find a way to close the game out. Again it was weekend packed with intensity and investment from the guys, so I can’t fault their attitude and approach across these three games they have had with me, however we must remain focussed for the whole 40 minutes, because one uncommitted decision or one lapse of concentration can lose us the game. “

Leopards end in style – 

Levett Leopards ended their losing streak as they wrapped up their Division One campaign with a thrilling 113-110 double overtime victory at Worthing Thunder, on Saturday.
The victory snapped a run of 13 straight league losses and gave new coach Thomas Baker his first victory since taking over three weeks ago.
Brentwood-based Dougie Bennett shrugged off illness to lead the way for the Big Cats with a (senior) career high of 33 points, adding six assists, as he showed why he won the club’s MVP award. Thunder had no answer as they fouled him ten times in the act of shooting, and he finished with 15-from-20 at the foul line.
Bennett had to battle with AJ Roberts for the individual glory, though, with the American guard shaking off a difficult first half to chalk up a triple-double by the end of regulation time, finishing with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists.
Youngster Dominic Scott-Robinson had his best game in a Leopards’ vest with 15 points and six rebounds, with Jamie Hayes adding a 13 point, 11 rebound double-double and Justin Hitchman finishing with 12 points and five boards.
Only Thunder’s American Lyonell Gaines had any real answer for the visitors as he continued to lead the stats’ charts with a 43 point, 13 double-double.
Perry Lawson hit a trey to send Leopards into the first break with a 21-18 lead, and Roberts put them 40-32 ahead with three first half minutes remaining before the home side reeled off 12 unanswered points to go into the locker room with a 44-40 advantage.
Bennett and Roberts both converted three-point plays as Leopards started the third period with an 8-0 run, and with Scott-Robinson hitting a pair of triples, they led throughout the quarter and headed into the fourth stanza with a 70-64 lead.
Oscar Wilkins tied the game at 77 with three minutes of regulation time remaining before Gaines completing an 8-0 run with a jump shot to put Thunder 82-79 up with three minutes remaining,
Shaq Lewis trimmed the lead to one off a Bennett assist but Leopards still trailed by a point heading into the final 40 seconds,
Hitchman made it a one point game in Leopards’ favour before Hayes was called for a harsh foul on Jack Sutherland, allowing the Thunder player to tie the game with one-from-two at the charity stripe.
Roberts turned over the ball, allowing Gaines the chance to win the game but his jump shot missed, sending the game into an extra period.
 Sutherland opened the bonus period and Worthing quickly moved into a five point lead before Hayes got the Big Cats off the mark, and although the visitors never led in the stanza, Lawson’s jump shot with 15 seconds on the clock ensured that – for the second Saturday running – the game went into a second overtime period and Tom Ward and Brendan Okoronkwo missed shots in the dying seconds.
Roberts and Gaines exchanged baskets to open the second extra period before Hitchman’s and-one off Roberts’ assist gave Leopards a 101-98 lead.
Gaines put his side ahead again with 2:04 on the clock but Hitchman hit another jumper with 87 seconds remaining and the Big Cats never trailed again. Roberts completed his scoring for the night to make it a three-point game before Bennett wrapped things up with three-from-four foul shooting.
Dougie and Jamie win awards – 

Dougie Bennett collected an award for the second successive season as he was voted Levett Essex Leopards Most Valuable player for the 2016/17 season.
The Brentwood-based guard won the club’s Most Improved Player  award in 2015/16 but went one better this season as the club’s supporters voted for him as player of the year.
Despite missing most of the second half of the season, veteran forward Mike Martin finished second with American guard AJ Roberts finishing third.
General manager Dave Ryan had praise for Bennett: “Dougie’s really improved over the last two years, and with Mike out injured he stepped up and took on the responsibility of being captain. I’m really pleased that our fans have recognised that.”
Forward Jamie Hayes collected the Most Improved Player  trophy – which was decided by former coach Steve Ogunjimi and assistant Roger Malpass – after a season that saw gain him a regular spot in the starting line-up.

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