25 years of Leopards – season 23

It was a whole new world for Leopards as they prepared for a first season in Division Two. And what a world it was; Games called off because of a waterlogged court, a team failing to arrive for a game due to snow even though the snow had melted, random hobos sitting on our subs’ seats, courts with wooden backboard and a row of seats down the sides, and no Americans,

The last bit came as something of a surprise as Leopards were unaware that the rules had changed and professional import players were not allowed in Division Two. AJ Roberts counted as a professional because he’d played in Division One. It took until early October to find out this information, and with coach Thomas Baker having planned to build his team around the guard, it was obviously a massive blow for the team.

And it was a blow they never really recovered from as they finished fourth in the table and missed out on immediate promotion back to the top flight. The team was a mixture of returning players – including Wil Ashby who was back after a year away – and new faces, with several Oaklands youngsters getting the chance to shine. It wasn’t all an British team, although neither “import” proved to be a success with Ruben Saiz Colon leaving due to work commitments after a few week and dual national John Shopido being both high scoring and high maintenance before disappearing to Italy. We’re still waiting to get his club tracksuit back….

After an encouraging pre-season, including a win against Reading Rockets because we couldn’t go a year without playing them, Leopards opened their competitive season in the Patrons Cup – the Division Two equivalent of the National Trophy.  With just two group games, it was win or bust but eventual league champions Nottingham Hoods edged a tight game 79-73 at Brentwood and despite a big win at Ipswich it was all over in a blink.

With less league games, Leopards managed to secure the Brentwood Centre for all 11 Division Two games, but the “last minute” nature of the National Cup meant the Big Cats did return to Harlow for two of their  three ties. The first two rounds saw club records set with a 73 point win against Anglia Ruskin at Brentwood (equalling the win against Wellingborough in 2006) before pouring in 132 points against East London All-Stars (formally Newham) on an under-sized court at Mark Hall. Leopards returned to LeisureZone for the fourth round (although there were no bleachers due to go-karting in the other half of the hall () but it was no happy homecoming as a poor display saw them hammered 93-65 against Thames Valley Cavaliers.

The Division Two campaign opened against familiar opposition  as Westminster Warriors were edged at Capital City Academy before London Westside were hammered 104-64 at Brentwood. But that proved to be something of a false dawn as double-digit losses at Sussex Bears and Thames Valley followed. A thriller at Brentwood saw Leopards blow a 15 point lead against Ipswich going into the fourth period as the game went into overtime where the visitors were blown away 17-3. A more conventional thriller against Liverpool saw captain Dougie Bennett sink a buzzer-beater to seal an 82-80 road win in what was probably Leopards’ best display of the season, and with December’s only game seeing a close win against the Lithuanians of Middlesex, the Big Cats went into the Christmas break with a 5-2 record.

The New Year opened with wins against Westminster and former Division One rivals Derbyshire (nee Sheffield) Arrows to extend the winning streak to five games but another home loss against Nottingham saw hopes of a top two finish diminish. Three straight wins against struggling sides were punctured by a pointless visit to Kensington Leisure Centre where the game against Westside was postponed shortly before tip due to a leaking roof and a puddle on the court. Promotion hopes were effectively ended by heavy losses against Nottingham and Ipswich before a couple of days if frantic activity saw the postponed game at Westside take place at the Brentwood  Centre after Arrows had said they wouldn’t be able to come due to snow. The snow had melted by the day of the game and a bumper crowd saw a minor miracle – the club made some much-needed money on an away game – and pick up their 11th league victory of the season.  Nottingham again proved too strong as thy collected their third win of the campaign against Leopards, despite 29 Bennett points,  but worse was to follow with a truly awful performance against Liverpool at Brentwood which saw the visitors make the trip home with an 89-52 victory.

Things weren’t a lot better in west London the following week as the Lithuanians gained revenge before a weekend double header against London Greenhouse Pioneers saw a pair of nine point wins. That should have been the end of the regular season but the late snow had left the Arrows game outstanding, and Easter Saturday saw them visit Oaklands where a third straight victory saw Leopards seal home court advantage courtesy of the head-to-head decider over Westminster.

Having beaten Warriors twice, Leopards had good reason to be confident of progressing to the semi-finals but wish captain and club MVP Bennett missing through injury, they produced a disjoined performance and the season came to an end with an 84-80 loss.

Ultimately Leopards came up short in a particularly tough Division Two (all of the top five were in Division One by the 2019/20 campaign) and won just one of their eight games in all competitions against the top three.

Thomas is the man for Leopards –

Levett Essex Leopards are delighted to announce that Thomas Baker will remain as the club’s coach for the 2017/18 season.

The 27-year-old play-caller was thrown in at the deep end when he took over the job with four games remaining, and although three heart-wrenching defeats in four games – along with a thrilling double overtime win at Worthing – saw the Big Cats suffer relegation,  Leopards’ board of directors had no hesitation in handing him the job for next season:

“We’ve been really impressed with how Tom handled a difficult situation” said general manager Dave Ryan.

“To come in with four games to go when we were a terrible losing streak and make such a positive difference left us in no doubt that he was the right man for the job.

“He commanded respect from the players but also gave them a chance to express themselves. The team spirit in those last few games was greatly improved and they showed a lot of guts to get the win at Worthing after the heartbreak of relegation in Lancashire.

“We now have a long summer ahead of us to build a team that will bounce straight back and bring silverware to the Leopards. Tom’s appointment strengthens our links with Oaklands Academy and shows the benefits of the two organisations working together.”

Baker played basketball at East Durham College before moving into coaching in 2009, and joined Oaklands Basketball Academy as Performance Analyst/Academy Coach in 2012. He graduated from University of Hertfordshire in 2012 and was Performance Analyst of England under-18 women’s team between 2012-2015. He has also been regional East under-15 and under-17 Head Coach since 2013.
Michael Ball, Oaklands’ Director of Basketball, is delighted that Baker will coach the Leopards during 2017/18: “I could see that Thomas truly enjoyed the last four games of this season and that the players and fans responded positively to his approach. I know that he is going to be looking at an exciting mix of young talent together with some experienced players. It is really positive that a young English coach is getting this opportunity and that more of our performance players at Oaklands College basketball academy are going to get the chance to be part of the future of the Leopards.”

Baker’s ready to go – 

Having been confirmed as Levett Essex Leopards’ head coach for 2017/18, Thomas Baker is raring to go:

“It’s a great feeling for me right now,” he said “I thoroughly enjoyed the four games I had at the end of this season with Leopards, and I felt like even though we didn’t get the results we needed that we are still capable of competing at the Division One level.

“It was a great experience to see what basketball is like in Division One and having been involved in national teams previously I was no stranger to scouting and the detail that must go into preparation before these games. The feeling at the end of the season was we all wanted more games together so to know that I will be coming back next year is great.
“Preparation for next season starts now. It is important we are all aware of the task ahead and whilst I feel we can get promoted straight away back to Division One, no one is going to come out and roll over next season, so we must have a good off-season and hit the ground running in pre-season and be ready to come together and compete in every single game.

“Players must be ready to be held accountable to the decisions they make and also we must all work together collectively to continue to improve each and every game. The team behind the scenes at Leopards have done an outstanding job building a fantastic team and matchday environment over a number of years now and being a highly ambitious coach I can’t wait to carry on that work. it is going to be a pleasure to lead the team during next year in Division Two and I am confident we will be back where we belong in no time.

“I want to help the club bring back performances that will excite the fans and continue to raise the profile of what is already a well established club in the British game.”

Dougie returns for Leopards – 

Levett Essex Leopards have announced the second member of their 2017/18 roster with the re-signing of guard Dougie Bennett.

It’s a key signing for coach Thomas Baker as the Brentwood-based player 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.

Bennett also stepped up to become captain when Mike Martin was out injured, and coach Baker is delighted to have him back in the squad for the forthcoming campaign:

“Re-signing Dougie was one of my main priorities for this season” he said. “Having already re-signed AJ {Roberts}, Dougie adds stability and leadership that is much needed for the squad. Dougie is a great team mate and he is a great to have around, he helps us both on and off the court.
“Dougie has shown time and time again the ability he has at this level, and I am confident he will help us get promotion back to Division One.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to build this roster and I am glad that Dougie has agreed to re-sign for us.”
Scottish international Bennett is hoping to help Leopards’ promotion push: “I’m really happy to have been re-signed by Leopards for the upcoming 2017-18 season.
“I feel coming back was the best thing for me to do following an unsuccessful season last year. Some would call it unfinished business but I prefer redemption!
“Everyone in and around the club have been so supportive of me for the last two years and I am just looking forward to being able to get to get back on the court and prove we belong back in Division One!”

Leopards add Ruben –

Levett Essex Leopards have announced their third signing of the summer with the addition of Spanish guard Ruben Saiz Colon.
The 30-year-old Barcelona-born player joins up with the Big Cats having spent all of his career except a brief spell at Oaklands Academy, in his home country, and coach Thomas Baker is delighted with his new signing: “Ruben is a great addition to the team, he’s a versatile, pass-first combo guard with a high basketball IQ” he said.
“Having seen him play over the years I know he will make players around him better. He will bring experience of playing overseas and I am confident he will fit in well with the other players. From the first time I met Ruben I had a good feeling about what he would bring to this club and I’m really looking forward to start working with him.”
The 6’1″ Spaniard can play both guard spots and started his senior career in 2005-2006 when he played for Menorca-based CB Jovent D’Alaior, and since then he has played for CB Lleida, CB Tarrega, CB Pardinyes and CB Alpicat.
The Big Cats’ newest recruit is excited about joining up with his new team: “I’m really happy to play basketball in the UK. I am excited to see what it like is playing here and I am really looking forward to working with coach Baker and Essex Leopards” he said.
“I have a great feeling about this club and I am thrilled to be joining a club with ambitions. As an experienced player I am confident I can help the club get back to Division 1. By talking to coach Baker it is clear to see what he wants to achieve with the club and I am grateful to be a part of it.”

Jamie’s back for the Big Cats –

Levett Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker has made his second signing in as many days as forward Jamie Hayes returns.
Hayes, who lives in the Brentwood area, is back for a third season with the Big Cats having nailed down a starting spot in the closing stages of the 2016/17 campaign and his performances were enough for him to win the club’s Most Improved Player award in April.
Hayes is keen to help Leopards make an immediate return to NBL Division One: “After what was a very frustrating season last year with Leopards I felt I needed to return to help put things right and put us back where we belong; in Division One and winning again” he said.
“It is my intentions to help the Big Cats to a championship season, along with winning all the respective cups and trophies on offer, getting us back in Division One in style.”
Coach Baker is pleased to bring Hayes back to the club: “Bringing Jamie back was one of my main objectives” he said.
“His unwavering commitment when things were tough last year and his willingness to give his all when the season wasn’t going well is credit to the type of player and person Jamie is.
“I feel his ability to play inside and outside adds to the style we want to play next season and his willingness to do whatever it takes for his team to win is exactly what I am looking for.
“In such a short space of time with me, Jamie proved that he is the kind of player I want to have around and I am looking forward to working with him again this season.”

Shaq’s back for second year – 

Levett Essex Leopards have announced their fifth signing of the summer with guard/forward Shaq Lewis returning for a second season.
The Luton-based player joined the Big Cats last season, making an immediate impact on his debut against Team USA Select.
Coach Thomas Baker is pleased to see Lewis return to his side: “Shaq has shown the desire and commitment expected of players at this level” he said.
“I have seen him countless times over the summer investing in himself and this is great to see. From my chats I have had with Shaq it is clear he wants to keep improving as a player and that he is willing to give his all to this team. I’m really pleased to have him in the back this year and we will continue to build a roster that is ready to go out and win Division Two.”
Lewis is ready for a key season for the Big Cats: “I’m extremely excited and prepared to get the coming season with Leopards underway” he said.
“After having such a poor previous season, I really did take it to heart, which left me with an insatiable hunger to become a better player. This off-season has been nothing but hard work because it’s time to get this club back to division 1 and the way to do that is to give everything we have and dominate Division Two. Speaking to my teammates I know they’re ready, the coaches are ready and I’m ready, Now let’s go get it!”

Rodwell’s a Leopard – 

Thomas Baker’s rebuilding of the Levett Essex Leopards’ roster has continued with the addition of big man Jamie Rodwell. The 6’8″ forward played against Leopards for both Hemel Storm and the Welsh national team last season, helping Storm overcome a slow start to reach the play-offs.
Coach Baker is delighted with his new addition: “Signing Jamie is another great step along this journey we are on this off-season” he said. “He adds length and presence under the basket that will help us both ends of the floor and he can also play out on the perimeter too.
Jamie is keen to continue to develop as a player and I’m excited to work with him this upcoming season. With the season getting closer and closer we will continue to make signings that allow us to achieve promotion back to Division One, and I’m pleased Jamie is a part of that.”
Rodwell is excited to be linking up with his new team: “It was a difficult decision to leave Hemel but after speaking with Tom and some returning players, Leopards are the right fit for me to continue to develop as a player” he said. “It’s clear that everyone shares the same mindset about this season in that it’s all about getting back into Division One and I’m excited to go out and prove that’s where we belong.”

Moyo’s the man for Leopards –

Leopards have added to their options at the guard positions with the signing of former London Lion Kevin Moyo. The 23-year-old joins after a season with the capital club, and coach Thomas Baker is delighted to add him to his roster: “Signing a player of Kevin’s ability and experience is a real statement of intent” he beamed.
“This signing has not just this season in mind but future seasons also. From the very first time I met Kevin I could see he had a special talent and his ability speaks volumes. “Kevin is someone who will help raise the profile of the Leopards franchise both on and off the court with his willingness to get involved and promote the Leopards name in the community. We are getting a leader and a true professional in Kevin. He is an amazing athlete who will help us on so many levels.”
“Already from the conversations I have had with Kevin I can see he is locked in and ready to go and in invested in the season ahead. This journey we are going on is going to be an exciting one and I am thrilled to be able to add Kevin to the team, it definitely puts us where we want to be heading into the season.”
Moyo is thrilled to be joining the Big Cats: ”I’m excited to be part of the Leopards, it’s been a long time coming but we’ve finally come to an agreement to do something special! I know I’m going to leave everything on the court and I know management and coaching staff are ready to do the same off court and together we can come together and create a dynasty!”

Caleb returns for the Big Cats – 

As they prepare for this weekend’s double header against Team USA Select Levett Essex Leopards have announced that forward Caleb Tabanar has returned to the club.
The former Oaklands College player had a successful first season with the Big Cats and coach Thomas Baker is pleased that he will return to the roster as Leopards look for promotion: ”Adding Caleb to the team gives us some much needed size and paint protection. He was involved last year as part of the Oaklands College players that played for Leopards and did well despite some limited opportunities.

“This year is a big year for Caleb. Since graduating from college he is keen to continue to pursue basketball and I feel he will be a great addition for us this year. I look forward to continuing to work with Caleb and seeing him grow on and off the court.”
The 6’8″ forward is also pleased to be back: ”I’m happy to be on the team again and looking forward to having a great season and hoping to make a big impact on the team this year. Looking forward to making it a better year then last year for myself and everyone involved in the club.”
“It’s good to have Caleb back” said general manager Dave Ryan. “We want to build a culture where young British players not only play for Leopards while they’re at Oaklands, but stay and develop their careers with us.”

Baker pleased with USA games –

Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker was pleased with his side’s performances as they split their games against Team USA Select.
The Big Cats defeated the touring side’s White team 86-71 at Oaklands College on Friday before losing 71-64 at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday.
“It was a good early test for us in against Team USA” said the Big Cats’ play-caller. “Despite not winning both games, I believe we took some positive steps in the right direction.
“Our ability to play together and stick to the type of mentality we want to have this year was good, we just now have to work on being more consistent at it. However, it certainly showed us what we have to continue to work on as well.
“It was great to see the integration all of the players and was also good to see the team chemistry already being really high so I will be conscious to keep it up leading into the start of the season.
“Credit to Team USA they gave us a couple of good games and it was exactly what we needed this early on. We have reviewed our performance in relation to standards we set before the game and we will now continue to work on these in practices this week ahead of what will be a tough game against Reading Rockets on Saturday.”

Will returns to Leopards –

Levett Leopards have strengthened their roster ahead of Sunday’s opener against Nottingham Hoods at the Brentwood Centre with the addition of guard Will Ashby. The Brentwood-based player joins the Big Cats for the third time having started last season with BBL side London Lions before moving on to Spanish club Roquette Benifaio
The 25-year-old started his career as a junior with Brentwood Fire, playing a season on dual registration terms with the Big Cats. After season in Division Four with Newham Nepturnes’ B team he helped their first team win Division Two and reach the play-offs in their first season in the top flight. He re-joined the Leopards in the summer of 2014 and won the club’s Most Valuable Player award as the Big Cats stormed to the Division One title.
Coach Thomas Baker is delighted to add Ashby to his squad: “Adding someone of Will’s quality is something I’m really pleased with. I know he has been part of this club before and everyone is excited to have him back” he said.
“In pre-season Will demonstrated his ability to shoot the three and play relentless defence on numerous occasions, adding to the quality we already have in the team.
“Having had conversations with Will over the past few weeks he is 100 percent invested in bringing success to the team and we are in for an exciting season ahead and I am looking forward to starting this weekend.”
Ashby is pleased to be back with his hometown club: “I’m excited to be coming back to Leopards after a year away. It’s great to be a part of a really strong young team who have their goals set on silverware and promotion. It will be a great year and I look forward to be playing in front of the Essex fans again in my hometown.”

Korry signs up – 

Coach Thomas Baker has added to his roster with the signing of guard Korry Callum.
The 23-year-old joins from Brunel University having previously played for BBL side Surrey Scorchers, and is expected to make his debut in Sunday’s home game against Nottingham Hoods.
The newest Leopard is excited about joining the Big Cats: “I am excited and honoured to be signing for Leopards this season” said Callum.
“I’ve been working hard individually over the summer, putting in work day and night. So that I was ready to play when an opportunity came. I can’t wait to play under Coach Baker and Coach Malpass! And I’m looking forward to playing with my new teammates.”
Baker is delighted with his latest signing: “With Korry we are adding another player with past BBL experience” said.
“He is a strong defender with the ability to shoot the three, strengthening the way we want to play this year. Korry is fully bought in to what we’re about and I feel he is a great addition to the team.”

Defeat in Patrons debut –

Levett Essex Leopards’ Patrons Cup debut ended in disappointment as they went down 79-73 against Nottingham Hoods, at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday.
The Big Cats were without American guard AJ Roberts who is still waiting for the Home Office to issue his clearance to live in the UK, and they clearly missed him, but it was the lack of defensive intensity and too many turnovers that will worry Baker.
Dougie Bennett led the home side with 21 points, with new signing Korry Callum adding 12 and Jamie Hayes nine, but the Leopards had no answer to former England international David Watts and Daleny Powell who finished with 25 and 23 points respectively.
There was little to chose between the teams in the first half as five Bennett points kept the Big Cats in touch in the early stages before a 6-0 run gave them their first lead of the game at 17-16.
The visitors led .18-17 going into the first break but Bennett drained a trey to open the second quarter, and the teams exchanged baskets throughout with the biggest lead coming when five straight Will Ashby points were followed by a score from Callum to put Leopards 32-28 ahead.
Wes Moore looked to have sent Leopards into the half time break with the lead but the young guard turned the ball over, and Wright beat the buzzer to tie the game at 34 going into the locker room.
Ruben Saiz Colon opened the second half scoring for the Big Cats but the teams were still tied at 46 going into the final three minutes of the third period, but although Hayes put Leopards ahead briefly with a dunk off Bennett’s pass, it took three free-throws from Bennett to keep them within two as they went into the final break 53-51 ahead.
Hoods opened the fourth period with a 6-2 run to take a lead they would never lose.
Callum broke the run but a Powell trey made it a nine point game with three and half minutes remaining before Ashby and Shaq Lewis dragged Leopards back into the game.
But it was Watts who sealed the win with a pair of three-pointers, and the Big Cats will travel to Ipswich on Saturday knowing they will need a much improved performance.

Baker happy with Ipswich win –

Thomas Baker was a happy man after his Levett Essex Leopards team picked up their first win of the season as a dominant performance saw them win 87-58 at Ipswich, on Saturday.
“It was a much improved performance from the guys on Saturday against a very different looking Ipswich team” he said. “I am pleased the players handled what could have been a tricky away fixture in such a professional manner.
“For the most part we played exactly the way we needed to and we got the rewards for it, finding our shots and attacking the basket at will as well as having some impressive defensive play phases also.”
With his side due to host Anglia Ruskin University at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday afternoon, Baker is still looking improvements: “We have identified areas where we still need to improve however I was pleased with the reaction from the players after last week’s result against Nottingham.
“One more cup fixture against Anglia Ruskin next weekend and then we are into the league with the game against Westminster. We will continue to improve throughout the season but Saturday’s result showed that we are starting to come together nicely.”
Leopards are now hoping that Ipswich pull of an upset win at Nottingham on Saturday, which would send them through to the Patrons Cup semi-finals, but now turn their attention to the National Cup and the visit of Anglia which tips off at 4pm.
The student side lost their opening game 83-61 against Essex Blades on Saturday, being outscored 21-6 in the final period, but with home draws all the way through to the quarter-finals, the Big Cats won’t be taking it easy against the Division Four team.

Leopards hammer Anglia –

The Big Cats powered their way into the third round of the National Cup with a club record equalling 73-point victory as they hammered Anglia Ruskin University 114-41, at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday.
Even without star guard AJ Roberts, Baker’s team were in complete control throughout the game, and never looked back after a 20-0 first period run. Korry Callum led the way for a Leopards’ side who had seven scorers in double figures, finishing with 18 points, five steals and three assists in just 15 minutes of action. Jamie Rodwell added 17 points and six rebounds, with Will Ashby chipping in with 14 points and five assists. Shaq Lewis and Dougie Bennett each finished with 13 points, while Kevin Moyo and Ruben Saiz Colon added 12 apiece.
Leopards led 34-13 at the first break and extended the lead to64-24 at half-time. A relentless display in the second half saw the visitors outscored 50-15 as the Big Cats equalled their 102-29 victory against Wellingborough 11 years ago. Baker’s team recorded an impressive 29 steals and as many assists in the win, and will now how East London All-Stars in the third round at a venue and date to be announced.
Ashby and Jamie Hayes scored the opening baskets but despite a three point play from Kevin Moyo, the visitors stayed in touch during the opening minutes before a triple from Kevin Moyo launched the run which effectively wrapped up the game in the first period. The 20 points took just three and a half minutes to score, with Bennett also scoring from the Land of Plenty and five different players adding to the lead.
Rodwell sent the Big Cats into the first break with a 21 point lead, and the second period saw the home side hit six three-pointers with Bennett and Ashby both converting twice from down town, before Callum hit five straight points and Lewis dunked to give Leopards a 64-26 lead.
Bennett hit his third triple of the game to open the second half, but the third period proved to be a low scoring one as the Big Cats could only extend their lead with a 18-6 stanza as Colon sent his side into the final break with an 82-32 lead.
Bennett, Hayes and Caleb Taberner extended the lead to 56 at the start of the fourth period Cranz Dela Cruz hit a trey for the visitors in what proved to be their only points during the first seven minutes of the quarter. A Callum three launched a 14-0 run from Leopards, and Lewis hit back-to-back baskets to wrap up the win as Leopards chose to run down the clock in the final ten seconds.

Winning start for Leopards – 

A blistering run in the fourth period saw Levett Essex Leopards open their NBL Division Two season with an 83-77 victory at Westminster Warriors, on Saturday.
An 11-0 tear from the home side had seen them take a 66-65 lead early in the fourth period but a trey from Jamie Rodwell launched the run which wrapped up the victory for Thomas Baker’s team.
Korry Callum and Dougie Bennett led the visitors with 19 points apiece, with new signing John Shodipo marking his debut with 15.
Callum drained a trey to open the scoring and quickly took his tally to five, but Warriors led for most of the first period and despite ten points from Callum, Warriors player-coach Jon Johnson sent his side into the first break with a 23-22 lead.
Bennett hit five straight points to open the second period but there was little to chose between the two sides as they were tied at 41 with 4:27 on the clock before scores from Will Ashby and Bennett gave Leopards a 46-42 half-time lead.
Bennett and Callum kept their side ahead in the second period and the Big Cats were still ahead by four at 54-50 with 3:35 on the clock before a trey from Jamie Rodwell – who finished with nine points – sent the visitors into the final break with a 60-55 lead.
Triples from Bennett and Shodipo helped Leopards into a double digit lead early in the fourth period but any thoughts that the win was secure were quickly dispelled as former Leopard Lawrence Brown used his height to cause havoc in the paint with four straight baskets before Manning wrapped up the 11-0 with a trey to put Warriors 66-65 ahead with seven minutes remaining.
Shodipo broke the run with a trey, and as Leopards tightened their defence and Bennett stole the ball from Johnson and scored on the break. Brown picked up his fourth foul and was taken out of the game, and with Hayes hitting the resulting pair of free-throws and Sodipo dunking on the break, Leopards pulled away before scores from Sodipo and Will Ashby wrapped up the win.
Johnson led all scorers with 22, while Brown added 17 against his former club.

AJ ruled ineligible for Leopards –

Leopards’ promotion hopes have been hit by the decision of Basketball England not to register guard/forward AJ Roberts. The governing body have ruled that the American is a professional and will not be allowed to play in Division Two, which they class as Amateur.
Roberts had recently received clearance to remain in the UK for at least 30 months, and with a British wife and child he could expect to qualify for a British passport within five years.
“Above all we’re absolutely gutted for AJ” said Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan. “Despite offers from Division One sides, he’d stuck to his word and was determined to lead us to promotion. I know how upset he is by not being able to do that.

“It seems crazy that he can do everything that a British person can do – expect play in Division Two – and that playing a handful of games in Division One prevents any import player from ever playing in the lower divisions. “We’re allowed one American but it’s virtually impossible to sign one unless a club is attached to a university. In theory he could sign for a Division One side and end up playing against us – it’s hard to see the fairness of that.
“AJ’s next move is entirely up to him, we’ll completely understand if he finds a Division One club so that he can play this season. Our aim remains to gain an immediate promotion and we hope AJ will be able to re-sign with us next season. He’s an excellent guy to have around and it’s a massive disappointment that he can’t play for us”
Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker was also disappointed that Roberts won’t be able to play for his team this season: “It’s not the news we wanted. AJ is a massive loss, he is an exceptional player and a humble person who just loves to play the game. We wish AJ the best in trying to find a new club. We will continue to push forward and grow together as a team and I believe we can still go on and win this league with the guys we have.”

John signs up with Big Cats –

With AJ Roberts ruled out for the season Levett Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker has moved quickly to add guard/forward John Shodipo to his roster.
The 6’6” guard/forward made his debut in Saturday’s 83-77 win at Westminster Warriors finishing with 15 points off the bench. The British/American duel national helped Kent Crusaders to a Division Two league and play-off double last season, winning the championship final MVP award after a 7/9 shooting performance, finishing with 18 points to add to 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals.
attended College of Dupage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois., for two seasons before transferring to Mid-America Christian in Oklahoma City. During his time at MACU he had played in all of the Eagles’ 22 games this season, including 21 starts. He averages 12.2 points and team-high 5.9 rebounds per game. He also picked up conference player of the week awards and made conference 1st team of year in his Sophomore year.

Record breaking Leopards progress in Cup –

Leopards’ National Cup continued in style as East London All-Stars were hammered 132-75 at Mark Hall, on Sunday.
It was the first game the Big Cats had played at the Harlow venue but having produced a club record-equalling 73-point win in the previous round, they set new records for points in a half (73), points at the end of the third period (97) and points in a game.
John Shodipo added seven rebounds, six assists and five steals to his 29 points in just 16 minutes of action, while Will Ashby finished with 28 points and four boards, converting eight of his ten three-point attempts.
Shaq Lewis (16), Korry Callum (13), Jordan George (12) and Dougie Bennett (10) all finished in double figures as ten Leopards got on the scoreboard.
Kevin Moyo scored from downtown to open Leopards’ account but despite Ashby hitting eight straight points, the visitors matched the Big Cats early in the game and were leading 15-14 at five minute mark of the first quarter.
That proved to be as good at it got for the London side as seven Shodipo points in a 16-0 Leopards run put them in control.
The home side led 30-24 at the first break but it was a dominant second period that effectively ended the game as a contest.
Ashby took his first half telly to 20 points and Callum hit a pair of triples as the London side were outscored 43-13 to give Leopards a 73-37 lead.
A Jamie Hayes trey launched a 9-2 run which took the margin about 40, and Callum hit his third trey of the game before George hit the third period’s final five points as the Big Cats went into the fourth quarter with a 97-52 lead.
Shodipo converted a three point play to take the score to the century mark with just 40 fourth period seconds gone and he added a further four points as Leopards continued to press, outscoring the visitors 24-10 in the first five minutes before Baker gave his bench players to chance to see the win out.

Cavs come on top in Cup 

Levett Leopards’ National Cup hopes were ended with a comprehensive 93-65 defeat against Thames Valley Cavaliers at Harlow Leisurezone, on Sunday.
Despite a bright start from the Big Cats, once the visitors took control they never looked likely to give up the lead and comfortably sealed a home quarter-final against Hemel Storm.
Dogie Bennett again led the Big Cats with 19 points, with Ashby adding 12 points and four assists, while youngster Jordon George finished with ten points and four assists. Jamie Hayes pulled down 12 rebounds, but Leopards found themselves out-rebounded 53-45 and perhaps more importantly found themselves out-run by an experienced Cavs team.
It was a similar tale to the previous day’s loss at Sussex as Bennett opened with five points to put his side ahead, and scores from Caleb Taberner and Ashby put them 9-2 ahead before a 14-2 run put the big-spending Cavaliers into a lead they would never lose.
Having trailed by as many as 13 points, Leopards looked to have made some inroads at the end of the first period with baskets from Bennett and George, but Kevin Moyo turned the ball over and Prince Lartey converted to send his side into the first break 32-21 ahead.
It took three and half minutes for Leopards to trouble the scorers in the second period, with baskets from Jamie Rodwell and Hayes reducing the arrears to 39-25, and the Big Cats were forced to play chase up for the rest of the game.
Trailing 52-30 going into the final three minutes of the half, Leopards finally put together a decent run as Ashby poured in six points and Bennett four in a 10-0 run, only to see the momentum taken away from them as Teejay Amu finished off the period to send the Big Cats into the locker room trailing 54-40 at half-time.
Bennett and George both scored from the Land of Plenty but the Big Cats were unable to make any inroads into the deficit and they trailed 73-51 at the final break before Cavaliers wrapped things up with a 21-14 fourth period.

Roster changes for the Big Cats –

The last couple of weeks have seen a few enforced changes on the Levett Essex Leopards’ roster.
We welcome new Leopard Jerrel Laine who joins us after a brief spell at Hemel Storm. He gives us some good back up both guard spots and made an encouraging debut at Thames Valley before helping us to victory against Ipswich last Saturday.
Unfortunately, due to work commitment we’re unlikely to see much of Ruben Saiz Colon for the rest of the season, but he remains registered and may make sporadic appearances. Definitely leaving the Big Cats is John Shopido who, after just five weeks with the Big Cats, has secured a move to Italy.

Dougie downs Scousers

Levett Essex Leopards’ captain Dougie Bennett buried a jump shot with three seconds remaining to give the Big Cats an 82-80 victory at Liverpool, on Saturday. The Big Cats had overcome a poor first period to lead 71-62 at the final break but were forced to hold off a furious fight-back from the home side in the fourth quarter before recording their fourth win in six league games.
Bennett led his side with 19 points, while Will Ashby finished with an impressive stat line of 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for Thomas Baker’s side. Jamie Hayes made it a treble for Brentwood-based players in Leopards’ top scorers with a 17 point, 12 rebound double-double.
Baker was a happy man after the game: “We can definitely play better than that, but we did what we needed to against a side who are going to challenge for promotion this season.”
Leopards certainly didn’t have luck on their side ,with David Moyo, Jamie Rodwell and Wes Moore all missing the game, and Korry Callum, Caleb Taberner and Jerrel Laine all suffering injuries to go with Kevin Moyo’s damaged ankle which restricted his minutes.
The Big Cats struggled in the first period, going into the opening break trailing 29-21. But they opened the second quarter with a 12-0 run to lead by four. A timeout by home coach Delme Herriman worked wonders for his side and the home side reeled off 12 straight points to lead 43-36 before Leopards finished the half on a 10-2 run capped by a Callum lay-up to lead 46-45 going into the locker room at half-time.
Kevin Moyo opened the third period scoring and that quarter proved to be Leopards’ best spell of the game as they outscored the hosts 25-17, with Ashby sending them into the final break 71-62 ahead.
The Big Cats quickly got in foul trouble in the fourth period, and three straight baskets from Uche Umweke gave the hosts a 78-77 lead heading into the final 90 second.
Callum hit a bit trey to put the Big Cats back up by two, only to Kaphei Ullet-Waul level with 19 seconds on the clock. But Bennett’s shot proved to be the winner, and some tough defence following a Liverpool timeout saw the Big Cats seal the win.

Rain stops play! –

Having already seen their game at London Greenhouse Pioneers postponed due to snow, the Big Cats had another wasted day on Saturday as their game at London Westside was called off due to a leaking roof at Kensington Leisure Centre..
While both teams were willing to start the game and see if mopping the puddle at every stoppage in play, the referees were unwilling to risk any injuries and called it off five minutes after the scheduled tip-off time.
“We haven’t got any complaints, though it’s a bit concerning to hear that it isn’t the first time the venue has had these problems” said general manager Dave Ryan. “We’d have like to have given it a go, but the referees are responsible for player safety so I can see why they didn’t want to play it.
“The baskets on a adjacent court weren’t up to National League standard, but it was a bit disappointing that the refs wouldn’t officiate a friendly on that court because it would have been good to get a game in. It’s another blank weekend, we now have to fit the second half of our league fixtures into just two months.”

Antonio signs up for Big Cats

Levett Leopards have beaten the signing deadline to add forward Antonio Deogratias to their roster for the rest of the season. The 6’7″ big man brings some additional size to the Big Cats as they start the second half of their league campaign with a home game against Sussex Bears at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday, 4pm.
Deogratias joins the Big Cats from BBL side Leeds Force, but having previously been part of Leopards’ partners Oaklands Academy he is well known to coach Thomas Baker: “Having coached Antonio before I know what he brings and I’m excited about this addition” he said. “I think he can help us in some key areas as we still push for promotion back to Division One.”

Revenge is sweet for Leopards –

Revenge was sweet for Levett Leopards as they made it seven wins from their last eight games with an 88-76 victory against Sussex Bears at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday. The Big Cats had produced arguably their worst display of the season when they lost 97-79 against the Bears in October, but a repeat never looked on the cards as the hosts produced a controlled performance for most of the game.
Captain Dougie Bennett decided to change his number to improve his luck, and the new number 41 led the way for his side with 26 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Although Caleb Taberner gave them the lead, Thomas Baker’s team struggled in the early minutes, trailing 16-8 at the five minute mark. But Korey Callum’s three pointer launched a 7-0 run to drag them back into the game, and Bennett capped another 7-0 tear with a three pointer to give his side a 26-22 first period lead.
Jamie Hayes opened the second period with a lay-up and a Taberner jump shot put his side 33-22 ahead.
But the visitors refused to lie down, and made it a four point game before triples from Bennett and Callum helped the home side lead 46-39 going into the half-time break. Scores from Will Ashby and Bennett saw Leopards’ lead grow to 11 and it only briefly dipped into single figures as they went into the final break with a 64-55 lead.
Bennett took the lead back into double digits with the first score of the fourth period as he sunk another trey before and Taberner brought the crowd to their feet with a trademark dunk.
The Leopards captain added two more from the Land of Plenty as he finished with 7-13 from downtown and Callum also scored from long range as the Big Cats comfortably closed out the win.
Ashby finished with 16 points and five assists, with Callum and Taberner each adding 11 points, the latter adding nine rebounds. Despite the visitors’ height advantage, the Big Cats won the rebounding battle 52-49, and dished out an impressive 29 assists. Tomas Seduikis was the star man for Bears, finishing with 31 points and seven boards, but Joe Carter was the only other Sussex player to score more than seven points, finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Snow problem for Leopards –

Levett Essex Leopards’ efforts to get a game played on Sunday were rewarded with an 83-65 victory against London Westside. Scheduled opponents Derbyshire Arrows told the Big Cats on Friday afternoon that they wouldn’t be travelling due to the snow – which had gone by Sunday – but Leopards moved quickly to replace the game with a match-up against struggling Westside.
The game was technically Westside’s home game after February’s attempt to play it was postponed due to a leaking roof making the court dangerous.
A bumper crowd at the Brentwood Centre saw a dominant second half performance give the Big Cats an ultimately comfortable victory. Will Ashby led the way for the “visitors” with four three-pointers in his 24 points, five rebounds and five assists. Shaq Lewis celebrated a rare start with 12 points and 14 boards in just 16 minutes while captain Dougie Bennett also finished with 12 points.
After the previous week’s loss at Ipswich, coach Thomas Baker made several changes to his starting line-up, with young guard Jose Morais and recent signing Antonio Deogratas making their first starts for the Leopards. Baker was able to spread the court time around, with all 12 players playing at least 11 minutes and all of them except big man Caleb Tabernar getting on the scoresheet.
Ashby opened the scoring with a trey, before seven straight Lewis points and a Jerrell Layne triple saw the Big Cats take a 17-3 lead. But the offence dried up in the final five minutes of the period, and they had only a Kevin Moyo free-throw to show for their efforts during that time as they went into the first break 18-9 ahead.
The malaise continued in the second period and despite two three-point played from Bennett their lead was trimmed to 35-27 as they heading into the locker room 35-27 ahead.
Coach Thomas Baker’s half-time team talk clearly worked, and Ashby hit his side’s first nine points of the third period to give the Big Cats a 45-29 lead after three minutes.
A triple from Jamie Hayes helped him score six straight points, and the Bug Cats outscored Westside 30-16 in the quarter to take a comfortable 65-43 lead into the final break.
Ashby hut another trey and the advantage peaked at 31 following four straight Jamie Rodwell points to put his side 74-43 ahead.
A fourth trey from Ashby together with a pair of Deogratas baskets kept the hosts in charge as the Big Cats wrapped up their 11th league win of the campaign.

Leopards at the double – 

London Greenhouse Pioneers v Levett Essex Leopards 23 Marc 2018[/caption]Levett Essex Leopards picked up a pair of victories over weekend, beating London Greenhouse Pioneers by nine points on both Friday and Sunday.
The Big Cats led for the vast majority of both their wins against Pioneers, but were unable to pull away and wrap the victories up until the final minute.
Friday’s75-66 win in the capital saw Shaq Lewis lead a balanced scoring effort with 11 points, with Jamie Rodwell adding ten points before limping out of the action with an ankle injury that looks set to keep him out of Saturday’s game against Arrows. Korrey Callum finished with nine points to complete the top three scorers.
The hosts shaded the first period 13-12 but were outscored 26-18 in the second quarter and 24-15 in the third to give the Big Cats a 62-46 lead at the final break, and they never looked back.
Lewis again top scored in Sunday’s 87-78 win at the Brentwood Centre, finishing with 23 points despite sitting out the final minutes. Youngsters Wes Moore and Jordan George stepped up down the stretch and finished with 13 and 12 points respectively.
Leopards led 20-16 at the first break and pulled away to lead 42-32 going into the locker room.
But the visitors fought their way back into the game in the third period, outscoring the Big Cats 30-21 to t the lead to 64-63 at the final break. But Moore and George, together with fellow youngsters Jose Morails and Caleb Tabernar pushed the lead back into double figures and comfortably completed Leopards’ 13th league win of the campaign.
Former Leopard Tom Martin led Greenhouse in both games with 23 points on Friday and 30 on Sunday.

Leopards shoot down Arrows – 

Levett Leopards will host Westminster Warriors in the play-offs after a dominant performance saw them hammer Derbyshire Arrows 114-72 at Oaklands Academy on Saturday afternoon.
The Big Cats only tailed during the opening two minutes as the visitors’ attempts to speed the game up failed miserably, and their 114 points was a record haul for the Leopards in a league game, beating last season’s double overtime win at Worthing by a single point.
Seven players finished in double figures for the home side – another club record – with Shaq Lewis leading the way with 18 points and seven boards. Will Ashby and Jordon George finished with double-doubles, finishing with 13 points apiece and adding ten assists and ten rebounds respectively.
Jose Morais also finished with 13 points, while Antoinio Deogratias adding 12 points and eight boards. Kevin Moyo scored 11 points off the bench, with Jamie Hayes pulling down eight boards to go with his ten points.

Awards for Dougie and Shaq –

With Leopards unsure of when they would play their final home game of 21017/18, the end of season awards were hastily arranged for the visit of London Greenhouse Pioneers.
The Leopards Most Valuable Player award has been presented every season during the club’s 14 year history but captain Dougie Bennett became the first player to lift the trophy for a second time as he retained the title.
The award is voted for by Leopards’ season ticket holders, and it was a third straight award for the Scottish international having won the club’s Most Improved Player trophy in 2016. Having stepped up to become captain this season following the enforced departure of AJ Roberts, Bennett has regularly led the scoring and provided much needed on-court leadership. Shaq Lewis finished second in the voting while 2015 winner Will Ashby finished third having returned after a season away.
Lewis didn’t have to wait too long to collect a trophy, though, as he won the Most Improved Player trophy which is chosen by the club’s coaching team. In his second season with the Big Cats, the Luton based forward has had some high-scoring games as well as pulling down plenty of rebounds.
The third award is the Dicker’s Choice trophy which goes to one of the Leopards’ off-court team who ensure that the club runs smoothly, as this year saw Kev Cook rewarded for his work which setting up the court at Brentwood (those scoreboard and shot clock leads are something of a nightmare) as well as helping with the kit washing and other non-glamorous roles.

Play-off woe for Big Cats – 

A poor shooting night cost Levett Essex Leopards as they went down 84-80 against Westminster Warriors in the NBL Division Two play-offs, on Saturday. A good crowd at the Brentwoood Centre saw the Big Cats’ season end in disappointment despite fighting back a 14-point first period deficit.
Thomas Baker’s side’s love affair with the three-point shot proved to be their undoing as they hit just eight of their 37 shots from behind the arc, and they also missed 13 of their 27 foul shots as they came up short down the stretch.Seven unanswered points saw the home side saw them tie the game with 1:26 on the clock but their inability to control Warriors’ player coach Jon Johnson – who finished with 41 points, ten rebounds and five assists – proved to be their undoing as the visitors finished strongly to win the game.
With captain Dougie Bennett still out with a back injury, fellow Brentwood-based guard Will Ashby led the way for the hosts 23 points in 26 minutes of action. Shaq Lewis finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, with youngster Jordan George adding 14 points and five boards. Korry Callum struggled with his shot all game but ended the game with 12 points and as many rebounds.
Ashby hit a trey to open the game and hit a pair at the foul line to keep Leopards ahead, but that was as good as it got in the first period as Johnson hit seven straight points in a 10-0 run and despite back-to-back scores from Antonio Deogratius the hosts trailed 25-13 at the first break.
With George hitting a pair of treys and both Callum and Jerrell Layne also scoring from the Land of Plenty Leopards slowly edged their way back into the game but after Callum was fouled shooting a triple on the buzzer he missed all three free-throws as the Big Cats went into the locker room trailing 44-37 at half-time.
An and-one from Ashby pulled Leopards within five early in the second half, and the score remained around that mark before five straight Callum points made it a two point game, and a single Lewis’ free-throw sent the Big Cats into the final break trailing 59-56.
Johnson got loose again as he hit five points a 7-0 Westminster run to restored Warriors’ lead to ten points as they opened the fourth period strongly. But four points and five from George saw Leopards tie the score heading into the final minute, before Johnson launched the decisive run for the visitors and despite a trey from Ashby, they closed out the win and a trip to Nottingham in the semi-final.

Baker reflects on season – 

Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker was philosophical following his team’s exit from the NBL Division Two play-offs.
The Big Cats went down 84-80 against Westminster Warriors last week, leaving Baker frustrated:
“So the season is officially over for us. A bit prematurely for our liking but it is time now to reflect and grow individually and collectively” he said. “On the night we couldn’t handle how direct Westminster were and our ability to finish strong at times as well as our shooting at the free throw line hurt us.”
Despite missing out on promotion, Baker was pleased with  how his side performed during his first full year as head coach: “Overall it’s been a season that has challenged all of us and I am proud of the resilience this team has shown across the season.
“Unfortunately in sport there has to be a winner and a loser and we lost on the night. “There have been some notable performances across the season, our captain Dougie [Bennett] stepped up numerous times showing his versatility in ways he can score, “Likewise Will [Ashby] has proven that time and time again. Shaq [Lewis] picking up the Most Improved Player award was hugely deserved and some of my college students in Jose [Morais], Wes [Moore] and Jordan [George] grew as the season went on.
“I will always remember this first full season in a men’s environment for two reasons; the sheer amount of work that goes into running a club and also the satisfaction you get when your team plays how you know they can.
“The support from people involved in the club from backroom staff to players has been massive. We need to build on this for next season. I look forward to taking some time out now to spend with family but most importantly reflecting to ensure that I can be back next year better for the organisation.”



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