The season that never truly ended thanks to Covid-19 but still managed a rollercoaster of emotions. There are times writing this when I think if it was fiction, it would be dismissed as too far fetched.
After a financially disastrous season at the University of Essex, the club was at a low ebb and in many ways it didn’t get any better. The link with Oaklands College was strengthened with the announcement that, with the exception of some games at the Brentwood Centre, all club activities would take place at the St Albans venue was clearly a positive, with Thomas Baker and Roger Malpass returning to coach the side – adding Seth Jones. But the hopes of playing of playing the majority of games at the Brentwood Centre never materialised with only two league games and a pre-season friendly against Team USA Select being played at the Essex venue.
But worst was to follow on June 7 when a fire destroyed must of the roof of the arena at Oaklands and the two-court wooden floor was wrecked by an army of fire engines extinguishing the flames. For a while it looked like this might be the final blow that killed off the Big Cats, but with a lot of cooperation from Oaklands, training venues were found, Old friends/rivals Reading and Worthing hosted pre-season games and the opening four league fixtures were all on the road before Hemel were the visitors to Brentwood in late October and Division One basketball finally arrived at Oaklands the following week when Thunder were the visitors.
When the season did arrive Leopards had a “new” name and logo as they reverted to the Essex & Herts suffix but it proved to be a tough opening couple of months for a side that had been put together on a low budget after the previous years problems and had only new captain Chuck Duru returning from the 2018/19 campaign. All three pre-season games were lost but nothing could have prepared them for the opening day hammering at reigning champions Solent Kestrels where they went down to a club record 122-61 loss. There wasn’t much noticeable improvement as Leopards opened the season with four straight road games.
The loss of point guard Prince Lartey – one of the club’s main summer signings – saw point guard Kevin Moyo return for the visit of Hemel Storm to Brentwood for the first home game of the season but good luck was in short supply for Leopards as he limped out of the action after just eight minutes and although he subsequently recovered from the injury he never returned.
The seemingly inevitable home loss against Storm was followed by a first home game at Oaklands where Worthing Thunder proved too strong despite a decent performance. A third home game in eight days saw another home venue as Leopards’ National Cup third round tie was played at a bleacherless Harlow Lesiurezone where Division Two side London Greenhouse Pioneers were hammered 108-74 for a much-needed first win of the campaign. That didn’t spark an improvement in league form as defeats against Thames Valley, Derby and Reading followed as Leopards fell to 0-9 in Division One.
All of that was put into perspective immediately after the home loss against Rockets in the National Cup on November 23rd when the club learned that PA announcer, assistant stats man and co-founder of the new Leopards Keith Tewkesbury had died.
Somehow the team dragged themselves to Lancing the following morning for a National Cup tie against Sussex Bears, and although they made hard work of it, a quarter-final spot was wrapped up with an 88-78 victory. That win set the team up nicely for a must-win game against fellow strugglers Liverpool at Oaklands. It was a bizarre game as outscored the hosts Merseyside team 38-11 in the first period, hitting eight three pointers in the process, before taking their foot off the pedal during the rest of the game but still running out 97-77 winners.
Unfortunately the Big Cats failed to build on that, losing tight league games at Nottingham and Leicester Warriors while the Cup dreams ended at the last eight stage with a heavy home loss against Rockets, leaving Leopards to limp into Christmas bottom of the table with a 1-11 record. And just when you think things can’t get any worse, inevitably they did with leading scorer Hafeez Abdul departing for Italy with the club finding out via the EuroBasket.com website.
With Abdul gone and an attempt to strengthen with the re-signing of former player AJ Roberts having fallen through, the opening weekend of 2020 started with a contrasting – but ultimately losing – games. While the loss against unbeaten Solent at Brentwood was no surprise, it did see a good first half performance, but the loss at Barking Abbey was only made bearable for a late run which saw a 28-point third period deficit trimmed to 82-74.
With heavy home losses against Loughborough and Bradford seeing Leopards fall to 1-15, and another failed attempt to add an American things looked decidedly grim. But there was finally some good news as BBL side London City Royals collapsed after just 18 months in the BBL and a pool of players became available. England international forward Orlan Jackman was immediately signed (with the announcement seemingly breaking the internet) and he made his debut in a thrilling 81-77 victory against Westminster Warriors.
The following week saw Jackman’s former team-mates at Royals Elvisi Dusha and Aaron Williams were signed along with Lithuanian forward Osvaldas Gaizauskas. It wasn’t all plain-sailing, with Jerrell Okoro quitting for no apparent reason and losses against Hemel, Derby and Thames Valley followed.
But the team finally clicked at Reading as an excellent performance saw the hosts beaten in overtime to set up an absolute must-win game in Liverpool. Nothing would drop in the first half and some poor defence saw the hosts lead by 22 at half-time but a strong second half period saw Leopards gradually whittle the lead down and second week running they finished a game with an 11-0 run on the way to a 99-96 victory. It was a happy minibus trip home and despite the natural tiredness next day the team clearly had a spring in their step as Nottingham Hoods visited Oaklands. The visitors had had the keys to their mini bus stolen in the morning and they must have wished there wasn’t a spare set as Leopards produced their best performance of the season to absolutely blitz the visitors as seven players finished in double figures on the way to a 127-95 victory.
With a three game winning streak under their belts and home games against Barking Abbey and Leicester Warriors to follow, the Big Cats looked in great shape to finish the season on a roll. And then Covid-19 came and it all ended.
Leopards announce Oaklands partnership – May 6, 2019
As they look forward to their 16th season in the NBL, Leopards have announced an exciting partnership with Oaklands College. While the Big Cats will continue to play the majority of their home games at the Brentwood Centre, all other club activities will be based at the St Albans college. The two organisations previously worked together between 2015-2018 but a strengthened link will now see Oaklands’ employee Thomas Baker coaching Leopards and some games taking place at the college.
“We are delighted to partner with Leopards for the 2019/20 season” said Oaklands College Director of Basketball Michael Ball. “We worked closely with Leopards in the past and players like Evan Walshe, Dom Scott Robinson and Jose Morais have developed better by being stretched outside of their Oaklands College academy environment.
“The two keys for us were the confirmation of Thomas Baker at the helm for the upcoming season as head coach and the agreement of all training sessions taking place at Oaklands College. This now means that some of our Oaklands College academy players will have the opportunity to be part of a positively coached Division One men’s programme where they are going to have to compete and train even harder, which can only help them grow further as young men.
“This now means that, just like with our women’s programme, male players from six years upwards can come through our community Elevate sessions into our under-12 and then junior national league premier teams into the EABL academy and now D1 men with Leopards. “That’s really exciting for our local community and club players as well as our current academy student athletes and could also, like our WBBL team, give senior professional players the opportunity to give back and coach within our academy and community to help with their career development.”
Coach Baker is excited about the new link-up: “This partnership marks exciting times for the club moving forward. We are 100 percent committed to building from last season’s success and working with Oaklands is going to help us do that.
“It is going to be great to work with an academy that has a proven track record of developing elite level players and I am confident that the outstanding facilities at Oaklands will help us continue to develop that talent.
“From our early conversations it is clear that all involved are aligned in thinking when it comes to how we approach training, player development and coaching philosophies and I look forward to see how our journey continues with our new partnership.”
Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan was also enthusiastic about the new partnership: “I’ve spent the last year at Oaklands as my daughter plays there, it’s a fantastic programme with a great club atmosphere. Having the chance to become part of that is an absolute no-brainer. I hope everyone involved with Wolves will come along and support us.
“It’s genuinely exciting to work with a great programme. When we won the treble in 2012 we had a great blend of senior players and youngsters who gave us some fantastic energy, We’re not going to replicate that instantly, but we have the chance to build something that can be a real success. Playing in front of big crowds at the Brentwood Centre is an important part of Leopards, but I believe we can create something special at Oaklands.
“It’s been great to see players from the other teams watching the Wolves’ sides play and I hope that everyone involved with Oaklands and anyone in the St Albans area interested in basketball will adopt and support us as we become part of the local sporting community.”
Back to the future for Leopards – May 10, 2019
It’s a step back in time for the Leopards next season as they return to playing some home games in Hertfordshire – at Oaklands College and for the first time since 2009, they will also go back to the name they used following their (re)formation in 2004.
So welcome back Essex & Herts Leopards.
When a group of fans from the original Leopards got together to bring their club back to life in 2004 they adopted the name as they were splitting their home games between the Brentwood Centre and Wodson Park, Ware.
The old Leopards had spent nine years in the BBL winning the league twice and the National Cup once before closing down in 2003, and the new club picked up where the old one left off by lifting the Cup again December 2005 under the name of Essex & Herts Leopards.
Subsequent seasons saw the club play as London Leopards and Essex Leopards, but with the Big Cats returning to Herts as part of an exciting partnership it’s a logical move to return to their original name.
The club will shortly release their new logo as well as announcing some exciting new partnerships that they hope will help them challenge for trophies at their two homes in Brentwood and Oaklands.
Chuck’s back with Leopards – May 15, 2019
Essex & Herts Leopards have announced their first signing ahead of the 2019/20 season with the return of forward Chuck Duru. It will 6’3″ Duru’s second season with the Big Cats having joined last September after a two-year spell with Division One rivals Hemel Storm.
Duru began his career at Barnet Bulldogs playing for their under-16 and under-18 teams before joining Hackney Community College Basketball Academy. He played in the US at Southern Tech Prep Academy for a season, before returning to study and play with Team Newcastle University in Division Four followed by a season with Team Northumbria in Division One.
“I am thrilled to be re-signing with the Leopards for the 19/20 season” said Duru. “I enjoyed last season so re-signing with the club was a no-brainier, particularly given the work being done behind the scenes and the new partnership with Oaklands. I look forward to pre-season and beginning the new campaign!”
Coach Thomas Baker is pleased to be bringing the small forward back to the Leopards: “Re-signing Chuck was important to the continued growth that we are planning for this season” he said. “Chuck was influential both on and off the court and having had chats with him since; I know this is a great decision from us as it will ensure some continuity from last season.
“I am looking forward to working with Chuck again, his commitment to what are trying to achieve is unwavering and it’s refreshing to have that from a player. This season is going to be huge for the club to establish themselves as playoff contenders again and the signing of Chuck certainly helps us do that.”
Dynamicpeople to sponsor Leopards – May 18, 2019The new-look Essex & Herts Leopards delighted to announce that Dynamicpeople Ltd will be one of their main sponsors for the 2019/20 NBL Division One season.
Big Cats’ general manager Dave Ryan is looking forward to working with the Finchley-based nursing, care and training services: “It’s great to have Dynamicpeople on board as we start and exciting new chapter in our club’s history at Brentwood and Oaklands. Their support will be a big boost for us and we’re looking forward to welcoming Charlyn and her company into the Leopards’ family.”
Dynamicpeople Managing Director Charlyn Duru, mother of Big Cats’ forward Chuck, is excited about working with the Big Cats: “Dynamic People are excited to be a corporate sponsor for the Essex and Herts Leopards for the 2019/20 season. I had the opportunity to watch the Leopards play against both Hemel Storm and Solent Kestrels last year and was impressed by the game day experience, as well as the professionalism of the players and coaching staff.
“As one of the leading care providers in the North London region, we believe the sponsorship provides a mutually beneficial opportunity for the growth of our business, as we plan to expand our operations into the Essex and Hertfordshire regions. We look forward to working with the Leopards in the upcoming season!”
Oaklands fire – June 10, 2019
Everyone at Leopards were shocked to learn of the fire at our partner club Oaklands Wolves venue on Friday.
Our thoughts are with everyone involved with Wolves at this difficult time.
With Leopards due to use Oaklands as our training base next season as well as playing some home games there we are currently looking at our options for the early part of the 2019/20 campaign and we will let supporters know when we have some definite news.
Leopards link up with Sixthman and unveil new logo – June 26, 2019
Essex & Herts Leopards are pleased to announce a new partnership with UK teamwear provider Sixthman Basketball.
Sixthman have helped the Big Cats redesign the clubs logo and will provide the team with new on court and off court apparel as well as merchandise for our fans.
Leopards head coach Thomas Baker had this to say: “The work Karl and Craig have done is excellent” he said. “This is a massive statement from us as a club. We are excited to get the season started. This new logo and new kit will take us to the next level and we are pleased to be announcing this partnership with Sixthman.
“A lot of work has been put in to making this happen. I am excited for everyone involved in the club and I look forward to stepping out in our new kit when the season starts.”
Sixthman director Karl Buitendam is excited about working with Leopards: “Sixthman Basketball are very pleased to have helped Essex & Herts Leopards with their logo rebrand and become their supplier! Working with such an established club like the Leopards shows our intent of becoming the UKs No1 supplier for all basketball clubs” he said.
“It’s been great to work with them on this and we can’t wait for their fans and members to see what we are producing for them.”
Leopards add Prince – August 7, 2019
Leopards have strengthened their backcourt with the addition of point guard Prince Lartey. The British-born player joins from Division One rivals Thames Valley Cavaliers where helped them gain promotion from Division Two before finishing fourth in their top flight debut.
“I’m really excited to be joining Essex & Herts Leopards for the upcoming season” said the 6′ 1″ guard. “The management have done a great job over the summer rebranding whilst assembling a new team that can compete for silverware, and I can’t wait to get in front of our fans and produce a level of basketball that the coaches expect of me!!”
Coach Thomas Baker is excited to add Lartey to his roster: “Signing a player of Prince’s calibre is a real statement of intent from us this season as we look to build on last year’s success” he said.
“He is a guard who will look to control the game for us and is someone who has years of NBL experience having played previously for Thames Valley and Newcastle. I am really excited to work with Prince this year and I look forward to what we achieve together. Exciting times ahead for The Big Cats that’s for sure.”
Leopards add Abdul – September 4, 2019
Leopards are pleased to announce Hafeez Abdul as their latest addition to the roster. The 23-year-old has experience of playing for Lewisham/Harris & Beckenham, Charnwood EABL teams and then spent time at Little Big Horn JUCO and MSUB D2 programmes in the States.
The newest Leopard is looking forward to joining up with the Big Cats “Meeting with the players and staff at Leopards has been a great experience they quickly welcomed me and made me feel at home, the system Coach Baker and staff have put in place plays well to my strengths and I can’t wait to be part of the journey!”
Coach Thomas Baker is pleased with his new addition “Hafeez is a player who adds length and athleticism to our roster” he said. “His willingness to learn and adapt to our style has been excellent so far and it was great to have him on the floor with us against Team USA Select. We are getting to the end of our recruitment and the addition of Hafeez has definitely made us stronger. I am excited for the season to start in the coming weeks.”
Jerelle signs for Leopards
Posted on September 11, 2019
Essex & Herts Leopards have announced former London Lions guard Jerelle Okoro as the latest addition to Coach Thomas Baker’s squad. An alumnus of Hackney Community College and a player who has experience of playing in BBL with Manchester Giants as well as Lions, Okoro will add valuable experience to The Big Cats and he’s thrilled to be joining Leopards: “It’s exciting to be part of this franchise. Playing with my friends and coaching staff who understand my passion, I am looking forward to starting the season.”
Coach Baker is delighted with his new signing: “First of Jerelle is a Winner! Given that mindset, I am confident he is going to help us this year in Adding Jerelle to the squad is a massive coup for us, he is a player who has been around the NBL and BBL environments for a number of years now and he will add experience and leadership to the team in many ways. Talking to Jerelle it is clear he is locked in to what we are trying to achieve and it is great to have conversations with him about the season ahead.”
Oaklands back in action – September 18, 2019
Just three months after the fire that severely damaged the Oaklands College arena that Leopards are training and playing the majority of our home games at, the venue reopened on Monday evening.
“We’d like to congratulate everyone at Oaklands for getting the courts up and running so quickly” said general manager Dave Ryan. “We were obviously very worried when the fire happened, losing its venue is probably the worst thing that can happen to any club. But everyone at Oaklands has done a fantastic job to get the floor replaced and the fire damage repaired. It really is an outstanding achievement to get the hall back open and it was great to see the juniors training there on Monday before we held our first session of the season there.
“Wolves have also done a superb job of ensuring there has been venues for everyone to train at over the last few weeks, it’s not easy finding a venue for one team, let alone nine. Everything that has happened over the last few weeks gives me confidence that we’ve made the right decision to link up with Oaklands, and I’m sure we can build a strong partnership.”
The Big Cats had arranged to play their first four league games on the road before returning the Brentwood Centre to face Hemel Storm on Sunday October 27. They will make their Division One debut at Oaklands on Saturday when National Trophy holders Worthing Thunder are the visitors, tip-off 5.45pm.
Leopards crushed in Southampton
Posted on September 29, 2019
Leopards’ Division One season opened ended in a heavy loss as they went down 122-61 at Solent Kestrels, on Saturday. The home side opened with an 8-0 run and never looked back as they dominated from tip to buzzer, going into the first break 33-19 and then effectively ending the game as a contest with a 29-19 second period to lead 62-38 at half-time. Things didn’t get any better for the Big Cats in the second half as they lead grew to 91-52 at the final break and the fourth quarter saw them outscored 31-9, adding only a single point in the last five minutes.
Hafeez Adbul led Leopards with 17 of his 24 points coming in the first half, adding five boards and three assists. Jerelle Okoro was the only other Big Cat in double figures, finishing with ten points while Prince Lartey adding eight as Leopards suffered the biggest defeat in club history. The home side crushed Baker’s team on the boards as they were outrebounded 59-32 and shot just 26 percent from the floor.
Solent’s American pair Ian Smith and Travis Charles finished with 26 points apiece, with the latter adding nine rebounds. Elliot Sentance marked his debut with 23 points, four boards and three assists while captain Elliot Dadds had 23 points and nine rebounds, and Luke Busumbru had 13 points and five assists.
Baker looks for improvement – September 30, 2019
Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker is looking for a big improvement as his side travel to Loughborough on Saturday. The Big Cats’ Division One season opener ended in a heavy loss as they went down 122-61 at Solent Kestrels and Baker knows his side need to play much better this weekend:
“It certainly goes down as one of the toughest losses I have had as coach and the team felt it too” he said. “It wasn’t an easy starting the league campaign against last season’s league and play-off champions but we definitely felt we should have performed better than we did.
“We must make sure we regroup quickly and get ready for a competitive game next weekend against good Loughborough side. It is important this season we don’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows, this is a moment for us to learn from and improve.”
Kevin returns to Leopards – October 24, 2019
As they prepare for Sunday’s game against Hemel Storm at the Brentwood Centre, Leopards have strengthened their roster with the addition of point guard Kevin Moyo.
The 25-year-old previously played for the Big Cats during the 2017/18 season, helping them to fourth place in Division Two which proved enough to earn a place in the top flight.
He then joined Worthing Thunder for the first half of the last season before a spell in Italy.
“It is great to welcome Kevin back to the club” said coach Thomas Baker. “I have always been impressed with his work ethic and his approach to the game and I think he will a valuable addition to the team. He helps us play at pace and will bring intensity on the defence end too. I look forward to seeing Kevin back a in Leopards uniform at the weekend.”
Short-handed Leopards battered by Storm – October 28, 2019
Leopards’ fell to a fifth straight defeat as a good start wasn’t enough to prevent at 116-84 home loss against Hemel Storm on Sunday. The Big Cats’ injury problems continue to mount and gave them a mountain to climb against big spending Storm.
With Jerrel Layne likely to miss the rest of the season due to an ankle injury, Obi Egbunike nursing an knee problem and James Cummings ill, the Big Cats lost point guard Prince Lartey with an ankle injury in the narrow loss at Westminster last week. Coach Thomas Baker moved quickly to re-sign Kevin Moyo as a replacement for Lartey but he lasted only eight minutes against Hemel Storm on Sunday before also damaging his injury.
In front of a big Brentwood crowd, Leopards were up 33-21 at that stage, but that proved to be as good as it got for them as Storm took control after Moyo’s departure and ran out comfortable winners.
Although Storm’s American guard Mike Williams scored the first two of his 24 points to open the scoring, the Big Cats started well with a pair of treys from captain Chuck Duru. Back-to-back baskets from Jerrelle Okoro helped them into an early 10-8 leead, and both Moyo and Hafeez Abdul scored from long range to help them into a 29-21 lead.
But the loss of Moyo made an immediate impact as Storm scored seven straight points before Okoro sent Leopards into the first break with a 35-28 lead.
Duru opened the second period scoring but a 9-2 run, including five points from former Leopard Sam Newman, saw Storm take their first lead of the game at 41-40 with five minutes gone.
A trey from Marius Kartfaniukas put Leopards back in the lead, and Abdul also scored from downtown to keep the hosts ahead.
That proved to be as good as it got for the Big Cats as Storm took control with a 12-0 run – including seven Williams points – before Abdul cut the deficit to 59-51 going into the locker room.
Okoro hit the first basket of the second half, but there was no way back for the hosts as Storm outscored them 33-17 to lead 92-68 and they wrapped up their fourth win in five games with a 24-16 fourth period.
Abdul again led the Big Cats with 37 points, while Okoro finished with a 26 point, 10 rebound double-double and Duru added ten points and six boards.
Bode Adeluola, who had a brief spell with Leopards, led Storm with 29 points and seven assists, with former Big Cats Will Ashby (14), Lee Hodges (13) and Newman (13) all came back to haunt their former club with Hodges also pulling down 13 boards.
Baker: “Moyo injury hurt us” – October 28, 2019
Leopards coach Thomas Baker and captain Chuck Duru agreed that the injury to point guard Kevin Moyo proved costly in Sunday’s 116-84 home loss against Hemel Storm. The Big Cats had played their best basketball of the season and were yen points ahead when Moyo limped off, and although he returned for a two minute spell in the second period he played no part in the rest of the game and Storm recorded big win.
“We started well in the game, pushing the tempo, executing our stuff and playing solid defence” said Baker. “The injury to Kevin hurt our momentum and we are still finding the best way for us to come together through adversity.
“We knew Hemel had a lot of weapons to hurt us and they showed that in the second half where we were particularly poor. We will keep battling and keep fighting to pick up the wins needed, time is our best friend at the moment and we must maximise it to the best of our ability.”
Duru saw some positives from the good start: “I was happy with how we started, we came out with conviction and energy” he said. “I think we lost momentum and never regained it when Kevin got hurt – he was definitely key to our solid start by the way he controlled the tempo of the game and defended their guards. Credit to Hemel as they are a good side and were able capitalise on our mistakes in the second half.”
New era begins on Saturday – October 31, 2019
Leopards start a new era on Saturday when they host Worthing Thunder in their first Division One game at Oaklands College, tip-off 5.45pm.
Coach Thomas Baker is looking forward to playing for the first time at the court they’ve called home since the summer: “It is exciting to finally to play at Oaklands” he said.
“As we look to strengthen this partnership in the future it is important that we engage the local fans. The guys are excited to step on our the court we train on, the familiarity is something that we will be looking to capitalise on. Even though the results are yet to change in our favour I can’t fault the guys effort to what we are trying to do.”
Tickets are available through http://www.leopardsbasketball.co.uk or on the door and are priced at £5 adults, £3 children, £12 family 4, £14 family 5.
While Leopards have played a couple of international friendlies against a touring American sides and the Welsh national team along with a Division Two game at Oaklands two years ago, the 2019/20 season will see regular Division One games at Oaklands College.
Oaklands’ players Toby Gastaldi-Davies, Ahmed Ketiri and Jeremy Lievin are in their squad along with several former students of the college.
Thunder will arrive at Oaklands in joint sixth place after last week’s win at Loughborough and have a 3-2 record, while the Big Cats are still looking for their first win after five games. The teams met in Worthing during pre-season with Thunder running out comfortable 117-79 winners, and Thunder also won both league games last season before knocking the Big Cats out of the play-offs on the south coast.
After suffering defeats against Solent and Thames Valley, Worthing have strengthened the team with additions of former Newcastle Eagles and AJ Basi and Dominic Ives (ex Worcester Wolves) who both slotted immediately into the starting five for the win at Loughborough.
Thunder win Oaklands opener – November 4, 2019
Leopards first game of the season at Oaklands College ended in disappointment as they went down 102-84 against high-flying Worthing Thunder, on Saturday. In front of a good crowd Hafeez Abdul continued his excellent season with a 30 point, 13 rebound double-double, adding six assists. Captain Duru added 14 points and five boards, and Kevin Moyo finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.
With point guard Prince Lartey still out of action with an ankle injury, coach Thomas Baker drafted in Teni Mongo and the former Westminster Warrior with 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Moyo scored five points as the teams shared the first 18 points but despite triples from Abdul and Mongo, the visitors took control and went into the first break with a 22-17 lead.
A good start to second period saw a Mongo three make it a one-point game but Amarjit Basi – who led all scorers with 29 points – launched a 12-0 to put Worthing in control, and they never looked back.
Ray Akpofure cut Worthing’s lead to 49-36 at half-time triples from Jerrelle Abdul, Duru and Marius Kaftaiukas saw that lead trimmed to 74-62 at the final break before Thunder won the fourth period 28-22 to wrap up the victory.
Alex Owumi added 21 points and five rebounds for Thunder, with Tom Ward chipping in with 17 points and six boards.
Cup success for Leopards – November 4, 2019
Leopards collected their first win of the season as London Greenhouse Pioneers were beaten 108-74 in the National Cup on Sunday. Hafeez Abdul led the way with 43 points in a game played at Harlow Leisurezone as the Big Cats led for almost the whole game.
Abdul poured in 23 points, including four treys, in the third period alone as the Big Cats set up a last 16 trip to either Sussex Bears or Bristol Hurricanes. ew signing Teni Mongo added 16 points with Jerrelle Okoro chipping in with 12.
Captain Chuck Duru opened the scoring with a trey , and both Mongo and Abdul scored from downtown as Leopards took control with a 12-0 run before Marius Kaftaiukas sent them into the first break with a 29-23 lead. Abdul opened the second period scoring and with Mongo draining a pair of threes Leopards steadily increased the lead before three James Cummings points sent the into the locker room with a 54-39 lead.
The game was put beyond the visitors’ reach as Abdul hit nine straight points in an 11-0 run to open the second half, and after Okoro had converted a free-throw he hit another 13 straight for the hosts as they reached the final break with an 85-56 lead. An 8-0 run saw Pioneers make it a 23-point game, but that was as close as they came with all 11 Leopards getting on the scoresheet as they broke a six-game losing streak.
Baker delighted with Cup win – November 4, 2019
After a weekend where his side split their games, Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker was pleased with the performances. The Big Cats went down against Worthing Thunder at Oaklands on Saturday before hammering London Greenhouse Pioneers in the National Cup the following day.
“Overall we took positive steps towards the type of team we want to be” said Baker. “Although the result wasn’t what we want on the Saturday, for parts of that game we looked really good and we executed our game plan perfectly. The challenge for us now is to be consistent across the rest of the season.
“The cup game against Greenhouse was like a lightbulb moment for us, the shackles came off and we really came out aggressively from the start. Yes there were still improvements needed in the game but the guys showed character and commitment to us and it was great to see us get a result to go with our performance.”
Keith Tewkesbury RIP – November 25, 2019
Everyone at Leopards was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of long-time supporter and volunteer Keith Tewkesbury on Saturday.Keith, 53, was one of the Leopards fans who helped save the club in 2004 and had been the Big Cats’ matchday announcer for many years as well assisting with producing the statistics.
Keith was part of Leopards, he sat in the stands with the old club, helped save the club when it looked like they were gone and worked to ensure that we continued to be a successful NBL club. When we won trophies, he was celebrating with the team on the court and when we had tough times his support and help was unwavering. His love for our clubs was clear to see.
Keith leaves a massive void at Leopards, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that he is irreplaceable. He was a huge part of our club. Everyone at the club would like to send their condolences to Keith’s wife Sharon and his daughters Cece and Dominica.
Leopards maul Bears for Cup win – November 25, 2019
Leopards reached the National Cup quarter-final with an 88-78 victory at Sussex Bears, on Sunday. In contrast to Saturday’s loss against Reading Rockets, the victory against Division Two side Bears saw the game won in the third period as Leopards overcame a 39-35 half-time deficit to blow the home side away with a 35-16 quarter.
Hazeef Abdul continued his fine season with 32 points, with Teni Mongo and Marius Kaetaniukasis adding nine each while Duru and James Cummings scoring eight apiece in a balanced scoring effort. The Big Cats will now host Reading in the last eight on Sunday December 15.
Thomas Baker’s side started slowly with the home team scoring the first six points of the game, and it took treys from Abdul and Prince Lartey to keep them in touch, But a basket from Ray Akpofure launched an 11-0 run as Kaftaniukas drained a trey top help his side lead 21-15 at the first break.
The second period proved to be a battle of attrition. Cummings put his side 28-21 up with 6:51 on the clock, only the for hosts to reply with a 9-2 run to force inside two and a half minutes a timeout from Baker. That run was extended to 15-2 as Leopards were repeatedly beaten in transition and although Mongo splashed a triple Abdul hit a jumper, the hosts went into the locker room ahead by four.
Baker’s words at half-time certainly hit the mark as Mongo and Abdul both scored from downtown, and another Abdul triple gave Leopards a comfortable lead.Another pair of Abdul treys along with one from Lartey and an Akpofure basket saw Leopards reel off 11 points to put them up by ten and they would never trail again.
It was still a ten point game heading into the final minute of the period before Abdul hit a pair at the foul line and Okoro converted an and-one to put his side 70-55 ahead going into the final break. Cummings made it a 17 point game with the first score of the fourth period, and the Hatfield-based player hit a pair of free-throws to keep :Leopards in control.
But Bears had one more run left in them as they scored 12 of the next 14 points, and reduced the arrears to 82-76 with 1.53 on the clock when the hosts called a timeout. That break didn’t work for the home side as Abdul sunk a trey and Leopards never looked back as they progressed to the last eight..
Roger’s ready for Liverpool test – November 28, 2019
Leopards’ assistant coach Roger Malpass knows the importance of Sunday’s game against Liverpool at Oaklands (3.30pm).
“This weekend will be a huge game for us” he said. “We know we’re getting better, our recent results demonstrate that. The game last weekend against Reading was one we feel we should have won, we need to keep that momentum going and extend our discipline and focus just a little more to seal that elusive first league win.
“Liverpool will be in the same mindset. We know that Coach [Del] Herriman will have his team well prepared and we are ready and willing to accept that challenge”
Leopards collect first win – December 2, 2019
Leopards’ coach Thomas Baker was a happy man as his side picked up their first league victory of the season with a 97-77 victory against Liverpool, on Sunday. The Big Cats outscored the Merseyside team 38-11 in the first period, hitting eight three pointers in the process, before taking their foot off the pedal during the rest of the game.
“After what has been a highly emotional week for us as a club, it is great to finally get our first league win of the season” said Baker. “We started fantastically well in this one, even better than we have been doing in recent games which is a credit to guys. We were relentless at both ends.
“As the game went on we naturally took our foot of the gas and even though Liverpool have had some issues over the last couple of days they showed they can still punish teams. It was good to see us maintain a strong advantage in the game and we will be looking to build on this as we take on Hoods next weekend”
Forward James Cummings was also pleased with the victory: “It feels good to finally get a well deserved win. It’s exciting when we play our style of basketball still things we need to work on but step by step we getting there!”
Division One’s top scorer Hafeez Abdul came off the bench, but again led the Leopards with 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Ray Akpofure had a massive 18 point, 14 rebound double-double. Jerrelle Okoro added 14 points, ten boards and four assists, while Cummings had 12 points and six rebounds.
Reiss Hogarth led the visitors with 24 points, six assists and four rebounds, while Uche Umweke added 16 points and seven boards. Tyme Regent-Bascombe finished with a 14 point, 11 rebound double-double, with Kaphel Ulett-Waul adding 11 points, six boards and four assists for a Liverpool side who only used six players after a midweek exodus.
Captain Chuck Duru and Okoro both hit treys to open the game, and the home side blitzed a Liverpool side who had seen three players depart during the week. Akpofure hit five straight points and Okoro drained a triple as Leopards rushed into a 17-4 lead. Marius Kaftaniukas made it a 25-point game as he sunk a triple and the Oaklands graduate sent his side into a 38-11 first period lead with another trey.
With the game effectively won, the rest of the action proved to be something of an anti climax as Leopards took their foot off the gas, but the win should prove to be a boost for the Big Cats as they travel to Nottingham Hoods on Saturday. The lead was extended by two to 64-33 at half-time but a turgid third period saw the home side outscored 22-12 and Liverpool shaded the final stanza 22-21.
Third quarter woe for Leopards – December 17, 2019
A disastrous third period saw the Big Cats’ dream of National Cup glory end with a 98-82 home loss against Reading Rockets, on Sunday. Thomas Baker’s team had controlled the early stages of the game, going into the first break with a 21-18 lead and although they trailed 44-39 at half-time, it was a 39-21 third period that ended their chances of lifting the oldest piece of silverware in English basketball for a fourth time.
Hazeef Abdul and Jerrelle Okoro both scored 20 points, adding five and six rebounds respectively, with Okoro dishing out six assists. Oaklands junior Toby Gastaldi-Davies hit three treys to finish with nine points, with captain Chuck Duru and Prince Lartey also adding nine points apiece. Reading were led by Nick Richard who finished with 33 points, seven rebounds, six steals and four assists while Liam Davis had a 19 point, ten rebound double-double. AJ Carr finished with 16 points and seven rebounds as the visitors won the battle of the boards 49-33 to take their place in the last four.
Coach Baker sprung a surprise by putting Teni Mongo and Ray Akpofure in the starting line-up in place of Lartey and Duru, and in common with the league visit from Rockets, Leopards started well. Back-to-back Abdul scores helped them to an 8-2 lead, and although the visitors answered with eight unanswered points a trey from Duru and a successful four-point Abdul play saw the Big Cats go into the first break ahead by three.
The second period proved to be tougher for the hosts despite Mongo putting them up by six early in the quarter before David Chive halved that advantage with a trey. Gastaldi-Davies sunk his first trey to put the Big Cats 35-34 ahead heading into the final two minutes of the half and Akpofure made it a three-point game before Carr’s treble sparked a 10-2 Reading run to give his side a five point lead heading into the locker room at half-time.
That heralded the start of the Rockets’ run that sealed the win as only Okoro got on the scoresheet in the first three minutes of the second half, with Carr hitting a trey in a 9-2 run. Duru broke the tear, but despite triples from Larty, Abdul and two from Gastaldi-Davies Reading took control with Richards scoring 13 points in the quarter. Richards scored Reading’s first five points of the fourth period as the lead opened out to 88-66, and there was no way back for Leopards as the visitors wrapped up the win.
Late comeback not enough for Leopards – January 6, 2020
Leopards’ relegation worries intensified as they lost Saturday’s 83-75 loss at Barking Abbey. The result leaves the Big Cats joint bottom of the table with Liverpool, and the only consolation for coach Thomas Baker will be that a fourth period comeback reduced the deficit from 28 and gives them a chance of winning the head-to-head decider when the teams meet at Oaklands in mid-March.
Jerrelle Okoro led Baker’s team, hitting 11 of his 19 points from the foul line, adding four rebounds. Ray Akpofore finished with a massive 12 point, 15 rebound double-double while Oaklands youngster Toby Gastaldi-Davies hit four treys on his way to 11 points and Prince Lartey had a ten point, ten assist double-double.
The Big Cats only led briefly in the game and conceded 28 point off turnovers, and went into the first break trailing 24-15 before reducing the deficit to one with a 20-15 second period. But a disastrous third quarter saw the visitors outscored 28-11 to leave them trailing 68-46 at the final break. Three pointers from Norton and Boardman-Raffet saw the Barking lead grow to 28 with eight minutes left in the game before Akpofore converted an and-one.
A Lartey three-point play finally got the Big Cats moving and Gastaldi-Davies’ trey and a lay-up in a 13-0 run saw the visitors make it a nine point game with 2:44 on the clock. Another Gastaldi-Davies three pointer reduced the arrears to eight, but the Big Cats failed to take advantage of Barking coach James Vear’s ejection, converting only one of their four foul shots.
Lartey made it a five point game with 98 seconds on the clock but Norton’s driving lay-up broke the visitors’ run and although the same player only hit one-from-four free-throws as Leopards were forced to foul to stop the clock, Abbey held on for what could prove to be a key victory.
Orlan signs up for the Big Cats -Janu ary 24, 2020
Leopards’ hopes of avoiding relegation have been given a massive boost with the signing of England international Orlan Jackman.The guard/forward joins from (apparently) defunct BBL side London City Royals and will make his debut in Saturday’s home game against Westminster Warriors at Oaklands College – tip-off 5.45pm.
The 31-year-old arrives at Oaklands with a wealth of BBL and international experience, and will be a vital addition for coach Thomas Baker’s side. The Londoner spent five years at college in the States, spending the 2007-2008 season with Carlsbad, CA/Army-Navy Academy before two year spells at Seminole State and Oklahoma City University. Following his graduation he joined London Lions where he was a starter for the 2012/13 season before two years as a starter at NOMA Iserlohn Kangaroos in Germany and a brief rime at CAB Madeira. He returned to England in December 2015 when he signed for Worcester Wolves and then stayed in the BBL for the 2016/17 season with a year at Newcastle Eagles.
A season at Cheshire Phoenix was followed by a return to the capital when he joined the newly-formed Royals. The London side’s debut season saw Jackman average 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and as many steals as Royals won the BBL Trophy and reached the play-off final. This season saw him continue in Royals’ starting five, and he average an impressive 13.9 points, 8.1 rebound, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals before their somewhat predictable closure.Jackman also played for England at junior level and was a key part of the senior 2018 Commonwealth Games squad.
Coach Thomas Baker is delighted to have signed Jackman: “The sad part of this signing is it comes from a club within our community no longer functioning which is never nice to see, as a fan of this sport first and foremost it is unthinkable the impact that this has on players, coaching staff and all that was involved in Royals.
“Having said that when the chance arose to sign Orlan it was pivotal to our vision and aspirations to add someone of his size, quality and experience to our roster. From the early conversations I’ve had, it is clear that Orlan adds a different dimension that we have not had this year, in his leadership qualities and his performances speak volumes is how effective he has been at the BBL level. The signing has already lifted the spirits within the club and it gives us a great chance to change our fortunes. I am excited to get to work with him starting this weekend.”
Jackman is looking to make his stay with the Big Cats a long one: “Speaking with Coach Baker it is clear on his vision for Leopards and I believe that I can have a massive impact on the organisation not just for this season but moving forward” he said. “The conversations with coach have been exciting and I look forward to stepping out on court with my new teammates and giving the fans something to cheer about.”
Leopards snap losing streak – January 26, 2020
Leopards ended a run of seven straight losses as Westminster Warriors were beaten 81-77 at Oaklands on Saturday. New signing Orlan Jackman had an impressive debut as he played all 40 minutes and finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in he front of the Big Cats biggest crowd of the season at Oaklands.
While England international Jackman’s decision to has grabbed the headlines in British basketball, it was Oaklands junior Tony Gastaldi-Davies who coolly stepped up sink the two free-throws that sealed the Big Cats’ second league victory of the campaign. Thomas Baker’s side were led by captain Chuck Duru’s 17 points and four rebounds, while Prince Lartey had 13 points and six assists. Gastaldi-Davies finished with 11 points and four rebounds, while James Cummings also had 11 points, adding eight boards and three assists, and Teni Mongo added ten points. Warriors were led by player-coach Jon Johnson who survived early foul trouble to finish with 21 points and three rebounds while former Leopard Justin Hitchman added 15 points and Kai Walker had 11 points and seven boards.
Duru opened the scoring, but five quick points from former Leopard Tosin Oyelese put Warriors into an early lead. An 8-0 run capped by a Tenis Mongo triple put Leopards 8-5 ahead, and they never trailed again in the period as triples from Ray Akpofure, Jackman and Duru helped send the hosts into the first break with a 26-19 lead.
Scores from Walker and Hitchman cut the lead at the start of the second period before Cummings converted a lay-up and Mongo’s triple made it a six point game at the midway stage in the quarter. Akpofure converted from the Land of Plenty for the second time to take Leopards’ lead out to what proved to be a game-high 11 points with four minutes of the half remaining but Hitchman’s trey launched a 14-4 run as Johnson’s free-throws reduced Leopards’ lead to 44-43 at half-time.
Khalil opened the third period with a triple to extend that run and although Jackman levelled, Hitchman hit a free-throw to put Warriors back into the lead and they stayed ahead throughout the quarter with Greg Rundle making it 60-52 with 2:30 on the clock. Lartey cut the deficit with straight points for the home side as they went into the final break 62-58 down.
Gastaldi-Davies sunk a triple to open the last stanza but it wasn’t until the 7:32 mark that they home side regained the lead as Cummings drove to the basket and converted. Another trey from Gastaldi-Davies levelled the score at 68, and triples from Duru and Gastaldi-Davies saw Leopards open a 75-70 lead with three minutes on the clock.
Johnson and Jackman exchanged baskets before a single Hitchman free-throw made it a four point game heading into the final minute. Cummings split a pair at the line before Johnson cut the lead to three with 30 seconds left. Akpofure sent Khalil to the foul line where he made it a one-point game before Warriors fouled Larty with ten second on the clock. The Londoner hit his first free-throw before the second one only for Akpofure to grab the rebound and pass to Gastaldi-Davies. The youngster was fouled and coolly sunk both free-throws to seal the win.