25 years of Leopards – season 9

After a single season with Leopards, coach Chris Pullem departed for a job in the States as uncertainty about the club’s future led him to look for an alternative. Leopards’ owners Ed and Annie-T Simons had put the club the up for sale near the end of the previous season and although a successful tournament in Vegas during the summer (to be covered later) persuaded them to keep the club going, it proved to be too late to prevent the Big Cats needing to again change coach.
In Pullem’s place came another American play-caller, Mike Taylor from German club Cheminez 99 for what proved to be Leopards’ final BBL season. Taylor was friends with Chester Jets’ coach Robbie Peers who had been successful with a six (big)) man rotation but after a couple of seasons of running a short rotation, Leopards had considerably more depth. Unfortunately it was more a case of quantity than quality with many of the players undersized for their position and despite a several roster changes during the season it proved to be a struggle throughout.
In Taylor’s defence, he had only Rod Brown returning from the previous season, although Steve Ogunjimi returned for a second spell midway through the campaign, and the club’s owners were forced to issue a “don’t panic” statement during the summer.
Leopards did manage one big name signing during the close season with England international Yorick Williams joining the club and, along with Brown, he proved to be a key player for Taylor’s team throughout the campaign.
The demise of Derby Storm saw the end of the unpopular conference system, but after only one win from their opening seven league games – including a loss at a Leicester Riders side who went on to post a 3-37 record – the Big Cats were always playing catch-up in the chase for a play-offs. The knockout competitions proved little respite with a home loss against Towers ending Cup dreams at the quarter-final stage and a loss at Milton Keynes saw an exit from the Trophy at the group stage despite winning the head-to-head against Birmingham in what was probably weakest pool.
Back-to-back home wins against Thames Valley Tigers – Leopards’ only league win 20 attempts against the top five sides – and Riders sent Leopards in Christmas on a high and the New Year opened with a 76-7 win against the evil empire Towers at Brentwood before Lions were beaten at home. A 92-71 win against Glasgow Rocks saw Taylor’s team in with a decent shot of the play-offs as they had a 9-16 record going into the final stage of the season but a 93-78 defeat at Lions (a result which on its own prevented Leopards getting into the play-offs) sparked a club record 12 straight losses. That ended at Riders as Billy Mims’ woeful side were hammered 102-84 at Loughborough. What proved to be the final home game for Leopards in the BBL saw Towers 69-62 – which was a nice way to bow out – before a 74-86 defeat at champions Sheffield Sharks brought the season to an end.

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