After three successful seasons with the club, coach Robert Youngblood left the Leopards in the summer of 2015. His replacement was former Big Cats guard Steve Ogunjimi who had had two spells with the old club and helped the new Leopards win the National Cup in their second season. He’d also had a spell with Towers, but only one of the interviewing panel knew this, so it was conveniently overlooked.
A new coach often means a much-changed roster (a new season often meant a much-changed roster for Leopards) but Ogunjimi – helped by assistant coach Roger Malpass staying – kept the majority of the squad that had won Division One the previous season, with Tom Martin also returning after a year away. Ronnie Baker had retired, Carl Josey moved to Hemel Storm and, a year after they had announced Dave Ajumobi’s signing, Reading Rockets finally got their man. The club’s financial position and the ban on signing uni players meant that there would be no Americans for Ogunjimi’s team. On the positive side, Leopards linked up with Oaklands College as they looked to repeat their success working with Barking Abbey, with England junior Evan Walshe signing for the club.
The success of the previous season led to Leopards gaining their first title sponsor as education ICT specialists Levett Consultancy signed up for an initial year, with the side now branded Levett Essex Leopards.
Pre-season saw wins in both games, and the opening weekend of the season saw narrow wins against London Lituanica and Southwark in the Trophy and Cup respectively. The latter win was really too close for comfort and the team’s early teething troubles were shown as they lost their remaining five Trophy games – although the first three losses were by a combined margin of ten points, including a double overtime defeat by Reading. But the fourth defeat in that run was a massive kick in the knackers, a 31 points loss at Hemel Storm that ended a 22 game winning streak against the Herts club.
In contrast, Cup progress was made with wins against Barking & Dagenham Thunder and Westminster Warriors, and Leopards’ defence of their league title started with a stunning 89-67 win at Worthing Thunder. League form generally went to form with wins against the sides they should have beaten, losses against the top sides and season series against mid-table sides split. The exception was the games against old rivals Reading Rockets where Leopards won two thrilling games against the league runners-up, despite the best efforts of the General Manager in the away game. He still has nightmares about that.
Dreams of another Cup win were ended with a home loss against Derby Trailblazers, but the BBL Trophy proved to be a bit more entertaining as a heavy home loss against Plymouth Raiders ended in a bit of a brawl and the subsequent press coverage saw that bloke who accidently went on the court at Reading mention that the West Country’s play-caller Daryl Corletto”isn’t a real coach, he’s just someone they let hold the clipboard”.
Having beaten Rockets twice in the regular season and finished sixth in an insanely tight middle pack it was some inevitable that Ogunjimi’s team would face Reading in the play-offs. If only games lasted 30 minutes….
Tosin Oyelese had the season of his life to win MVP, and we moved on to 2016/17.
Youngblood departs Leopards –
Division One champions Leopards have started the search for a new coach following the resignation of Robert Youngblood as head coach.
After three years at the helm with the Big Cats, Youngblood wishes to spend more time with his family in the USA, making it impossible for him to concentrate on coach in the top flight of the NBL.
“I’m going to have to say no to coaching Leopards with a heavy heart” said Youngblood. “I’d like to thank everyone for the great memories.”
Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan admitted that the Big Cats were sad to see Youngblood step down as play-caller: “Obviously we’re disappointed that Robert can’t continue as coach, but we fully understand why he feels he can’t commit for the season and respect his decision.
“We’d like to thank Robert for everything that he’s done for us over the last three years – it’s been a great time in the history of the club and no one’s who’s been involved would underestimate the massive part he’s played in it. He’s going to be a tough act to follow.”
Having played for the original Leopards for just over five years from their formation in 1994, Youngblood joined the new Big Cats as player-coach in 2012, leading the club to a National Trophy triumph and fourth place in Division in his first season.
The 2013/14 season saw Leopards finish as runners-up in the league before they clinched the title with a game to spare in March. He had been linked with several jobs both in the BBL and with Leopards’ Division One rivals before making the decision not to coach at senior level in the 2015/16 season.
The Big Cats are now looking either for an experienced coach or a senior player wishing to make the transition to the bench in a player-coach role.
Steve’s the man for Leopards
Levett Essex Leopards have announced that former point guard Steve Ogunjimi has been appointed as the Big Cats’ head coach for the 2015/16 season.
The 38-year-old will take the helm at the Division One champions with immediate effect, and will become the Big Cats’ fifth head coach in their 12-year history.
After a college career in the USA, London-born Ogunjimi spent a year with the Big Cats’ old rivals London Towers before joining the original Leopards for the 1999/2000 season Ogunjimi moved on to Newcastle Eagles before returning to the Big Cats for their final season in the BBL in 2003/4.
Ogunjimi returned to Brentwood to play for the new-look Leopards midway through their debut season before helping them win the National Cup in 2005/6.
He also played top division basketball at London United before coaching in the lower divisions of the National League.
The new Leopards’ coach is delighted to be taking up the role: “I am very happy to be able to take this opportunity to coach the Leopards basketball team this season” said Ogunjimi. .
“The Leopards organisation and its supporters have played a very big part in my journey as a player and I am now lucky enough to be able to continue that relationship as the head coach of the team.
“The team has a familiar core group of quality, hard working players that I am very excited in going to battle with to continue the winning culture of this great organisation. “I am really looking forward to the challenge!”
The Big Cats’ general manager Dave Ryan was equally pleased with the club’s new acquisition: “We had a lot of rally strong candidates for the job and we’d like to thank those who came to meet us. But Steve was our unanimous choice, and we believe he can do a great job at the Leopards. It’s a tough ask for him to take over at the reigning champions but we believe he has the personality and ability to work with the players who won the title and take us on to greater things.
“I’ve know Steve from the days when he cross from the dark side to become a Leopard, and I think our fans will really love his enthusiasm for our club – that shone through from the minute he signed for the club, and I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him.”
Ogunjimi’s first game in charge of the Division One champions will be on Friday September 4 when Team USA Select at the Berntwood Centre, 8pm.
Roger returns to Leopards –
Steve Ogunjimi has made his first signing as Levett Essex Leopards’ head coach with the announcement that Roger Malpass will return to assist him on the Big Cats’ bench.
Malpass joined the Big Cats in November 2012 and was thrust straight into the limelight as he ended his debut game at Leicester Warrior as coach following Robert Youngblood’s ejection. His second visit to the midlands venue proved to be much more successful as Leopards won the National Trophy and he has since helped the Big Cats finish as Division One runners-up in 2014 and champions earlier this year.
Ogunjimi is delighted that Malpass will return to the Leopards coaching staff: “We had a good chat at Saturday’s trial session, and I think Roger will be a great asset to us. He has a lot of experience both at Leopards and in the BBL with Lions, and he brings continuity and knowledge that will be invaluable.”
Malpass is excited to be returning for a fourth season with the Big Cats: “I am very pleased to be returning for another season with the Leopards” he said. “Following Robert’s decision to resign I was unsure what I would be doing this season, but following discussions with new head coach Steve Ogunjimi I’m delighted to accept the offer to assist him in his new endeavour. “ want to take a moment to thank Robert Youngblood for giving me the opportunity to coach at Leopards initially and for all he taught me. I’m looking forward to the challenge of the new season and all that entails.”
Leopards love it with Levett –
Leopards have announced their first title sponsorship deal in their 11 year history.
Paul Levett, Managing Director of Levett Consultancy, said “Levett Consultancy is really proud to become principal sponsor for the Essex Leopards this season and beyond. I and my staff at the company have always followed the Leopards from their initial beginnings at the London Arena
Leopards re-sign MVP –
Levett Essex Leopards have announced their first signing of the summer with the news that club MVP Will Ashby will be returning to the club. The Brentwood-based shooting guard played briefly with the Big Cats as a junior but returned to the club from Newham Neptunes at the start of last season.
After starting the campaign as a bench player, Ashby forced his way into the starting line-up – hitting a game winning shot with six seconds remaining at Reading Rockets – and went on to be a key part of the team which went on to become NBL Division One champions.
“I’m delighted to bring Will back” said Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi. “He’s really improved since I practiced with him at Newham, and I’m sure he’ll be a key player for us.”
The Big Cats expect to make more announcements over the next week, and their fans will have their first chance to see Ashby in action on Friday September 4 when Team USA Select are the visitors to the Brentwood Centre, tip-off 8pm.
Captain Fantastic back for Big Cats –
Albert Margai will return to the Leopards as the Big Cats continue to bring back players from their successful NBL Division One title winning side.
Margai captained the Big Cats to the championship in his first season with them, and his success attracted attention from at least one BBL side.
But the former Surrey Heat players opted to return to the Levett-sponsored Essex side, and newly appointed coach Steve Ogunjimi is delighted to have the point guard back with the Big Cats: “Bringing Albert back was an important part of our recruitment, and I’m delighted he’s decided to return to Leopards.”
The Beest is back! –
Courtney Van Beest has become the latest Levett Essex Leopard to re-sign with the NBL Division One champions as new coach Steve Ogunjimi continues to build his team ahead of the new season.
Van Beest joined the Big Cats in the summer of 2013, and with Lawrence Brown retiring from NBL-level basketball, he is now the club’s longest serving player.
Despite generally coming off the bench, small forward Van Beest has been a key part of a Leopards’ side that has finished in the top two of Division One in each of the last two seasons.
The Londoner should pass the century mark for appearances during the 2015/16 season, and Ogunjimi is pleased to have him on his roster as he prepares for the new campaign: “Courtney brings us energy and some great defence, bringing him back is a massive plus for us.”
Brown’s back for the Big Cats –
Levett Essex Leopards have added another player from their NBL Division One title winning team with the announcement that Ladi Brown will return to the club.
6’ 4” Brown – who can legitimately play point guard, shooting guard and small forward – joined the Big Cats in January, having spent the 2013/14 season with London rivals Newham Neptunes where he played alongside several of the Leopards’ side who went on to win the title.
He went on to play a key part in the Big Cats’ title success, generally coming off the bench buy also starting a couple of games, and new coach Steve Ogunjimi is delighted to have secured his signing: “I’m known Ladi for a long time, he’s versatile and he’ll bring a lot to the team, so it’s another good signing for us.”
Tosin makes it five for Leopards –
Tosin Oyelese has become the fifth member of the Leopards team who won Division One last season to return to the Big Cats. The 6’5” forward joined the Levett-based Essex side at the start of last season and after struggling to get minutes early in the campaign, gradually became a key part of the side that went on to become champions.
His defence proved to be excellent as Leopards won several tight games, and new coach Steve Ogunjimi is delighted to being Oyelese back as he looks to defend the Division One title: “Tosin was the one player of the key unit that we wanted to bring back that I didn’t really know, but he’s been excellent for us in the practice games we’ve played during the summer. His enthusiasm has been a real boost, even when I’ve asked him to play at centre for us, and it’s great that he’s back with the Leopards.”
Winning start for Big Cats –
Levett Essex Leopards made a winning start to the season with a 76-67 victory against Team USA Select at the Brentwood Centre, on Friday evening. A mixture of returning players and trailists overcame a slow start to give new coach Steve Ogunjimi a winning start on his debut.
Portuguese forward Frederico Tavares was the only newcomer in Leopards’ starting line-up, alongside Albert Margai, Will Ashby, Courtney Van Beest and Tosin Oyelese.
After Van Beest and Ashby missed shots, Brown gave the visitors the lead with a trey and they opened a 6-0 lead before Van Beest put the home side on the scoreboard. The Big Cats took their first lead of the game when Ashby drained from downtown before Margai scored on the break to make it 13-12 with 2:32 on the clock. The visitors hit back, but the teams went into the first break tied at 15 as Leopards missed four of their six free-throws down the stretch.
Tom Martin – returning after two years away – opened the second period scoring and launched an 10-2 run, capped by a Ladi Brown trey, to give Leopards a lead they would never lose. Martin kept his side comfortably ahead with a trey before five straight Brown points extended the lead to 13 and although the visitors rallied as their strength in depth (they fielded an incredible 22 players) showed, Ashby’s score on the break sent the Big Cats into the locker room with a 42-37 half-time lead.
Ashby split two pairs of free-throws to open the third period and Margai hit two at the line before Team USA’s Hughes hit a jump shot to bring his side within a point at the mid-stage of the quarter. Perry Lawson (left), who has seen plenty of action in the BBL, hit a pair of free-throws to keep the hosts ahead before Martin scored three from four at the charity strip as the home team regained control to lead 54-48 at the final break.
Brown drained another triple off Margai’s assist to open the fourth period and the lead hit double figures again when Ashby hit a jump shot with 2:20 on the clock. A Brown dunk ended the game as a contest with 98 seconds on the clock, and Ogunjimi was able to give a plethora of trialists some court time in the closing stages.
Ashby led the way for the Big Cats with 22 points, while Brown added a Leopards’ career-high 20
Tom’s back for Leopards –
Levett Leopards have added to their roster ahead of the 2015/16 season, and it’s another familiar face returning. Guard Tom Martin is back in a Big Cats’ vest 20 months after leaving the club, and he’s delighted to return to the club:
“It’s great to be back playing for the Leopards, especially following the team’s success last season” he said. “I look forward to helping the team keep up the momentum from Friday’s win going into the new season.”
Martin joined the Leopards in the summer of 2012 having previously played for Bradford Dragons, and them win the National Trophy in the 2012/13 season. He remained with the Big Cats the following season before joining Division One rivals Westminster Warriors in January 2014.
He spent part of last season with Division Two side Brixton Topcats, and coach Steve Ogunjimi is pleased to add him to his squad: “We’re guard-heavy but Tom will provide good cover for us in several positions and I’m sure he’ll be a valuable member of the team.”
Hitchman is Just in for Big Cats –
Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi has added to his front court with the signing of 25-year-old forward Justin Hitchman. The 6’4” Londoner joins from Division One rivals Westminster Warriors, and the Big Cats’ coach is pleased to add him to his roster: “Justin will bring us some inside presence and help out on the defensive side,” he said “I’m sure he’ll be real asset.”
Hitchman spent three years with Team Northumbria, helping them to a Division Two league and play-off double in 2012, his final season with the university team. He then joined Warriors, helping to keep them in the top flight during a three year spell. Justin made his Leopards’ debut in last Friday’s win against Team USA Select, and will next be in action on Saturday as the Big Cats host Brunel at Harlow LeisureZone, tip-off 7.15pm.
Hayes signs up with Leopards –
Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi has added to his front court with the addition of forward Jamie Hayes. The 6’6” forward attended Leopards’ summer trials and impressed the Big Cats’ new play-caller during their two pre-season victories.
Basildon-born Hayes spent three years at the University of East London between 2011-2014, helping them with back-to-back promotions and a place in the BUCS South Premier Division. He also played for the UEL NASSA team Division Four team before joining Brentwood Fire in the same division for the 2013/14 season.
He started last season in Division Two with Eastside Eagles before stepping up a level to play for Newham Neptunes midway through the campaign. The 22-year-old is looking forward to playing for the Big Cats: “The 2015/16 season is going to be a exciting one for me, as I am playing with the champions. It’s going to be a huge learning curve playing with great players, but it a journey I can’t wait to see the outcome of both for the team and for my own talents. It’s great to be playing back in Essex, where I’m from, in front of what I know is a great crowd – come on Leopards let’s bring this title back.”
Team USA beaten in thriller –
Steve Ogunjimi is still undefeated as Levett Essex Leopards head coach as they completed an unbeaten pre-season with an 84-83 victory against Team USA Select Reds on Tuesday evening.
The touring side bro -ught their strongest line-up to Leopards’ training venue in east London, and the scrimmage proved to be an excellent test for the Big Cats ahead of Friday’s National Trophy opener against London Lituanica at the Brentwood Centre. Ogunjimi was able to use all ten available players, subbing five in/five out until the tense final stages of the game.
An even first period saw the lead change hands eight times, but despite a big trey from Tom Martin, the visitors went into the first break 19-18 ahead. The Big Cats started the second period strongly with a 10-3 run to give them a 28-22 lead at the mid-stage of the quarter and although the visitors fought back, they could only halve the hosts’ lead to 41-38 going into the half-time break.
The visitors – whose second team had already lost against the Leopards at Brentwood 11 days earlier – fought back to cut the Big Cats lead to 55-54 after five second half minutes and they led by as many as eight before a good run from Leopards saw a Brian Nguru free-throw tie the game at 70 going into the final break.
Points were at a premium early in the fourth period with Justin Hitchman levelling the score at 72 with two minutes gone before an Albert Margai and-one put them up by a point, and Ladi Brown kept they ahead. The game was tied at 77 with five minutes remaining , but although the visitors opened a four point lead, a single Courtney Van Beest free-throw made it a one point game with 2:23 on the clock.
The game went down to the wire, and it was Will Ashby who hit what proved to be the key show with 26 seconds on the clock, and the kind of tough defence which saw them win the league last season resulted in Leopards stealing the ball with nine seconds remaining. Brown saw his last second shot blocked after he had run down the clock, but Leopards held on to take the win.
Winning start for Leopards –
Levett Leopards made the perfect start to the season with a 71-68 home victory against London Lituanica, on Friday.
New-boy Justin Hitchman was the key for Steve Ogunjimi’s team as he led the way with 21 points, eight rebounds and three steals as the Big Cats broke their hoodoo against a side who had knocked them out of the National Cup twice in three years.
Captain Albert Margai finished with 16 points and seven assists as well as drawing eight fouls from a physical Lithuanian side who included former Leopard in their side. Will Ashby added 13 points while Ladi Brown was a rebound short of a double-double with 11 points and nine boards.
The Big Cats scored the first seven points of the game and only trailed for 90 seconds in the National Trophy tie as they look to repeat their 2013 success in the competition. Aušridas Petraitis was dominant for the visitors with a 25 point, 13 rebound double-double before getting himself ejected in the closing seconds while Tomas Grybauskas was the only other visiting player to finish in double figures with ten points.
Brown opened the scoring from downtown before Tosin Oyelese and Margain hit jump shots to put the hosts in charge, and three pointers from Hitchman and Brown saw the lead grow to 17-5 at the mid-stage of the quarter. The Big Cats remained comfortably ahead, and a three pointer from Tom Martin plus a single Margai free-throw sent them into the first break with a 21-14 lead.
With Volskis getting on the scoresheet, the visitors scored the first seven points of the second quarter to take their first lead of the game before Margai ended the drought with a jump shot followed by a trey.
Hitchman hit another from downtown before taking his tally to 14 with a lay-up, and a single Jamie Hayes free-throw sent Leopards into the locker room with a 41-34 lead.
Tomas Skardzius and Hitchman exchanged baskets to open the second half and Leopards’ lead never dipped below five in the third period, and a fast-break from Brown following by a Margai trey saw the lead grow to a game-high 52-39 with 3:07 on the clock. Margai made it an 11 point game heading into the final minute before the visitors scored five straight points to cut Leopards’ lead to 56-50 heading into the final break.
Petraitis hit five points in a 7-2 run to make it a one point game with two fourth period minutes gone before Margai broke the tear and Martin hit a long jumper to put Leopards 62-57 up at the five minute mark.
Grybauskas scored from the Land of Plenty to cut the lead to two but Ashby replied in kind to send Leopards into the final two minutes 67-62 ahead. Lituancia still had one more run in them with Julius Visockas hitting a three and Skardžius making it a one point before a foul on Hitchman sparked a rash of technical fouls and Leopards wrapped the win up at the foul line.
Frederico signs up for Leopards –
Leopards have added to their front-court with the addition of Portuguese forward Frederico Tavares. The 27-year-old moved to London in the summer and was recommended to assistant coach Roger Malpass by former MK Lions’ guard Nuno Pedroso.
A former Portugal under-18 international, 6’5” Tavares has previously played all of his club basketball in his home country, and joins the Big Cats from Cab Madeira where he averaged 5.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in the Portuguese top division last season.
Leopards had a mad dash to get Tavares registered in time for the weekend’s game, with his international clearance and registration only being confirmed three hours before Friday evening’s game against London Lituanica. “It’s such a relief to finally be an official Leopard, and I’m looking forward to the season” he said shortly after his registration was completed.
Leopards add Scottish star –
Leopards have added to their guard options with the signing of Scottish international Dougie Bennett ahead of this weekend’s double header against Westminster Warriors and Kent Crusaders.
The 22-year-old follows the well-worn path from Newham Neptunes who he helped to three successive promotions before spending the 2013/14 season with London side Eastside Eagles. He returned to Neptunes the 2014/15 campaign before seeing his season ended in December when he injured his knee, ironically against the Big Cats at Brentwood.
Chelmsford-born Bennett qualifies to play for Scotland through his mother and represented his adopted country in the European Small Nations tournament in 2014, finishing with 2.8 points and an impressive 1.6 rebounds in 11.2 minutes as the Scots took bronze in the tournament. He also captained their under-18s in a series against Norway.
The 6’0” guard is delighted to be joining the Big Cats: “It’s great to be joining the NBL defending champions. Leopards have always been an organised franchise with a winning mentality and that’s something that stood out when training over the summer. With a mixture of youth and experience I believe the team assembled by coach [Steve] Ogunjimi can reach and go beyond the heights of the Leopards team last season.”
Bennet’s signing means that Leopards have now had full internationals from all three nations that will finally truly merge in a year’s time with Duncan Ogilvie having played for England and both Dave Jones and Euan Nickson having been full Welsh internationals.
Leopards edged out in thriller –
A double overtime thriller at the Brentwood Centre saw Leopards come up short as they went down 90-82 against Reading Rockets, on Friday night.
The Big Cats missed six of their eight free-throws in the first period of overtime and hit just four of 12 foul shots across the two additional periods before tiring in final five minutes.
In a game that saw three technical fouls and an ejection for the stats man – possibly a first – the Big Cats produced a much better performance than in their last three games but now they must win their final two games in the National Trophy to stand a realistic chance of progressing to the quarter-final.
Ladi Brown led the way for the home side with 20 points, while Justin Hitchman continued his impressive debut season with the Big Cats as he added 19 points. Captain Albert Margai chipped in with 12 points, while D’Montre Edwards led the Rockets with a game-high 28.
A triple from Brown helped the Big Cats take an early lead, but Rockets controlled much of the first period and a 7-0 run late in the quarter saw them take a 20-10 lead before Jamie Hayes beat the buzzer to cut the deficit to 20-12 at the first break
Brian Nguru opened the second period scoring, and threes from Brown and Will Ashby saw Leopards reduce the arrears to 26-22 with three minutes remaining, and although Joe Keeble made it a ten point game, the home side fought their way back into the game and closed out the first half with eight unanswered points – including threes from Margai and Brown – before Tom Martin cut the deficit to 34-32 going into the locker room at half-time.
Treys from Ashby and Margai saw Leopards take their first lead since the opening stages with four second half minutes gone, and it was nip and tuck for the rest of the period as Rockets took a 50-49 lead into the third break with Hayes hitting one from two at the foul line to close the period.
Five Brown points helped the Big Cats open the fourth period on a 7-0 run to take a 56-50 lead early in the fourth period and three points apiece from Hitchman and Brown put them 62-58 ahead with seven minutes on the clock.
A trey from Robinson put Reading one-up with two minutes remaining before Hitchman scored back-to-back baskets to make it a three point game heading into the final minute.
Danny Carter sliced that lead to a single point before a pair of Brown foul shots looked like they had wrapped things up with just 3.5 seconds remaining as Leopards led 70-67.
But a timeout from the visitors set up a three-point play for former Leopard Dave Ajumobi who buried the ball to send the game into overtime.
The teams exchanged three pointers to open the first extra period but it was a tale of missed free-throws for the Big Cats and although Courtney Van Beest gave the hosts a 79-77 lead heading into the final 30 seconds, Edwards hit a pair at the charity stripe to force a second overtime.
Although Margai hit a trey to open the decisive period, the heavy minutes played by Leopards’ starting five showed in the additional time as their struggles continued at the foul line, and Reading answered with a 6-1 run and never trailed again to retain their unbeaten record.
Leopards hit by Storm –
A long night in Hemel saw Levett Essex Leopards suffer their biggest defeat against NBL opposition for over five years as they were hammered 98-67 on Saturday evening.
The Big Cats never coped with Storm’s outside shooting as they were hit win a barrage of three-point shots.
The Leopards had won all 21 games against the Storm franchise in its various guises, but never looked likely to extend that lead, and their hopes of qualifying for the National Trophy quarter-final now hang by a thread.
Steve Ogunjimi’s team need to win at Worthing on Saturday, and hope Thunder lose against a Reading side who have already qualified AND hope London Lituanica beat Kent Crusaders if they are to reach the last eight.
Their only lead of the game came in the first minute and despite a Brian Nguru trey on the buzzer, the visitors trailed 26-14 at the first break.
An inability to hit foul shots didn’t help the Leopards, with the first half summed up as Ladi Brown almost brought the basket down with a massive dunk, but missed the free-throws after being fouled as he scored.
The visitors trailed 49-27 going into the half time break, and although things improved slightly in the second half they went into the final period 71-46 down and were outscored 27-22 in the fourth quarter.
Justin Hitchman continued his good start to his first season as a Leopards with a team-high 19 points, with Will Ashby adding 12. Tom Martin and Nguru came off the bench to add seven apiece as Ogunjimi rested his starters for much of the final 12 minutes, while England under-18 international Evan Walshe made an impressive debut with some good defence.
Rhodes led Hemel with 23 points, while former Leopards’ captain Carl Josey added 21 and Tom Adorian 15.
Big weekend for Big Cats –
It’s the biggest weekend of the season so far for Levett Essex Leopards as they face games in two competitions.
The Big Cats travel to Worthing Thunder on Saturday in the first game of their defence of the NBL Division One title before Westminster Warriors are the visitors to the Brentwood Centre on Sunday (4pm) for a National Cup third round tie.
The game against Warriors will see a repeat of the National Trophy tie at Harlow that saw the visitors edge a tight game 68-64,and the Big Cats can expect another tough test against a side who have started the season well. Under new player-coach Julius Joseph, Warriors have won seven of their first eight games and in former England international (and ex-Leopard) Mike Martin they have one of the best players in the league.
While the game is unlikely to match the triple overtime thriller the sides fought at the same stage of the competition seven years ago, and exciting game is in prospect with a home quarter-final against either Leicester Warriors or Derby Trailblazers the prize for the winner.
The Big Cats reached the last 16 with a comfortable 99-57 victory at Barking & Dagenham Thunder last Tuesday. Led by 26 points from Ladi Brown, Steve Ogunjimi’s team never trailed against their Division Three hosts, and they never looked back after a 13-0 first period run put them 24-11 ahead.
Will Ashby added 13 points, Justin Hitchman 11 and Evan Walshe ten on a night when all ten Leopards got on the scoresheet.
Saturday will see Leopards make their second trip in eight days to the south coast to face a side who have progressed in both the Trophy and Cup with a combined 5-2 record. It will the second meeting on the south coast in as many weeks between the sides as a depleted Leopards team lost 92-85 in the Trophy on Saturday.
Despite only finishing seventh last season, Thunder were the only side to complete a league double over the title winning Leopards, with their 58-52 victory at the Brentwood Centre denying the Big Cats a perfect home record in the league. However, Leopards did record a 80-76 Trophy victory against the south coast side when they met in Harlow 13 months ago.
Thunder silenced in stunning opener –
Leopards opened their defence of the Division One title with a stunning 89-57 victory at Worthing Thunder, on Saturday.
A 15-3 run at the start of the second half saw the Big Cats break open a tight game before the home side were destroyed 35-14 in the final period to give Leopards the win.
Ladi Brown and Will Ashby returned to the Leopards’ team after missing the previous week’s Trophy loss at Worthing, and led the way with 19 points apiece, Brown adding nine rebounds. Justin Hitchman added 17 points and five boards, while Tom Martin finished with 12 points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes of action. Having watched Tom Ward torch them for 31 points the previous week, Leopards closed down the Worthing captain, limiting him to just four points on 2/10 shooting and forced him into ten turnovers.
There were no signs of a comfortable victory for Leopards in the first as Louis Allen opened the scoring with a trey, and it took until two minutes for Hitchman to put Leopards on the scoreboard. Hitchman did briefly put the visitors ahead at 4-3 when he converted one of Tosin Oyelese’s ten rebounds but that was their only lead in the first period as Worthing broke open a tied game to close out the quarter on a 7-2 run to lead 18-13.
Joe Carter made it a seven point game to open the second period before a pair of Oyelese baskets kept Leopards in touch but it was during the final five minutes of the quarter that the kind of defence that had won the Big Cats the title started to show.
A pair of Ashby treys split by a Martin score put the Big Cats 32-30 and Martin made it a four point game before a Josh Brown trey ended a three minute drought for the hosts and cut Leopards’ half-time lead to 34-33.
Brown opened the second half scoring, followed by a Hitchman basket, and the Big Cats closed the hosts’ offence down as they were limited to just four points in the first five minutes of the period.
Brown added a further five points on his way to an 18 point, 11 rebound double-double but both Hitchman and Ashby added to the score as the Big Cats went on a 15-4 run. Captain Albert Margai drained from the Land of Plenty before Courtney Van Beest sent Steve Ogunjimi’s side into the final break with a 54-43 lead.
Hitchman and Luis Allen exchanged baskets to open the fourth period before Ashby hit a triple to make it a 14 point game. Brown sparked a mini Thunder run with a pair of three point plays to cut the lead to eight but that proved to be as good as it got for the home team.
Ashby was fouled on an attempted trey and hit all three free-throw to spark a 9-0 run which gave the Big Cats a 17 point lead with five minutes remaining. Brown hit a trey for Thunder but Brian Nguru replied with a three that sparked another ten unanswered points to seal the win.
Leopards win Cup thriller –
Another thriller at the Brentwood Centre saw Leopards reach the National Cup quarter-final with a 70-69 win against Westminster Warriors, on Sunday.
The victory sets up a clash with Derby Trailblazers at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday November 15.
The Big Cats started well against a side who had opened the season with seven wins from nine games and a barrage of treys from Will Ashby and Ladi Brown helped them open a 15-4 lead.
Warriors replied with eight unanswered points, and the two sides were virtually inseparable for the rest of the game with 11 ties and six lead changes, although the biggest lead for the visitors was just two points.
Yanick Bulumbwe gave Warriors their first lead of the game with the opening score of the second period with Jamie Hayes replying.
The biggest lead of the second quarter came when Brown hit a jump shot to make it 31-28 with three minutes remaining before captain Albert Margai sent his side into the locker room with a 33-30 lead.
Joshua Palmer, who led Warriors with 20 points and eight rebounds, drilled a three to tie the score again at the start of the second half before Tonin Oyelese and Abraham Ekperuoh exchanged baskets to set the tone for the period.
The largest margin of the first eight minutes of the quarter was two points before six straight Courtney Van Bees hit six straight points to give Leopards a lead they would never lose.
The Big Cats led 55-48 going into the final break before a three from former Leopard Mantis Adomantis made it a three point game early in the fourth period.
Adomantis hit another triple to cut Leopards’ lead to 59-57 with five minutes on the clock before a jump shot followed by a trey from England junior international Evan Walshe took the lead out to 59-52 with three fourth quarter minutes remaining.
Oyelese made it a three point game going into the final minute before Palmer pulled his side back within a point with a pair of free-throws and Leopards turned the ball over with seven seconds remaining. Warriors called a timeout with four seconds left on the clock, and as they tried a game winning score, Brown blocked the shot and threw the ball down the court to run out time and send Leopards into the quarter-finals.
Ashby led a balanced scoring effort with 15 points, with Van Beest adding 12 points and seven rebounds, while Oyelese and Brown each finishing with ten points. In a game blighted by the referees’ whistles with 49 fouls called and 50 free throws former Warrior Justin Hitchman ws limited to just 17 minutes of action before fouling out with two minutes remaining as he was held to just two points and as many rebounds.
Cup dreams ended by Derby –
A poor shooting performance ended Leopards’ hopes of Cup glory as Derby pulled away down the stretch to reach the National Cup semi-finals with a 79-69 victory at the Brentwood Centre.
The Big Cats out-rebounded the visitors 49-40 and had eight more shots than Derby, but converted only a third of their field goal attempts and scored just 23 percent of their three point efforts.
Ladi Brown top scored again with 17 points and five rebounds, but it was captain Albert Margai who dominated for his team with a 15 point, ten rebound double-double, adding seven assists. Courtney Van Beest and Justin Hitchman finished with ten points apiece, adding five and three assists apiece.
Brown gave Leopards an early lead with a jump shot and one-from-two foul shooting, and Ashby scored five of his six points to put Leopards 9-5 ahead before Trailblazers closed out the period on an 8-2 – Jamie Hayes hitting the hosts’ only basket – run to lead 13-11 at the first break. Former England international David Watts hit a triple to put Derby up by five to open the second period, and he then blocked Hayes’ shot before a Brown trey cut the deficit to 18-16.
Hitchman tied the score after grabbing an offensive rebound, and there was little to choose between the two sides in the second period as Margai hit a trey to cut the visitors’ lead to 33-32 at half-time. Brown drained a triple to open the second half, but a Sydney Donaldson trey saw Trailblazers take a 48-40 lead at the midway stage of the third quarter. But Leopards’ offence finally started firing, and Van Beest sparked an 8-0 capped by a pair of Brown baskets to put his side 48-43 up.
Unfortunately that proved to be as good as it got as Trailblazers replied with a 10-2 run – Hitchman being only Leopard to trouble the scorers – to lead 53-50 at the final break. Kane King scored the first five Derby points of the final period with only a Tosin Oyelese basket keeping the home side in touch at 62-68. Hayes hit a pair at the line to make it a four point game only to see as Jesse Wessingh hit a trey and King hit a jump shot to put the visitors up by nine.
The closest the home side came in the fourth period was with five minutes remaining when Margai drained a trey to make it a three point game but Derby answered with seven straight points to effectively wrap up the game.
Watts led Trailblazers with 19 points and six boards while his brother Dan finished with a 12 point, 12 rebound double, and both King and Donaldson each hitting 13 points.
Revenge is sweet for Leopards –
Levett Leopards avenged their Trophy defeat by Kent Crusaders with a comfortable 68-51 road win, on Saturday.
The Big Cats gave up a double-digit lead in September’s loss, but Steve Ogunjimi’s team were in no mood for a repeat at Medway Park as they led throughout the game after starting with a 9-0 run. Ogunjimi was able to give all 12 of his roster at least eight minutes of action.
That roster included debutant Connor Stuart, and the big man finished with seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes of action, and looks to have solved many of the Big Cats’ defensive problems. Will Ashby led the visitors with 16 points and five rebounds, while Justin Hitchman and Ladi Brown had 11 points apiece, adding eight and six rebounds respectively. Albert Margai finished with seven assists while Tosin Oyelese added six points to his ten boards despite only playing 15 minutes.
It took Leopards over two minutes to trouble the scorers, but once brown had drained a trey they never looked back as they hit the first nine points of the game and held the hosts scoreless for over four minutes before they finally split a pair of free-throws to get on the scoreboard.
Crusaders closed the first period on a 14-5 run to cut Leopards’ lead to 20-15 at the first break but the Big Cats opened the second quarter on a 12-4 tear to regain the initiative – Stuart scoring from close range within two seconds of joining the action – and they went into the locker room with a comfortable 39-26 lead.
That lead was stretched to 18 points by the midway stage of the third period before Crusaders trimmed it to 54-39 against Leopards’ bench going into the final break.
With the starters returning to the action they effectively wrapped up the game by increasing the lead to 61-45 with five minutes remaining and the lead peaked at 66-46 as they closed out their third league win of the campaign.
England junior international Josh Foulds led the hosts with 17 points and seven rebounds, but Jack Burnell – who had caused the Big Cats so many problems in September’s loss – was limited to four points on a night when his three point shot just wouldn’t drop.
Extra special for Leopards –
The fans at the Brentwood Centre got extra value for money on Sunday as Leopards defeated Leicester Warriors 78-74 in overtime.
It was an unlikely victory as the home side trailed for virtually all of normal time before a three point play from Justin Hitchman tied the game at 60 with 51 seconds on the clock and the same player split a pair of free-throws to cap a 9-0 run and put Leopards ahead by one heading into the final 30 seconds.
Carl Pearson drained a three to put the visitors back up by two, but Ladi Brown levelled things off an Ashby assist with 13 seconds remaining and Leopards played some tough defence to send the game into overtime.
Warriors scored the first point of the extra period but Brown drained a trey to launch a 12-3 run which effectively wrapped the game up for the home side.
Will Ashby completed a good weekend with 16 points while Brown added 14 and Courtney Van Beest finished with a 12 point, 11 rebound double-double. Hitchman finished with ten points and four rebounds, while Albert Margai took his assist tally to 15 for the weekend with eight, adding six points and as many rebounds,
A tight start to the game had seen the teams tied on 12 after six minutes following a Tom Martin trey before a tip-in from Connor Stuart gave the Big Cats their only lead of the first half at 16-14 only to see Warriors close out the period on a 7-0 run to lead by five at the first break.
Delaney Powell opened the second quarter scoring with a jump shot before Kieran Mills made it a ten point game with a trey and it took four and a half minutes before Courtney Van Beest troubled the scorers for Leopards with a tip-on.
Brian Nguru hit a trey and a jump shot to cut the deficit to three but Leopards trailed by ten again going into the final two minutes of the half before Ashby hit a triple to spark a 7-0 run that saw Stuart and Hitchman dunk the ball home to cut Warriors’ lead to 33-30 going into the locker room.
The third period proved to be a low-scoring one, with Leopards only having a single free-throw from Hitchman in the first five minutes as they were outscored 11-1, and they didn’t manage a single field goal in the quarter before a pair of free-throws from Brown and Martin sent them into the fourth period trailing 46-36.
Tosin Oyelese opened the fourth period scoring, but there was no sign of a comeback as Warriors led 55-44 with just over five minutes remaining.
A 6-0 run capped by an Ashby score dragged Leopards back into the game at 55-50 with 4:40 on the clock but Andrew Hambleton hit what appeared to be a dagger three to put his side back up by eight.
It was Ashby who launched the run the saw claw their way back into the game with a massive dunk from Hitchman proving the highlight as Leopards set up the thrilling finish.
Jason Tucker led Warriors with a 19 point, ten rebound double-double while Leome Francis was the only other visitor in double figures with ten points.
Levett Essex Leopards have strengthened their front court with the addition of centre Connor Stuart.
He finished with seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes of action in the 17-point win in Kent before hitting five points and pulling down three boards in the overtime victory against the Warriors.
The 21-year-old gives coach Steve Ogunjimi greater options and the power-forward and centre positions , and the Leopards’ coach is pleased to sign the big man: “We’ve had to wait a while for Connor to be available but he’ll help us in many ways and means we can have a bigger unit on the floor when needed.”
Stuart played for Bucks Hornets between the ages of 15-18 where he was coached by former Leopards’ forward Lee McCarthy who recommended him to Ogunjimi. He then moved to the USA for a spell at Faith Baptist Christian Academy in Georgia before having a spell in Spain for Guadalajara Ceba.
Stuart is pleased to be joining the Division One champions: “To come back from some time off due to illness, I’m enjoying stepping on the court with the Leopards and doing what I’ve only known doing – which is dominating. I appreciate the club letting me join the Leopards’ family, and I won’t disappoint.”
Leopards stun Lituanica –
Levett Essex Leopards ended London Lituanica’s 37 home game winning streak with a stunning 89-68 victory, on Sunday. The newly-promoted Lithuanian side were unbeaten in league games but after a quiet start, they were blown away by the Big Cats’ best performance of the season as they chalked up their third straight win.
The home side didn’t help themselves by collecting five technical fouls, although by the time T Grybauskas was ejected after picking up three T’s in under 20 seconds midway through the fourth period Steve Ogunjimi’s team were well on their way to their fifth league win of the campaign.
Lituancia scored the first two baskets of the game but Leopards’ captain Albert Margai got his side off the mark and launched a 15-2 run that saw Ladi Brown hit eight points, and the visitors never looked back.
Back-to-back scores from Connor Stuart sent the Big Cats into the first break with a 24- 13 lead and they stayed comfortably ahead throughout the second period as four straight points from both Will Ashby and Justin Hitchman saw them lead 47-30 going into the half-time lead.
The third period proved to be a tough one for the Leopards and an 11-0 run saw the hosts cut their lead to three points before Brown sunk a trey in a 7-0 run to close the quarter and send them into the final break with a 63-53 lead. Back-to-back threes from Dougie Bennett saw the Big Cats stay ahead at the start of the fourth quarter, and although former Leopard Lukas Volskis also struck from downtown, scores from Bennett and Ashby put their side 75-61 ahead with five minutes remaining.
Any thoughts that the London side would go down quietly when Trepocka slammed Jamie Hayes into the wall behind the basket as he attempted a lay-up. It appeared to be an easy call for the referees, but Grybauskas took umbrage and got himself thrown out, and with Hayes unable to continue, Tom Martin hit four of the resulting free-throws as Leopards closed out the win on a 14-6 run.
Brown led his team with 21 points, with Hitchman finishing with 11 and both Ashby and Bennett adding ten apiece as all ten Leopards got on the scoreboard.
Raiders win Trophy tie –
A fiery game at the Brentwood Centre saw Leopards exit the BBL Trophy as they were hammered 102-60 by Plymouth Raiders in the BBL Trophy.
The full-time side’s path to the quarter-finals did not appear so smooth early on, however, as Courtney Van Beest drained a jump shot to give Leopards a 15-14 edge. But Raiders guards Josh Wilcher and classless player-coach Daryl Corletto responded immediately with drives to the basket to earn free shots from the line.
Despite trailing, Steve Ogunjimi’s men stuck with their visitors until midway through the third quarter when a 10-0 run stretched the lead to 26 points and all-but ended the game as a contest.
With the game effectively over, Ogunjimi took the opportunity to run his bench with all 12 players logging at least eight minutes, and with the next day’s game in mind, no player played as many as 26 minutes.
Ladi Brown got his side off the mark after Raiders had scored the first five points, before Will Ashby scored their only field goal of the first five minutes. A 6-0 tear saw Raiders take a ten point, but Brian Nguru scored from the Land of Plenty to launch the 10-1 run that saw the Big Cats take their only lead of the game, with Ashby hitting another triple and both Nguru and Justin Hitchman scoring inside the paint.
That was as good as it got for the home side as Raiders replied with six unanswered points to lead 21-16 at the first break. A Hitchman trey two minutes into the second period made it a one point game, but that was as close as the Big Cats came in the rest of the game and they missed their final seven field goal attempts of the half to trail 49-32 going into the locker room.
Scores from Ashby and Brown cut the deficit to 13 early in the second half but Leopards never threatened to cause an upset after that and went into the final break 71-43 down before being outscored 31-17 in the fourth period.
Ashby and Hitchman scored 11 points each for the home side, with Dougie Bennett adding ten. Connor Stuart, making his first start for the Big Cats, led his side’s rebounding with seven but the home side were beaten 56-32 in the battle of the boards. Duane Bailey led Raiders with 25 points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes.
The Comeback Kids have come back –
The Comeback Kids lived up to their name on Saturday as a big crowd at Harlow Leisure Zone saw Levett Leopards fight back from a 17 point first half deficit to snatch victory against Reading Rockets.
Against a physically imposing Rockets team, it was the smallest player on the floor who grabbed the glory as Dougie Bennett scored off Ladi Brown’s assist with under a second on the clock to seal the win.
Even after the Big Cats had fought back from a big deficit, the visitors looked likely to take the win as they had the ball with 7.3 seconds remaining, but D’Montre Edwards’ shot rimmed out and Brown grabbed his tenth rebound of the game before setting Bennett up for the winner.
Will Ashby led a balanced scoring effort for a Leopards team missing Tom Martin, Connor Stuart and Evan Walshe with 18 points, while Brown finished with 15. Jamie Hayes took advantage of the extra minutes available due to Stuart’s absence to finish with a season-high 11 points, with Justin Hitchman adding nine and five boards, Courtney Van Beest eight points and captain Albert Margai six points and as many rebounds.
The Big Cats led for just three minutes, three seconds in the game, but despite being out-rebounded 45-36, they produced the kind of defensive display which saw them win Division One last season, forcing the big-spending visitors into 21 turnovers.
Such a win had looked unlikely in the opening stages as Rockets scored the first six points before Van Beest got them off the mark after 80 seconds but a pair of treys from Reading captain Danny Carter put his side 16-4 up with just over four minutes gone. Brown ended Leopards’ drought and a pair of Brian Nguru points helped the Big Cats go on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to 19-15 at the first break.
But despite struggling at the foul line, Reading opened the second period strongly with only an Ashby three disrupting a 15-3 run and former GB under-20 international Ben Allinson made it 37-20 with just under three first half minute remaining and Rockets took a 39-24 lead into the locker room at half-time.
Brown hit a trey to make it an 11 point game early in the second half and there was little to choose between the two sides in the third period as, despite further treys from Brown and Bennett, the visitors went into the final break 57-46 ahead.
The key run came at the start of the fourth period as Brown hit a pair of jump shots to spark a 10-2 tear that dragged Leopards back into the game. An and-one from Hitchman saw the lead cut to 61-60 with five minutes on the clock before a pair of free-throws from Margai gave Leopards their first lead of the game with 4:54 remaining.
Van Beest gave Leopards their biggest lead of the game at 64-61 with 4:30 on the clock but an Antoni Robinson trey following by a score from Carter put the visitors back up by three. Ashby hit his second triple of the game to level things with 2:49 left before Edwards split a pair at the foul line.
Hayes hit two foul shots to put Leopards 70-69 with 109 seconds remaining before Allinson levelled at the free-throw line.
Ashny hit a jump shot with 44 seconds on the clock, only to see Carter level and get fouled by Hitchman. But the English centre missed his free-throw before Leopards had a shot clock violation to set up the thrilling finish.
Carter finished with 23 points, while Robinson had a 17 point, 12 rebound double-double for Rockets. Allinson also had a double-double with 14 points and 13 boards but former Leopard Dave Ajumobi had a night to forget with three points, three rebounds, four fouls and four turnovers in 21 minutes.
Leopards cruise in fourth period –
A strong fourth period paved the way for Levett Leopards to record their 11th league win of the campaign as Kent Crusaders were beaten 76-59 at Harlow, on Saturday.
The Big Cats had let a 16-point first half lead slip against a stubborn Kent side who had just added a second American player, but a devastating 18-1 run in the first seven minutes of the final quarter saw them wrap up the victory and strengthen their play-off hopes.
In the absence of captain Albert Margai, whose suspension saw an end to his perfect 66 game run since joining the Big Cats in September 2014, Brian Nguru came into the starting line-u and hit three treys on the way to a 17 point night. Ladi Brown again led the Big Cats’ scoring with 20 points and five rebounds, while Will Ashby added 11 points. Courtney Van Beest finished with a ten point, 11 rebound double-double with Tosin Oyelese also finish with double-digit boards.
The young Kent side led for only 38 seconds in the game but showed why they have continued to cause play-off bound sides problems as they refused to give in until the key run to open the final stanza. Steve Vear’s side were led by 17 points and seven rebounds from American Rayell Eytle-Rock.
In a scrappy game that saw 54 foul calls and 55 trips to foul line, Leopards opened strongly with Brown getting them on the scoreboard before a pair of three-point plays from Ashby put them 8-0 ahead after four minutes.
But Kent gave a hint of what was to come as Elliot hit a trey in a 10-1 run, and as Leopards missed four-from-six free-throws, an and-one from England junior Josh Foulds gave the visitors a 16-15 lead at the first break.Nguru was on fire in the early stages of the second period as he hit seven straight points to open the quarter and drained another three as the home side went on a 19-2 run capped by three Connor Stuart points to give them a 34-18 lead heading into the final three minutes of the half.
But as often as has happened with Leopards this season, the Trophy loss at Crusaders being a prime example, Leopards took their foot off the gas and allowed the visiting side to reel off eight straight points before Tom Martin hit a single free-throw to send his side into the locker room with 35-26 lead.
The third period proved to be a battle of attrition with both sides living at the foul line. A pair of Brown free-throws edged Leopards back ahead after Eytle-Rock had tied the scores, but the Big Cats never led by more than four in the seven minutes of the quarter before Dougie Bennett split a pair at the charity stripe to send his side into the final break 49-46 ahead.
Eytle-Rock made a one point game in the opening play but treys from Bennett and Nguru launched the run that ultimately gave Leopards the win. Van Beest took his side’s lead up to 13 with back-to-back baskets before Brown increased the lead to 15 and even an unsportsmanlike foul call on Jamie Hayes didn’t break Leopards’ momentum as the visitors shaved only a point off the lead
Bennett hit another shot from the Land of Plenty and Nguru took the advantage up to 19 before Japhet-Mathias ended the run, but it was too late to prevent the Big Cats completing the double over the Kent side.
Leopards seal play-off spot –
A good all-round scoring and defensive effort on Sunday saw the Big Cats gain revenge for December’s controversial loss against Team Northumbria with a 74-63 win at the Brentwood Centre. The result ended the north-east side’s hopes of the runners-up spot as the Big Cats took control with a 20-2 run spanning the first break and never looked back.
The result secured a place in the end-of-season play-offs for the sixth successive season and the tenth time in 11 seasons, although Steve Ogunjimi’s team will still look to move up the Division One table. Eleven Leopards were on the scoresheet, led by Albert Margai’s 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds as the Big Cats played some excellent defence for their 13th league win of the campaign. Courtney Van Beest added 11 points and six rebounds while Tosin Oyelese finished with a ten point, 12 rebound double-double.
Oylese got the hosts on the scoreboard but visitors started well as four points from former Leopard Siman Stewart helped them to an 8-2 lead. That proved to be as Leopards produced the kind of lock-down defence which saw them win the title last season.
Oyelese started the 20-2 run which put the home side in the driving seat as the visitors were held scoreless for over nine minutes. Margai and Jamie Hayes hit baskets to give Leopards a lead they would never lose before six straight Tom Martin points sent his side into the first break with a 15-10 lead.
The domination continued as three Will Ashby points followed by scores from Oyelese and Van Beest gave the hosts a 22-10 lead. Stewart eventually broke the run, but treys from Ladi Brown and Margai helped the Big Cats go into the locker room with a 34-26 advantage.
Justin Hitchman hit four points against his former side to keep the Big Cats ahead early in the second half before four Van Beest points gave Leopards their biggest lead of the game at 47-31 with four third period minutes remaining. Scores from Lewis Champion and Chuck Duru kept the visitors in the game, but Van Beest continued to cause them problems as his converted an and-one to send his side into the final break with a 55-43 lead.
Brian Nguru hit the first five Leopards’ points of the fourth period, and Oyelese took his personal total into double figures before Northumbria coach Marc Steutal collected a technical foul. A 10-0 run from the visitors made it a five point game with 79 seconds on the clock but despite coach Ogunjimi before T’d up for shouting at his own player, Margai and England junior international Evan Walshe stayed cool at the foul line to wrap up the win.
In a game where they only shot 28 percent and were out-rebounded 55-47, Randolph led Northumbria with 20 points, while Stewart finished with a 14 point, ten rebound double-double in 40 minutes.
Brown wins thriller at Reading –
A stunning end to the game saw Levett Leopards win 76-74 at Reading Rockets on Thursday evening. After leading for much of the final three periods, the Big Cats found themselves three down heading into the final stages before Ladi Brown tied the score with an and-one, and 11 seconds on remaining.
The visitors then played some excellent defence before Will Ashby stole the ball and knocked into Reading’s half before feeding Brown who laid the ball home with just 0.6 seconds on the clock.
After a slightly premature court invasion, Leopards reground in the timeout called by the hosts, and held strong to pick up a win that moves them up to sixth in the table.
Brown’s late heroics capped an excellent all-round team performance from a Leopards’ side missing Brian Nguru, Evan Walshe and Connor Stuart as all nine Big Cats were on the scoresheet by half-time.
Justin Hitchman led the scoring for the visitors with 18 points, including 10-from-14 foul shooting, while Ashby added 13 points, Brown 12 and Tosin Oyelese ten points and eight rebounds.
The result ended Reading’s nine game winning streak in league games since they lost 72-70 against the Big Cats at Harlow, and lifted Leopards up to sixth in the table as they look to move up Division One ahead of the play-offs.
The game was played at John Madejski Academy Sports Complex due to Rockets’ regular home courts being unavailable and was the 13th venue the two old rivals have met at, and once again the game proved to be a nail-biter with nine lead changes, eight ties and the biggest lead coming when Leopards were up by eight early in the third period.
Leopards started slowly, trailing 9-5 after five minutes, but a score from Ashby followed by an and-one from Hitchman gave them a 10-9 lead before the home side replied with a 6-0 run, and it took a pair of Ashby free-throws to cut the deficit to 15-12 at the first break.
But Steve Ogunjimi’s team started the second period well with Dougie Bennett hitting a jumper, and scores from Brown, Oyelese, Tom Martin and Brown keeping them in touch before a bennett shot from the corner levelled things. Albert Margai put his side up by two and Jamie Hayes stunned everyone by draining from the Lane of Plenty before a Bennett trey sent the Big Cats into the locker room with a 39-36 lead.
Scores from Oyelese and Courtney Van Beest saw Leopards start the second half well before Margai’s assist to Ashby made it an eight point game with three third period minutes gone. But a three from the Land of Curry by Rockets’ American forward Antonio Robinson – who led his side with 16 points and as many rebounds – pulled his side back into the game and although Leopards never trailed in the period it took a Hayes drive to the basket to send them into the final break with a 58-56 lead.
An Ashby trey made it a five point game with the opening play of the fourth period, but despite a fine reverse lay-up from Brown, Rockets proved stronger for much of the final stanza and Wayne Yeboah put the hosts 70-65 up with 3:43 on the clock to force an timeout from Ogunjimi.
Drives to the basket from Margai and Hitchman kept Leopards in touch, and after a frantic period of play Hitchman split a pair at the line to make it a one point game with two minutes remaining. Yeboah hit a pair at the free-throw line with 25 seconds on the clock to force an Ogunjimi timeout and set up the final frantic seconds as Leopards recorded their 14th league win of the campaign.
The Comeback Kids strike again –
Levett Leopards recorded their second stunning win in the space of three days as they returned from Westminster Warriors with an 81-79 victory. The visitors trailed by three points with 19 seconds remaining but Justin Hitchman battled through what appeared to be at least three fouls to grab a rebound and score to reduce the deficit to one point.
Some suffocating defence saw Leopards steal the ball and after Brown saw a shot blocked, the ball was kicked out to captain Albert Margai who sunk a three-pointer with 4.2 seconds on the clock. The home side called a timeout but after Ladi Brown had initially blocked the first inbound, some more great defence saw Mike Martin’s shot go over the backboard to give Leopards the win.
Hitchman, Margai and Dougie Bennett led a balanced scoring effort from the visitors with 13 points apiece.
After the emotional rollercoaster of Thursday’s win at Reading, the Big Cats started slowly with the hosts scoring the first seven points before Bennett hit a trey to get the visitors on the scoreboard. A pair of Margai foul shots made it a one point game with three first period minutes remaining, but former Leopards Mantis Adomaitis and Martin both scored before Palmer hit a trey to give Warriors a 23-15 lead at the first break.
Leopards were unable to make any inroads into the deficit in the early stages of the second period but five points from Will Ashby in a 7-0 run saw the Big Cats take their first lead of the game, 26-25 with seven minutes on the clock. Adomaitis put his side back up by five before Hitchman launched and capped a 7-0 run to put the visitors up by four, only for the home side to finish the half strongly to lead 42-39 going into the locker room.
The third period proved to be much better for the Big Cats, with a Brown three giving them a 56-55 lead midway through the quarter, and a Margai trey sent them into the final break with a 66-62 lead.
Hitchman put the visitors 72-65 ahead but Steve Ogunjimi’s team suffered a drought in the closing stages as a 9-2 run from the Warriors tied the game at 74 with 90 seconds on the clock. A three from the Dampty gave them the lead with 27 seconds on the clock, only to see the Big Cats again live up to their “Comeback Kids” nickname.
Martin and Adomaitis finished with 18 apiece for the hosts with Dampty adding 14.
D-Day for Leopards –
It’s D Day for Levett Leopards on Easter Saturday as they travel to Lancashire Spinners for their final regular season game.
Steve Ogunjimi’s side travel to Bury knowing that a win will give them a chance of home court advantage in play-offs. They would need Reading to lose at home against Derby on Saturday and at Manchester on Sunday to clinch fourth spot.
A defeat in Lancashire would see the Big Cats finish between fifth and seventh, and they would be on the road in the post-season quarter-finals.
Spinners go into the game in eighth place with a 15-10 record and the meeting at Harlow between the two sides in January saw the Big Cats edge a close game 83-71.
Leopards buried in Bury –
A disappointing display saw Levett Leopards end their regular season with an 89-77 loss at Lancashire Spinners, on Saturday.
The result saw the Big Cats end the season in sixth place, edging out the Spinners on over all points difference after finishing level with the Lancashire side.
Courtney Van Beest led the Big Cats with a 15 point, 11 rebound double-double, while Will Ashby added 13 points, Ladi Brown 12 and Dougie Bennett 10. Tosin Oyelese added five points to his 10 rebounds.
Veteran guard Steve Gayle proved to be the difference between the teams, hitting 16 of his 23 points in the first half and dishing out eight assists.
After a difficult journey to Bury, the visitors took the lead through Van Beest but that was as good as it got as they made a poor start to trail 12-4. Oylese broke the run, and Ashby’s trey made it a three point game but they were outscored 13-7 in the final five minutes of the quarter to trail 27-18 at the first break.
Brian Nguru hit a triple to open the second period but Leopards’ defence continued to be porous and the home side led by as many as 22 before five Brown points made it 54-37 going into the locker room at half-time.
Van Beest opened the third quarter but Leopards were unable to chip into the lead significantly, and although the same player made it a 15 point game doing into the final second , Gayle drained a trey on the buzzer to send Spinners into the final break with a 74-56 lead.
The lead was 20 points with three and half fourth period minutes gone, but Evan Walshe drained from the Land of Plenty and free-throws from Ashby and Nguru made it a 12 point game heading into the last minute.
Ashby hit a triple to make it a nine point game going into the last ten seconds but Hickey drained another buzzer beating trey to send everyone reaching for the calculators to confirm the final positions.
Play-off woe for Leopards –
A disastrous fourth period saw Levett Essex Leopards’ play-off dreams end at Reading Rockets as they went down 102-84 on Sunday. The Big Cats were outscored 40-19 in the final quarter against their old rivals as their hopes of a sixth successive appearance in the semi-finals were ended.
Ladi Brown led a balanced scoring effort for the visitors with a 14 point, ten rebound double-double, with Courtney Van Beest also finishing with 14 points. Justin Hitchman added 12 points, with Albert Margai and Evan Walshe finishing with ten points apiece, adding seven and four assists respectively.
Former Leopard Dave Ajumobi came back to haunt hit old side, finishing with 21 points and seven boards as four Rockets scored 20+ points.
The visitors who were without Will Ashby started slowly with Rockets hitting the first four points before a Van Beest and-one got them on the scoreboard after two and a half minute’s play. The home side continued to control the game, though, with an Antonio Robinson jump shot making it 13-7 but Tom Martin drained all three free-throws after being fouled on a trey and a pair at the line from Tosin Oyelese cut the deficit to 20-17 at the first break.
Danny Carter doubled that lead with a trey to open the second period and Rockets opened a double-digit lead after three minutes of action before Leopards finally burst into life. Some good defence saw Brown, Margai and Van Beest score in transition and the latter hit a long jump shot to make it a two point game with four minutes gone.
Brown reduced the arrears to one with a shot inside the paint before a Hitchman and-one tied the score at 34. Van Beest gave Leopards their first lead of the game with a trey and Walshe put the visitors up by four with a lay-up, and although Rockets tied the game against, a Jamie Hayes basket plus a single Brian Nguru free-throw saw the Big Cats take a 45-42 lead into the locker room.
Nguru and Oyelese quickly made it a seven point game as Leopards opened the second half strongly and Dougie Bennett marked his first start by maintaining that lead with a triple. Oyelese gave Leopards their biggest lead of the game at 58-50 with a lay-up only to see Rockets hit ten straight points to retake the lead at 60-58.
But the game took another twist as Margai fed Hayes for a jump shot before Walshe scored from the Land of Plenty and Margai scored on the break to give Leopards a 65-62 lead at the final break.
Walshe made it a five point game with a score on the break to open the fourth period before Margai put them up by six with 8:30 remaining. That proved to be as good as it got for the visitors as three straight turnovers helped Rockets regain the lead and although Brown stopped the bleeding with a trey, a 10-0 run put the hosts back in the lead, and they would never trail again.
Hitchman cut the lead to three with a three-point play but Rockets hit another nine unanswered points and side comfortably saw out the win.
Tosin wins MVP award – Posted on
After a season that saw Levett Essex Leopards reach the NBL play-offs for a sixth straight season, Tosin Oylese has been voted club Most Valuable Player. The 22-year-old forward joined the Big Cats in the summer of 2014 and averaged only a few minutes a game as Leopards won the Division One title.
But this season he has become a key member of the Leopards team, forcing his way into the starting line-up and regularly out-rebounding bigger opponents.
“I don’t get a vote, but I’m really pleased for Tosin” said Leopards’ general manager Dave Ryan. “Tosin’s played some fantastic defence this season and has really stepped up. “He’s also proved an invaluable coach for our community programme and thoroughly deserves the award.”
Leopards’ longest serving player Courtney Van Beest finished second in the voting, with captain Albert Margai and forward Ladi Brown also attracting plenty of votes.
Young guard Dougie Bennett collected the club’s Most Improved Player award having joined the Big Cats a couple of weeks into the campaign. The Scottish international joined from Newham Neptunes having suffered a serious knee injury playing against the Big Cats last season. His ability to hit key three-pointers for Steve Ogunjimi’s team and in the absence of Will Ashby, he started the play-off quarter-final at Reading.
Assistant coach Roger Malpass won the Clubman of the Year award having remained with the Big Cats despite last summer’s change of coach. “Having Roger work with me brought continuity and has been a massive help in my first season as a head coach” said Ogunjimi. “I’m really pleased that’s been recognised by the fans.”