Final Position: 2nd
Season Record: Played – 30 Won – 22 Lost – 8
Play-offs: Lost to Newcastle Eagles in final
Player of the season: Ayron Hardy
Drew Sullivan and the Leicester Riders have had a very successful year in the BBL. They finished behind Newcastle Eagles in the league and made it all the way to the Playoff Final.
The Riders pushed for the lead early on in the final against the Eagles, leading 21-12 after the first 10 minutes. The Eagles fought back to tie the game at the half, 31 a piece and then came roaring back in the second half to take the game 71-62.
Looking back Sullivan thinks it has been a great all year round performance from his team.
He said: “I feel we did really well and it was a good time for us. We have been playing well all season but I think when the playoffs started, we put together a really good run and everyone seemed to be locked in to the job at hand.”
To get to the Playoff Final in Birmingham, they faced a strong Glasgow Rocks side in the semi-finals. Glasgow had won the head-to-head with Leicester in the Championship winning two out of three so they were really confident going into the first leg.
Sullivan says the early performances against the Rocks was not their best but they knew they were beatable in the Playoffs.
“We never played particularly good defence in the first game against them. They took advantage of that and in the second game; we had some injuries to deal with. In the third game I think we just when out there and bossed it and showed what our team was really about. I don’t know how they felt from their standpoint but in the playoffs, I think we showed how much class we had. We knew we were going to beat them at home and were really full of confidence in the playoffs.”
A couple of quick scores from Gareth Murray in the closing stages saw the Rocks take a one-point advantage into the next leg. However, the Riders prevailed to win the tie on aggregate by 173-149 to book their place in the Final.
At the start of the season, Leicester had a really positive run winning eight straight games. Sullivan, Ayron Hardy and Cameron Rundles all put in high scoring numbers but overall, Sullivan thinks it was each player’s natural ability to contribute that proved successful.
“I think I was lucky enough to be a part of a team that already had a lot of talent this year. I am not someone who cares about personal stats because sometimes they don’t tell a true story. I only care about helping my team win.”
He added: “When you play with good players that know the game of basketball it doesn’t matter how much you practice together. If you know how to play basketball, you will fit in. I think that was the case because you had guys already there who could play at a top standard.”
Continuing their winning streak, the Riders overcame Cheshire by 20 points in the BBL Cup quarterfinals. They next faced eventual Cup Winners Newcastle for the first time, which ended in a thrilling 90-90 draw. They lost the tie by eight in the next match.
Sullivan said: “I have been in the BBL for a while and no disrespect to Newcastle but they are not the toughest team I have played against. So I am disappointed we didn’t win those fixtures we had against them.”
He added: “Going into pre-season, they already had a head start over everybody else. Anybody that gets brought in is already a part of a system and they know what’s expected of them. Because when the new guys come in, the experienced players come over and say to them this is what you need to be doing, this is where you should be. That helps bring the team along quicker.”
Sullivan thinks that to compete with Newcastle it is just a matter of bringing your best players back and offering contracts earlier.
“My argument has always been why wait until August to sign players? If you can find your guys in June or offer them a contract extension during the season- why can’t you do that?”
Plymouth and Worcester have also challenged the top teams this season and Sullivan thinks because they have brought players back, they can challenge again.
“They challenged us this year and obviously Gavin and Paul James are pushing their teams in the right direction. Plymouth have got Anthony Rowe back, Worcester have brought back Prezzie-Blue. I think teams are starting to realise how to compete in the league with Newcastle. The answer is simple, bring back your best players.”
With four teams being added to the League next season, Sullivan hopes that it will help grow the reputation of the competition.
He said “. If you start adding more teams hopefully it will even the league out and you play everyone twice- home and away keeping it nice and fair. Hopefully we will then be in line with the rest of Europe.”