BBL

Drew Sullivan calls it a career

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One of the very best calls time on a tremendous career.

Drew Sullivan announced Tuesday that he would be retiring from the game of basketball after a 14-year pro career that saw his talents on display all across the world, for European clubs and the GB National Team. Sullivan made his debut in the BBL aged just 15 years old, for the London Towers, before heading to America to play high school and college basketball. After four stellar years at Villanova University, Sullivan made his way back to Europe playing in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Russia and Greece.

The 6’8″ Forward from London also had a number of seasons with Newcastle Eagles in the BBL before returning to British basketball full time in 2010. Sullivan retires as one of the most decorated players in BBL history with two MVP titles, six Championships, five playoff titles, three cups and six trophies. Sullivan also has six finals MVP awards, such was his individual dominance. Sullivan spent 4 seasons with Newcastle, one season on Merseyside and five years with the Leicester Riders. In 2014/15 Sullivan left the Riders to join the London Lions before returning to Leicester the following season. Sullivan was one of the most dominant interior players in the history of the BBL with a total of 4452 points and 2157 rebounds. Sullivan was no slouch defensively, recording 263 total blocks and 335 steals in his BBL career (stats exclude playoff semifinals).

 

Sullivan not only shone for club, but also for country, helping lead England to a Bronze medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and winning over 100 caps for the Great British national team, including captaining the team during the 2012 Olympic games. Sullivan laid much of the groundwork through his play and presence to enable the National Team to make it to this summer’s EuroBasket competition.

Drew Sullivan is a player who will be missed on basketball courts up and down the country. A fearsome competitor on the court who is known around the league as one of the good guys of British basketball. Sullivan was a dominant forward, able to play well at both the 3 and the 4. Exceptionally good inside, Sullivan was able to drive and finish at the rim better than most and his shooting range made him a constant threat to be managed wherever he was. Tenacious in rebounding and defending Sullivan will go down as one of the greats of British Basketball.

The outpouring from social media has had one simple message following the announcement. Enjoy your retirement and #ThanksDrew

Your Summer Sport Sorted

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Darren Paul has the definitive guide to alternative summer sports viewing before the football season kicks off again.

Domestic cup competitions all over Europe have concluded and the Champions League final is all that separates fans and the end of the European football season. What could you watch to fill the void through the long, hot summer months?

Argentine football

The Argentine top two tiers are amongst the most entertaining leagues in the world. The Argentine second division is incredibly closely contested this season and the top flight is full of the most talented young South American players vying for their chance to grace the top leagues in Europe.

The stands are full of noise and colour with some of the most passionate fans on the planet. On the field are some of the most technically gifted players, playing fast-paced, physical football “in the English style” but with more flair. It is a perfect mixture of South American style with British style full blooded contests.

A big bonus (especially for the more hipster fan) is you get to see young talents before they make the leap to Europe. Bruno Zucculini, Rodrigo De Paul, Oscar Romero and Ramiro Funes Mori are just some of the talented young players to have come out of Argentina in the last few years.

Check out the goals of Luciano Vietto at Racing Club, if you’re not convinced.

Australian Rules Football

18 a side. Cricket pitch. Rugby ball. 8 goalposts. Spot fights. Mullets. You name it, Aussie rules has it. The AFL is in full swing, showcasing incredible athletes (running, jumping, kicking and punching around a cricket pitch for 2 hours) playing an incredibly physically demanding sport. Aussie Rules is a sport of hard men (and women) who have no qualms about protecting themselves with their fists, but, match that with slick team passing moves, amazing marks (catches) and great goals which get the heart pumping.

This season has seen a number of games going to the final buzzer (and beyond) to find a winner. The Hawthorn Hawks and the Sydney Swans had a tremendous battle in round 10, in one of the games of the season so far, check out the highlights below.

Canadian Football League

Do you like American Football but can’t wait until September? Do you like American Football but want to see an extra man per side, running before the snap, massive fields, a point for missing a field goal but kicking it far enough that the ball clears the end zone? Well, the CFL might just be for you!

The CFL is a much more athletic league than the NFL, where the players tend to be smaller and faster. The league doesn’t faff about with a down wasted on a no gain run, so only play 3 downs as opposed to the NFL 4. This combined with the larger field size leads to a pass focused league, which is played at a fast, exciting pace.

The CFL is a smaller league, with just 9 teams and dedicated fan bases, akin more to the lower leagues than the top flight. But on the field, the product is exciting, high tempo and full of drama. Just look at the heroics of the Eastern Conference finals.

All three sports are available easily and cheaply (or free) online. The Argentine football is easily accessed live via Youtube, all CFL games get put on youtube (with breaks edited out THANK YOU UPLOADER) and the AFL is on BT Sports with comprehensive highlights loaded to youtube within hours of the games finishing.

As well as these three fantastic sports that will fill the void of any sports fan there are the traditional summer events; Cricket, Le Mans 24 hours, Wimbledon and much more to see you through as we await the return of European football and basketball.

Check back to http://www.splitfocussports.com all summer long for coverage on the biggest events of the summer.

BBL playoff Final Leicester Riders vs Newcastle Eagles

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The Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles step onto the floor before the BBL playoff final.

The Leicester Riders are the 2016/17 BBL Playoff champions following a dominant win over a poor Newcastle Eagles by a score of 84-63. The Riders dominated the game from the opening minute and were well worth their win, in a scoreline that flattered the Eagles, who did not turn up.

The Leicester Riders started the game hot, rushing out to a 13-4 lead within the first 3 and a half minutes, with back to back three point shots and then 7 points from Pierre Hampton whose attacks to the basket were unstoppable. The Eagles were forced into an early timeout, to cope with the offensive onslaught they were experiencing from the Riders. Coming out of the timeout Parks broke Bernardini’s ankles to set up a Scott Martin slam dunk which brought the capacity crowd to its feet, but that would be the highlight of the quarter for the Eagles. The Riders were unstoppable in the first quarter finishing with a 29-11 lead over the Eagles who started the game cold.

The second quarter was much of the same as the first with the Riders dominant on both ends of the floor as they took their lead up to 20 with a Hampton basket. He continued his excellent start making tough shots under the basket look easy. Scott Martin lead the way for the Eagles with 9 first half points, including a three-pointer late in the half to get the gap briefly to beneath 20 points. Andrew Thompson was alongside Hampton with 11 points for the Riders in a big first half where the big man put on a clinic of inside scoring. The first half was a high-paced physical encounter, with both sides giving everything they had to get the points on the board. The Riders headed in at half-time with a 47-27 lead.

Newcastle needed to come out of the break strong and get some stops on the defensive end, but the link up play of Clark and Walker would send them into a timeout with 6 minutes to go down 58-31, before Fletcher drained a 3 pointers and Lasker stole the ball and laid it in quickly to take the lead down to 22. Hampton started the second half just like he finished the first, by getting offensive rebounds and making easy layups under the basket.

The Riders held their advantage throughout the third quarter of play, as they relentlessly scored baskets, ending the game as a contest and playing excellent basketball. The Riders were making the game look easy as a dejected Newcastle gave the riders too much space in the paint, and the exciting Connor Washington took full advantage of this with a gorgeous running layup towards the end of the quarter.

League MVP Fletcher was kept quiet all game by the Riders defence, limiting to just 12 points in the first three-quarters of play, he would finish on 16 points. The Riders began to take their time on possessions with excellent ball movement, this was seen late in the third with a made three from Bernardini after every Rider had handled the ball in a great passage of team basketball that was started by a hustle play from Washington.

The fourth quarter started with the Riders enjoying a 28 point lead over the Eagles. The Riders came out and scored 3 quick points before a long stoppage as the overhead scoreboard stopped working, which just extended the miserable evening for the Eagles. Robertson had a sure fire dunk denied hard by Lasker, but King was on hand a possession later to extend the Eagles lead to 33 points with a putback layup after an offensive rebound. Rahmon Fletcher dragged the Eagles over the 50 point threshold but the game had long since ended as a contest, with both sides now scoring uncontested baskets with five minutes to go in the game.

With little over a minute left the Riders made a five man substitution which drew a standing ovation from the always excellent and vocal Riders fans behind the bench. The Eagles drew closer in the final minutes to make the scoreline a little more respectable, but there was nothing more to it than that. The Leicester Riders were worthy winners today as they dominated the Newcastle Eagles from start to finish.

Pierre Hampton took home with him the game MVP award after a stunning night with 14 points and 14 rebounds in an individual performance just as dominant as his Riders’.

 

WBBL Playoff Final: Sevenoaks Suns – Nottingham Wildcats

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The Sevenoaks Suns fairytale season got the ending it deserved with a dominant 70-61 win over the Nottingham Wildcats to clinch the WBBL Playoff title, as the Nottingham outfit wonder what more they could do to win a WBBL playoff championship. The Suns were well worth their victory, locking down the Wildcats in the second half as they were able to make shots seemingly at will.

The WBBL League champions Nottingham Wildcats entered the final hoping it would be third time lucky as they have fallen at this hurdle in the last two finals. The Sevenoaks Suns entered their first WBBL playoff final after finishing third in the league and having won the WBBL Trophy earlier in the season in just their third season at this level.

The first quarter was comfortably won by the Wildcats lead by 7 points from league MVP Ashley Harris, who the Suns struggled to contain in the first 10 minutes of play. The quarter was exciting with back and forth basketball, with the Suns being lead by the scoring of Ta’Yani Clark who picked up 7 points as she and Catherine Carr tried to set the pace for the Suns.

The second quarter was more even with the sides trading points as the Suns looked to narrow the gap which the Wildcats had pushed to 12 points early in the period. The Suns managed to keep Harris quiet in the period, but that merely allowed Joana Ferreira to take over for the Wildcats offence, with her ability on fast breaks to create inside scoring she was close to unguardable finishing the half with 11 points, with 2 threes. There was last second drama as Siobhan Prior, who had an excellent half, drained a buzzer beater 3 point shot to give the Wildcats a 6 point lead going into the half, just as the Suns looked like they’d finish the half tying the game up.

The Suns continued the third just as they’d played the final minutes of the first half with a 6-0 scoring run to tie the game, from an and-one free throw from the WBBL Young player of the year Gabby Nikitinaite. The Wildcats were in foul trouble very early as they struggled to contain the threat of Nikitinaite and Clark as they put the Suns in the bonus with 5:37 left in the quarter. The Sevenoaks forwards were able to effectively slow the play of Harris whose scoring was limited in the second and third quarters. An incredible move from Carr with dribbling behind her back and between her legs had her guard in a spin as she kicked out to Bush in the corner for a big three-point shot extend the Suns lead to 6 points, as the Wildcats were stopped time and again on the offence. The Wildcats were held to just two points in the entire quarter as the Suns took a lead into the final period of play 52-44.

The final quarter of basketball was a close and cagey affair with both sides trading baskets as they fought for the WBBL playoff title. The Wildcats chipped away at the Suns’ leads, but their task was made all the more difficult as they lost Siobhan Prior to a calf injury early in the quarter. Prior, the captain, had played an excellent game up to that point and was sorely missed by her teammates.

Ashley Harris was more like her MVP self as scored a number of important points early in the quarter and draw a big unsportsmanlike foul from Clark, but was only able to make one of the two free throws. Clark, Carr and Nikitinaite were huge for the Suns all game long and especially in the final quarter, as they combined to score valuable points that put them clear of the Wildcats. Clark forced a timeout with just 2:41 left in the game as she extended the lead to 12 points with a lovely inside move. A late three-pointer from Mendes wasn’t enough for the Wildcats as they fell to their third consecutive playoff final defeat.

The Game MVP Cat Carr finished the game with an excellent double-double with 20 points and a record 14 rebounds to cap off the WBBL Playoff final championship winning performance. Clark, who had an equally good game left to a round of applause as she fouled out with a minute to go in the game. Clark finished with 14 points.

Leicester Riders vs Newcastle Eagles BBL Playoff Final Preview

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The BBL Playoff finals are finally here. The league champions Leicester Riders will host the league runners-up Newcastle Eagles at the o2 arena on Sunday in front of a packed crowd. The final is a replay of the 2012/13 final which the Riders won, and Newcastle will do everything in their power to get one back over their rivals.

Newcastle and Leicester are amongst the most successful clubs in the history of British Basketball with 8 playoff final victories between them as well as multiple leagues, cup and trophy finals. Both sides saw domestic success with Leicester winning the league and the BBL Trophy with a dominant 91-58 win over Plymouth. Newcastle has also seen success as they finished second in the league and won the BBL Cup with a solid win over Glasgow Rocks 91-83.

Sunday’s final will mark the fifth and most important meeting of the two sides this season, with the season series draw at 2-2. The two sides met most recently in the run-in to the end of the season with a home and home series, in which both sides won their home game. In the first game, won 81-87 by Leicester but it was Newcastle who came out on top 83-76 in the return fixture.

Sunday’s game will be an incredibly close match, in which both sides will go in knowing they have a great chance to win. The strength and depth of the Leicester Riders roster will face off against the versatile talents of the Newcastle Eagles lead by their player/coach Fabulous Flournoy and their League MVP candidate Rahmon Fletcher. The Riders will rotate their squad early, able to put out a fresh five at will whereas the Eagles are more sparing in their rotations, but have a lot of guards who they will swap in and out as the situation calls for it.

The clash sees the best scoring team in the country and the best defensive team in the country matching up. The Riders will want the game to be a low-scoring affair, as they have demonstrated an ability to shut down teams defensively whilst scoring enough points to get the wins. The Eagles, on the other hand, would benefit from the game being more a higher scoring affair as they are able to go blow to blow with the highest scoring teams in the league. In the playoffs, the Eagles have shown an ability to score large numbers of points, but also concede in equally high numbers like they did against Bristol conceding 41 points in a quarter.

Another key to the game will be foul counts. The Riders compound having a deep bench which averages 33.00 points a game with an incredible ability to draw fouls and force teams into foul trouble, something they did to great effect against the London Lions in game one. The Riders were able to get Niktash, one of the key men for the Lions, into foul trouble early and limited his play time to just 6 minutes in the first half.

The Eagles will need to be disciplined and maintain their habit of conceding few fouls and very few turnovers. An area of strength for Newcastle will be their domination on the boards. On average they outrebound the Riders by 11.50 rebounds per game and get double the amount of offensive rebounds, which will lead to more second chance scoring opportunities.

It is difficult to predict who the key players for the Riders will be due to their incredible depth and the ability for any one man to have a standout night for the Leicester outfit. Their guards were tremendous in their victories over the London Lions with Brandon Clark seemingly unstoppable when attacking the basket. The 6 foot Guard from Santa Clara scored 441 regular season points and provided 187 assists in an excellent debut season in the BBL.

Pierre Hampton is another key piece for the Riders as the 6’7” forward is able to guard multiple positions and play both sides of the ball well. The 26-year-old Swede scored 343 regular season points and has been a significant player for the Riders in their run through the playoffs contributing with efficient scoring and good all around play. The Riders will rely heavily on MVP hopeful Taylor King to see them to victory and to lock down Scott Martin on defence. The 6’8” forward from Duke is in his second season in the BBL and has had an incredible impact with 243 regular season rebounds and over 400 points in the regular and postseason, he is a stretch four, meaning he can dominate his guard inside but can also make three point shots which keep the defenders on their toes.

The Eagles are lead by their own MVP candidate Fletcher, who had an incredible season in 2016/17 coming off an MVP year in 15/16. Fletcher leads the league in scoring with 676 regular season points and 220 assists and was pivotal in Newcastle’s last second overtime win over the Wolves last Friday. It was Fletcher who drained the tie winning free throws with just 3 seconds left in the game in a 28 point, 7 assists and 4 rebound night.

The Eagles also have the 6’8” forward and Notre Dame alumni Scott Martin to rely on, who scored 529 regular season points and had a huge game last Friday matching Fletcher in scoring with 28 points with 6 rebounds a steal and 2 blocks. Martin will be relied on heavily against the Riders as he faces down King. Deondre Parks is another important piece for Newcastle. Hailing from Flint, Michigan, the 6’1” guard scored 518 regular season points from shooting the guard and had a very good game two over the Wolves netting 15 vital points and 5 rebounds on 40% shooting. Parks will need to find his 3 point range better than he did last Friday but he will be a weapon against the guards of the Riders. 

Both sides have overcome fierce competition to make the BBL playoff Final and both sides know they have what it takes to get the win. The Eagles best hope will be to turn the game into a shootout, they know they can match any team in the country and better most of them if they get into a high scoring encounter. The Riders will look to shut down the scoring talents of Martin and Fletcher and score relentlessly late in the shot clock.

This is the encounter most people would have expected and will be an incredible game for the BBL, the players and the fans. It is too close to call, but the resilience showed by Newcastle to overcome the in-form team of the BBL, the Worcester Wolves will stand them in good stead on Sunday. I can see the Eagles rushing out the gates to get the scoring going, if they do this, they might just do it, but either way we’re in for an incredible showdown.

Lions – Riders BBL Playoff Semi 2L Preview

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For the London Lions, the arithmetic is simple, win by 20. Their task could not be any harder, win by 20. The prize could not be any greater, A shot at the Championship.

The Leicester Riders can afford to lose today’s game but don’t tell Coach Rob that. He is sending his players out there to win tonight and win big to send the Riders’ home fans into the summer with a win.

The Lions have played the Riders tough all season and know they’ve had a 14 point win having led by 20  away in Leicester earlier in the year and this gives them confidence that they can make it to the o2.

Friday night was a hard game for the Lions. They entered looking a little tense and their shot was off early, and it remained off, shooting an awful 22% from three point range. They can take confidence though, from the looks the Riders gave them but they just couldn’t execute. The Riders can be a streaky team for a Champion, scoring in runs and missing in runs but the Lions do not have this luxury, they need to make shots.

Every missed shot tonight will be a dagger in the heart to their final chances, especially if the Riders score on the next possession, which is what killed the Lions on Friday night. The Riders seemingly couldn’t stop scoring, finishing with 90 points. Brandon Clark and Connor Washington looked unstoppable as they attacked the rim weaving through the land of the giants to score easy baskets.

Zaire Taylor acknowledged Friday night that he needed to share the ball more and get the likes of Rashad Hassan (14 points on Friday) into the game more on the offensive end. If the Lions play the high tempo team basketball that got them to this point they have a chance.

Vince Macaulay after the game stated that the key factor the Lions need to change for Sunday is their intensity. The Lions played with intensity in the second quarter when they decided that they were going to get the basketball either around the Riders’ guard or through them, and it got results.

The Riders shot an excellent 40 percent from 3 points and scored 40 points in the paint (2 fewer than the Lions) but it was their bench who made the biggest impact scoring 36 points. The Lions bench contributed just 4 points which were not nearly enough. The Lions bench, who see significant minutes against the deepest team in the country must contribute on the offence as well as they contribute on the defensive end. 

The key for the Lions will be to play with the same intensity they played in the second quarter from Friday night, making it to the rim whatever way they need to. Their three point shooting, which they have depended on all season must improve if they have another ice cold performance like on Friday they can say goodbye to a hope of making it to the o2. Zaire Taylor must bring his bigs into the game much more for easier baskets in the paint, where the Lions have the potential of being stronger.

The key for the Riders will be to keep doing what they did well Friday night, get to the basket, cause holes with their ball movement and keep drawing soft fouls to get to the line. The Riders are the experts at getting close calls their way and their excellent free throw shooting will punish the Lions if they’re not disciplined.

The Lions need to play the game in 5 minutes segments, chipping away at the Riders’ lead. It won’t be easy, but if the Lions start the game strong and can go on a scoring run they stand a chance of getting by the Riders. I can see the Riders having just enough to see them through, but the Lions will take it to the wire.

London Lions 71 – 90 Leicester Riders

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The Leicester Riders beat the London Lions by a scoreline of 71-90 in the first leg of the BBL Playoff semi final to take a 19 point lead into the second leg on Sunday in Leicester.

The Leicester Riders had the better of the first quarter taking a 24-19 lead into the first intermission with several points from turnovers and at the line, with the Lions giving up 6 fouls. The highlight play of the first was Zaire Taylor, who started hot scoring 8 points, attacking the rim, missing a layup but burying his own rebound. The Riders went full court press early in the game to force turnovers and prevent the Lions guards getting into their rhythm.

The Riders went on an 11-2 run in the opening three minutes of the second quarter which pushed the visitors out to a 14 point lead. The Lions came back into the contest as they began playing the game with a lot more physicality and directness. The Lions clawed at the lead reducing it to 9 points with the Riders getting into foul trouble, with Taylor putting up points along with valuable contributions from Alex Owumi. Brandon Clark caused the Lions problems in the with his pace in the paint, slipping by his guard and scoring with relative ease. The Lions fought to keep the game close and went in at the half down 7 points, 40-47.

The Lions were unable to get significant points on the floor when without Navid Niktash or Rashad Hassan. Niktash only played 6:29 minutes in the first half, scoring one three-point shot and notching two fouls, which limited his minutes.

The Lions dominated the third quarter, with Niktash and Hassan back on the floor playing with energy and aggression forcing the issue for the Lions, dragging down rebounds and scoring points in the paint. Both sides found themselves in foul trouble as the referees were very whistle happy, and this in part helped the Riders maintain a lead through the third. The Riders showed their experience that took them to a league title by managing to score despite the relentless defensive and offensive effort from the Lions, with Brandon Clark and Pierre Hampton in particular scoring well.

Tempers flared midway through the third when Zaire Taylor took exemption to the tight defending from Shane Walker who got a technical foul for his part in the fracas which saw all players on the court getting involved.

The fourth quarter started well for the London Lions as they narrowed the gap to 3 points with some tight on-ball defending and a great three-point shot from the corner by Kai Williams. Niktash was forced to the bench after his fourth foul and without his presence, the Lions were on the back foot as the Riders pushed out to a 14 point lead out of nowhere. The Lions pushed the Riders hard to the end but the Riders, with their experience and guile, were able to extend their lead and slow the game down to a crawl to prevent the Lions narrowing the gap before the second leg on Sunday.

The Lions fans were amazing throughout the game in a packed Copper Box as the Lions gave their all to for their home fans for the final time this season. The Lions will get one more chance on Sunday evening to get to the Playoff Final, but they will have a mountain to climb after a strong performance from the Riders.