Vince Answers back was a regular feature from many years ago. As this is the end of a decade in which Lions has changed so much, it’s been brought back for a one off special where Vince gives his thoughts on the last 10 years.   

 

There’s been many changes over the last decade with Lions. What has been your biggest high & low during this period?

Quite right, there have been a lot of changes in this past decade, there have been many interactions along the way and many people have come and gone in varying degrees and some have been incredibly helpful in developing the Lions. I can pick many moments, getting to the Playoff’s in our first season in London on Rod Brown’s driving layup vs Manchester Giants, the great display in Cheshire that got us to the Playoff Finals, regularly winning games in Leicester and Newcastle but I have to say some of the lows include losing three people closest to me in that time, my Mum, Kevin Cadle and Jimmy Rogers, all were great steadying influences for me, but for basketball, the biggest low was losing our home in Milton Keynes which ironically propelled us to our current position. The biggest high has to be the championship season last year, winning the double, raising our first ever Championship – Lions fans making that journey with us from traipsing to Crystal Palace to top of the League with a dominating team. The spirit of the team was something special that I’m not sure comes along too regularly.

 

Looking at the various squads over the years, successes and failures can’t always be judged by silverware but by ability & expectations. And I know this may be difficult to answer but which year were you most disappointed with and which squad surprised you most.

That’s a tough one, I think injuries hurt us in certain times, the loss of Demond Watt was big for us in 15/16 and affected that team. Injury to Jamal Williams was a set back. I think the group that came together in January 2017 was incredible, one of the best ever Lions performances took place in Newcastle in February 2017 when we had 6 players including Jonathan Lashley and Jonathan James. Justin Robinson unable to play as was Cilo Latinovic, that performance that day was one of the best a Lions team ever put in the floor, led by Joe and André and lit up by Peel and Dixon.

I can’t say too much about disappointment as those things come down to a lot of factors and also the club continuing to grow and learn what it means to always be at your best. I have though, enjoyed having all the players at the club.

 

Ok, so looking at players & again this will be tough, pick a starting 5 from all the players, with the proviso that they’d have to play well together, not necessarily the best 5!

Now you’re testing…..

Robinson has to start just because he’s been the best player in the League throughout his time here. Brandon Peel has also shown his ability, the question becomes do you pair him with, Dixon at the #5 or does Kervin Bristol’s experience get the nod, not forgetting Watt and Hassan.

At the #2 can you leave out one of Zaire Taylor or Rod Brown albeit Rod was in the twilight of his career, in this case I will add Demarius Bolds as he was at the start of the decade. Tough to look beyond Tabb at the #3, Alex Owumi and Drew Sullivan also put in shifts at that spot, I remember players like Mike Martin, Perry Lawson, Laurent Irish etc who all put everything into the Lions.

So I guess it looks like this:

J Robinson

D Bolds

L Tabb

B Peel

K Bristol

 

Let’s move away from Lions for a while, best player & coach in the league within the last decade, who’s been the toughest team you’ve played.

Clearly as I’ve said earlier, Justin Robinson has been the best player in the League this past two seasons. There have been some exceptional players in the League in the decade. For me I believe Charles Smith’s IQ and ability was second to none, so I’ll give him the accolade for the first part of the decade after that I’m stuck between two, sadly, both Riders players, Tyler Bernardini and Pierre Hampton. I would have them in any team of mine. Not because they were exceptional athletes or anything, but what they did was win when it was necessary. Hampton was a matchup nightmare, unfortunately injuries slowed him down but he was a big time player. Bernardini was a true leader and had an exceptional basketball brain, so for me it’s between Smith and Bernardini, and I’m going to give it to Smith.

Coaching wise we can’t get away from Fab and Rob Paternostro. Ironically both played with Nigel Lloyd whom I know stays in touch with them in a very positive way. They both live the game incredibly and put a lot of work into what they do but particularly who they recruit.

There have been others who have flourished, my buddy Paul James has always been a thorn in the side for anyone trying to win as has Atiba Lyons, but for me it comes down to those two, separating them is simply preference but on the basis we got the better of Eagles more than Riders, I’m going to say Rob.

 

Keeping with the BBL in general, there’s been many changes over the decade, teams come & gone, changes to various teams’ venues. What’s been the biggest plus over the period & the most disappointing not Lions related.

Running a team in the BBL is very hard, a sport that does not attract a lot of investment, without resources it’s difficult to build what we’d all like to see so firstly I applaud all who have tried.

It’s always a low when you lose a team as you know the pain they’ve gone through and the fans they’ve left behind. I think Leeds were let down badly by the University there and struggled on but to not avail. The Everton team in Liverpool was a big miss as that is still one of the hottest areas for talent in my opinion, I would have loved to try that. I was hoping with the money they had they could make strong steps to help the League, a little like how Bristol have done with Social Media, they are better than everyone and have made everyone step up their game.

Clearly the addition of the new venues at Newcastle and Leicester augur well for the League, to generate your own revenue and not be at the mercy of venue providers is a very good position to be in. That is where everyone should be except maybe London as I believe in London if you’re not planning on Champion’s League as a minimum then it is difficult to capitalise on London’s strengths of population and business whereas you will fall to its challenges of costs and high expectation.

 

Talking about venues, I think Lions have had 7 ‘home’ courts during the decade. Disregarding the Copper Box, have you got a couple of special moments from the other venues?

Bletchley Leisure Centre, MK Shopping Centre, Stoke Mandeville, MK Arena, Brixton, UEL, Palace – correct, they all bring back memories, Stoke Mandeville not so much but the Shopping Centre was something special, that’s when I realised we could achieve what I’d dreamed of for the club, the stage, the demand for tickets etc. MK Arena showed the way forward for the development programme, 1100 kids a week in sessions there, it was something to behold and just to be able to schedule basketball non stop.

Palace was a rebirth after I thought the Lions was dead as a team – that journey each day from MK with Nigel Lloyd, Ish Fontaine, Adrien Sturt and Jordan Spencer were some of the most special times in my basketball life, as I was with people who believed. Playing in front of Jimmy Rogers in Brixton was special, Jimmy saved my life as a young man, being able to bring the team there and also alumni like Flo Larkai, Justin Robinson, Andrea Norton, Nik Lawry, Abraham Ekperuoh was truly special but I think the Shopping Centre takes the accolade it just said – Basketball will not go away!

 

The Copper Box has been our home for 6 years now, what have been the highlights for you?

We walked into the Copper Box just after the Olympics before it had been cleared for use. – it was awesome and promised a lot for the future.

Our first game there delivered a full house when we played Gabe Olaseni’s Iowa.

Since then we have been getting used to playing there and as people have loved being on to the Park, attendances have increased. The games against the Big Ballers brought huge crowds and for me, any win there is great as you must defend the home court to have a chance at Titles.

I pick out the big performances that took us to the Playoff Finals , a big first leg win against Cheshire to set up that win that got us to the O2, and who can forget Joe’s triple against Worcester to deliver OT and that win. Those are my two faves.

 

So, looking forward to the new decade, what can we expect from Lions this season & beyond?

I think the crew we have are still gelling, there are a lot of new players and it will take time, but I believe we have a side that can defend the crown. Having Ovie with us will only elevate us, just as Justin did when he first came back, we might be at 75% right now with more in the tank.

The future will be interesting, there are many challenges for the sport right now, but I believe we can continue to bring back the best of British players that will enable us to truly develop a British way of playing that will be fun.

My dream is still to take the team to Europe, but the investments are high I truly believe we as British teams and us as Lions can do better on that front than people think – let’s see how 2020 starts

 

You mentioned earlier about teams owning their own arenas as the way forward but perhaps not in London. Obviously, land costs alone probably prohibit Lions or any team building their own venue. Whilst the Copper Box is an outstanding venue, its size makes it look fairly empty even with 2000 spectators. Are Lions planning to be on the Copper Box for the long term or could there be other options in the future to work alongside the Box.

I think the first question is where do we think the best British team should be playing in, to carry the standard for the game. The answer I think is in a stadium like the Copper Box.

In order to make that work we should be better at raising the profile of the game and reaching out across all fronts, that takes resources which we have to grow.

Yes it is a large venue, we are looking at covering the upper tier with black drapes, that would help the atmosphere but we are also looking at ways to create interest in audiences not already in basketball, winning will help, having high profile players will help but maybe a nationwide TV deal will help too.

We will be at Copper Box for the long term and they are working with us to grow the opportunities as well.

 

I’d like to thank Vince for answering all the questions put to him and I hope people have enjoyed reading this.

Then a second thank you from me personally to Vince. As many of you will know, I’ve been following Lions in various forms for nearly 25 years, there’s been highs and lows but if Lions had anyone else but Vince at the helm, I am convinced I would not still have a basketball club to support. He has worked tirelessly to keep the club going and get stronger. Last season’s Championship win was a very special moment for me & my family, it’s something I didn’t think I’d ever see & it was nothing more than Vince deserved. I hope that it won’t be the last, but no other one will feel so special.

Pat Holgate