Worcester Wolves win their first ever BBL Trophy

Worcester Wolves have won the BBL Trophy, their first piece of silverware since joining the BBL eight years ago, with an 83-76 victory over the Glasgow Rocks at the Emirates Arena.

Jamal Williams had what he described as the best performance of his professional career as he scooped the MVP prize having scored 26 points in the game, in 31 minutes on court for the Worcester side.

Despite the billing of Worcester as the “home” side, the Glasgow support was second to none at the Emirates, and from the outset the heat was on Paul James’ Wolves.

It may have even helped influence the first half performance from Sterling Davis’ men, as a strong presence in the paint and fast transitioning put Rocks on an 8-0 run midway through the first period. The Rocks’ lead extended further, but it wasn’t until the antics of Gareth Murray with his buzzer-beater three that really got the crowd on their feet to give Glasgow a ten-point lead 15-25.

James needed to change something, and the Wolves began driving inside with more pace and power to combat the brick wall put up by the Rocks. Kai Williams brought the game to within two with 3:43 left in the half, but Murray stepped up once more to deliver from beyond the perimeter.

Will Creekmore had a chance late in the second quarter to bring the score again to within just one possession, but missed both shots from the free throw line – and Murray sent the Scottish fans into a frenzy with another buzzer-beater, but just inside the arc, to go in to the break still in command 38-44.

Again, both sides had to find their rhythm after the restart, but the momentum shift came as Glasgow racked up the fouls – and as MVP Williams got hot.

It gave a glimmer of hope to the side from south of the border, which was jumped on by the MVP and Creekmore to push Wolves ahead 58-55, and leave the Rocks clamouring for just 11 points during the third quarter.

However, the recipient of BBL Trophy was to ultimately be decided in the final period, after both teams trading blows, Wolves stormed to an 11-2 run, rounded off by a Jamal Williams’ three.

The Rocks tried desperately to hang on close to the end, bringing the game back to within three, but as the fouls tallied up once more, it was closed out from the free-throw line for the Wolves, 83-76.

Coach James, who also led the University of Worcester’s men’s basketball side to their fourth BUCS title midweek, admitted that his team were not playing their usual game in the first two periods: “The first half we were passive, defensively, we weren’t playing to our strengths, which is getting the ball inside and seeing what happens from there so you saw us in the second half we were a lot more aggressive both ends of the floor, started to attack the basket more, and our inside-outside play came together.

“I’m really proud of the guys – they stuck together and really wanted it , but we were only going to win it as a team, so thank goodness we came together in time to do that,” the victorious coach went on to say.

Sterling Davis, though defeated, felt his players started well, but just could not make it count when it mattered most: “Congratulations to Worcester – Coach James and the players. It was a tough for us, our guys came out with a high intensity level to start the game, but we knew what kind of game it would be against them.

“We controlled them with rebounds in the first half, but how it finished off – we lacked somewhat on it. I thought we did a decent job defensively for most part of the game, but when it came down to when the stops needing to be made later down the stretch, that’s what I think it boiled down to.”

Worcester Wolves: J.Williams – 26 points, 3 rebounds, 3 blocks; Creekmore – 22 points, 15 rebounds.
Glasgow Rocks: Murray – 21 points, 3 assists; Urli – 11 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists.

Super Bowl Report: Seahawks dominate to win first title

The Seattle Seahawks are waking up today as the new NFL Champions after simply overwhelming the Denver Broncos by the score of 43-8.

It was a game of firsts. The first time a team had scored in the opening minute of each half. The first time that a team had scored a safety, kick-off return, interception return in the same game, and the first Super Bowl win for the Seattle Seahawks.

In a game that was predicted to be close, it was anything but. The number one defence in the league was too much for the number one offence. Add to this a very balance and assured offence the Seahawks had this one in the bag at halftime as they claimed a 22-0 lead. The only question was how many they would win by and could they post a shutout.

A season in which Peyton Manning set all kinds of records, a quick glance at the stat line and you could be forgiven that he did a fine job and led his team to glory. 34 completions, a Super Bowl record, from 49 attempts, 280 yards, with one touchdown. 13 of his completions were to Demaryius Thomas, another record for the big game. It was however the turnovers that were forced from Manning that were to be both shocking and game deciding.

The tone was set on the very first play from scrimmage. Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Manning’s head, Knowshon Moreno dived on it in the end zone where he was tackled by Cliff Avril ,a man who would be instrumental later, for the opening score.

Seattle got the ball from the kick-off and showed they had poise and boldness as they drove down for a Steven Hauschka 31 yard field goal, Percy Harvin with a big gain on the drive with a 30 yard run on a reverse play. Denver then went three and out, and Seattle added another Hauschka field goal to lead 8-0, this time a 33 yarder after Jermaine Kearse dropped a short pass in the end zone.

Would Seattle live to regret not getting more points on the board as the game went on?

Before the first period was over the Seattle D made its first real stand up moment. There was some hard hitting early in the game, but when they forced a fumble. Moreno losing the handle when gang tackled, they could sense something was about to happen. Avril got a great push up the middle and was right in Manning’s face as he threw. The ball looped a little a Kam Chancellor was on hand to get the interception.

As far as first quarters go it the wasn’t the future Hall of Fame QB’s best fifteen minutes.

After a pass interference call in the back of the Broncos end zone, it was Marshawn Lynch’s moment, he plunged through the line and now the Seahawks were up 15-0 and starting to take control. Backed up to a 3rd and 13 after a tripping penalty, it was that man Avril again making a difference, hitting the now clearly out of sorts QB as he released, the pass sailed into game MVP Malcolm Smith’s arms and he rounded the pack to breeze into the end zone for a 69 yard interception return.

The Seahawks had bullied their way into a 22-0 lead. The Broncos were intimidated into believing the hype surrounding the Seattle D, and were now seeing first hand exactly why they are to be considered amongst the very best in NFL history. There was almost another twist as Trindon Holliday fumbled the ensuing kick-off, Seattle recovered but John Fox the Broncos coach had to challenge as his star return man was clearly down. With the call reversed the half came to a close.

No one saw that 30 minutes of football coming. It was simply stunning.

No sooner had we sat down for the second half kick-off, we were on our collective disbelieving feet aS Harvin ran back an intentionally shorter kick by Matt Prater 87 yards for the game killing touchdown. Any adjustments that were made at half time by Denver were now in tatters as they looked around their sideline at each other in complete bewilderment.

No team in Super Bowl history had overcome a greater deficit than ten points, and yet you still had the thought – at 29-0 down – that if the Broncos were to score quickly they still had a chance, given how explosive their offence had been all year. After an exchange of possessions those thoughts were completely extinguished. Thomas caught a high ball, landed, turned, straight into Byron Maxwell who punched the ball loose and there was Smith, the interception hero from the second quarter to pounce on it. Just a few short plays later Kearse caught a short over the middle pass, somehow stayed upright after being hit by two defenders simultaneously, spun 360 degrees and trotted into the end zone. Denver was shell shocked and their tackling was testament to this.

With the score at 36-0 and the game well and truly out of reach, all that was needed to complete the day for Seattle was for them to pitch a shut out. Thomas on his own record breaking day spoiled that dream when the Broncos finally got on the board, catching a high pass. Denver even had the nerve to convert the two-point try, Wes Welker grabbing the score to end the third quarter.

The fourth period of play was a case of damage limitations, Denver couldn’t quite manage that and Russell Wilson was imperious on the Seahawks last scoring drive of the game. He completed three rapid passes to three different targets, the last of which to Doug Baldwin for a 23 yard score.

The Manning nightmare was complete late in the game as once again he was hit hard, lost the ball, and Clinton McDonald fell on it.

Pete Carroll’s men had executed his philosophy and game plan to the tee. There was no need for trash talking, the team just let their play spell out the only thing that mattered.

Seattle Seahawks – World Champions

Diego Fagúndez: The Rising Star of MLS

While the New England Revolution’s 2013 campaign may have ended sooner than they had hoped, after falling to eventual champions Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the team can still take heart from a season in which they have wildly surpassed expectations.

Making their first post-season appearance since 2009, the team’s future under head coach Jay Heaps appears enviably promising, thanks to a blossoming group of young players who have shown an enormous amount of growth over the course of this season and now look set to form the team’s core for years to come.

Though the status of one key part of the side’s 2013 success, forward Juan Agudelo, remains up in the air, in the likes of Kelyn Rowe (21), Andrew Farrell (21), Scott Caldwell (22), A. J. Soares (24) and Dimitry Imbongo (23) the Revs still boast a promising crop of talent to put their faith in for the future.

One youngster in particular however stands out amongst the rest, with the potential to become a superstar, not only in MLS but on a global stage. That player is the team’s 2013 MVP, Diego Fagúndez – an 18-year-old attacking midfielder, who plays with all the flair and confidence that belies his young age. The attacking instincts and soccer brain which have helped Fagúndez fast-track his way into the Rev’s first team would suggest that the game is in his DNA and indeed, it is.

Born in Uruguay, where his father, Washington, was a professional goalkeeper for Central Español, Fagúndez’s family moved to Massachusetts when he was five, settling in Leominster – just an hour’s drive away from Gillette Stadium. Excelling on the local soccer scene soon thereafter, a family friend began taking him to Revs games in Foxborough, where Fagúndez would get his first sight of club legends like Taylor Twellman and José Cancela – a fellow Uruguayan. From then on he began dreaming of one day starring in MLS alongside such names.

Fagúndez would come one step closer to realising that goal when he became the Revs’ first ever Homegrown signing in November 2010, after playing a year-and-a-half with the team’s youth academy. Making his MLS début in August of the following year against Chivas USA, the then 16-year-old would go on to score after coming on as a substitute in the 66th minute, flashing several signs of things to come.

Gradually assimilating himself into the side over the course of the next season, Fagúndez would be thrown into the deep end at the start of 2013, when Heaps deemed him ready to contribute more consistently to the first team. Despite initial scepticism that it all may be too much too soon, the head coach’s trust in his youth movement has been justly rewarded, as Fagúndez’s impact has been nothing short of phenomenal. Making up for his small stature (5’8”, 150 lbs.) with outstanding pace and skill, the youngster has not only been able to adjust to the league’s physicality (playing in 31 games with 28 starts) but finished his breakout season with a team-high 13 goals and seven assists to serve as the focal point of the Revs’ attack.

Undoubtedly one of MLS’ rising young stars, Fagúndez has also quickly become a favourite with fans (especially of the female variety), earning the title “the Justin Bieber of MLS” amongst team-mates, while starring as the subject of one of NBC Sports Network’s MLS: 36 documentaries.

Still living with his parents at home, while studying to earn his high school diploma in the coming months, Fagúndez’s rise to the pros has been a fairly meteoric one and it may not have even been achievable were it not for the recent emergence of MLS clubs’ youth academies, allowing players like the young Uruguayan-born midfielder to embed themselves into a professional environment much earlier than was previously possible. In fact, in MLSsoccer.com’s annual ’24 Under 24′ series, in which Fagúndez placed fifth, eight of the players ranked were home grown signings. Plenty of league’s young stars are still drafted through the college ranks of course but the emphasis is increasingly being placed on cultivating talent from a younger age.

Regrettably, when one of these young MLS stars brakes through, it’s inevitable that ominous comparisons are made to the league’s arguably most famous teenage sensation, Freddy Adu, and his subsequent failure to live up to expectations. Already though, Fagúndez has tied Eddie Gaven’s MLS record of 16 goals as a teenager, while Adu himself only managed to score 13 over four years before embarking on his worldwide soccer odyssey – one which is currently in limbo.

Those who have seen him in the flesh will certainly tell you that Fagúndez is far from a flash in the pan, which also leaves us somewhat reluctantly wondering when he might decide to test the waters overseas. It’s clear that his future lies in one of Europe’s top leagues but it’s also plainly apparent that he would hugely benefit from a few more seasons in MLS to grow as a player and work on his deficiencies. A few yours ago, a young talent like Fagúndez may have been better advised to head abroad ASAP but, with the way the league has come on in leaps and bounds over the past few seasons, it’s now a more than suitable place for a promising player to develop. With a new contract signed earlier this year which could keep him with Revs until 2017, Fagúndez is a huge talent but one who still has a long way to go and, while he’s still getting playing time and happy to continue shining for his local side, it makes perfect sense for him to stay in the States.

As for those resolutely hoping to see the teenage star ply his trade in the Premier League sometime in the near future, they may be forced to wait a while. The refusal to grant team-mate Juan Agudelo a work permit for his move to Stoke City has highlighted how wholly convoluted the process can be and, with Fagúndez possibly not playing international football (a crucial requisite) for the next few years, that poses an obvious problem.

The reason he may not be playing international football has nothing to do with talent of course – both the U.S. and Uruguay want him – but simply nationality law. Fagúndez has stated he’d prefer to play for the United States national team and recently received his green card, which is the first step toward becoming a U.S. citizen. That process however takes five years (unless he marries a citizen, in which case it’s three), meaning fall 2018 would theoretically be the earliest date Fagúndez could get his passport and thus suit up for the country he has called home for the past 13 years. There are also a number of stipulations (such as that he has to live in the U.S. for 30 months in those five years and cannot be outside the country for more than six months in a row) which could pose a potential problem if Fagúndez were to move to club outside MLS during that period. In the interim, having been called up to Uruguay’s youth teams in the past, Fagúndez could simply decide that the wait just isn’t worth it and go with the country of his birth – much to the chagrin of many American fans no doubt. It wouldn’t be a Giuseppe Rossi-style betrayal but it’s a scenario which would undoubtedly leave a fair few supporters upset.

While Fagúndez’s national team future may currently be hazy, if he continues to build on the form he has demonstrated in 2013 then it’s surely not a matter of if, but when, big European clubs come calling for his services. For now though, the player some have dubbed “the next Landon Donovan” is simply enjoying taking MLS by storm and fans should savour every moment of it while it lasts.

LeBron James silences critics with NBA title

As LeBron James was announced NBA Finals MVP on Thursday night you could just about hear a faint whisper of boos still ring around the American Airlines Arena but following his 26pts, 13ast, 11reb game five performance, it is becoming harder and harder for even the die hard LeBron haters to keep hating.

When James stepped forward to collect the trophy from Hall of Famer Bill Russell the whisper of boos was drowned out ferociously by chants of “MVP! MVP!”

Kitted up in his championship hat and t-shirt James received his award before being asked what ran through his mind as the final buzzer sounded.

James paused for a second, looked around the arena and then answered.

“It’s about damn time,” said the MVP as he smiled to the roar of the crowd. ”It’s about damn time.”

There’s no denying that.

For so long criticisms of LeBron focused on his inability to deal with pressure, with his failure to perform in the clutch, to lead his team when it matters most but last night he finally set the record straight.

Say what you will about his time in Cleveland or his controversial decision to move to South Beach but throughout the course of this season’s playoffs the man has been almost unstoppable.

Averaging 30.3ppg 9.7rpg and 5.6apg in the post season James has been able to lift his team whenever they needed him.

After going down 2-1 in the first round of the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers things weren’t looking good for Miami. In game four LBJ came up big, scoring 40 points and grabbing 18 rebounds to even the series.

With his side trailing the Boston Celtics 3-2 in the Conference finals James once again dragged his side along putting up 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists en route to a 98-79 win in Boston.

Nights later he totalled 31 points and 12 rebounds to secure his teams place in the NBA finals. He did it over and over again in the finals, hitting big shots, playing through pain, leading his team on and off the court.

While some may still find errors in his game, his will and determination to win can no longer be questioned. With his performance throughout this year’s playoffs overshadowing his counterparts he feels its time for the criticisms to stop.

“A lot of people said that I was selfish, that I was a selfish person, a selfish basketball player,” said James following Miami’s 121-106 victory. “You know, I strive on being a team player, doing whatever it takes to help this team win. But at the same time, I use it as motivation. And I’m happy that I was able to make enough plays that I was able to put ourselves in position to win this championship.”

Following last years painfully disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals the pressure has been on James and the Heat to get back to the Promised Land this season.

Following such pain and frustration LeBron was asked how he was able to re-focus his mind coming into this season.

“I just went back to the basics,” James said. “I knew what got me to this point and that was hard work and dedication and I never had to prove anything to anyone. You know, in my first seven years, I just went out and let the game take care of itself.

“And last year, I tried to prove something to everybody and I played with a lot of hate,” he continued. “And that’s not the way I play the game of basketball. I play it with a lot of love and a lot of passion and that’s what I got back to this year.

Capturing his first and the franchises second NBA title, LeBron and the “Big Three” will now be expected to go on and win multiple championships but for now, LeBron is allowed to enjoy.

“I mean, uh… this right here is the happiest day of my life,” James said. “I wouldn’t want to spend it with nobody else in the world besides my teammates, these fans – oh, my God, you guys are unbelievable and this is a dream come true.”

With LeBron capturing his first title the comparisons between “King James” and Michael Jordan are bound to ensue and, while I may not agree fully with it, for those that are quick to point out that Jordan finished with six NBA rings and LeBron only has one, may I just remind you that MJ was 28 when he won his first championship while LBJ is currently 27.

Just a little something to think about.

Time to talk MVP in the BBL

Feb 25, 2012

In my experience no question engenders such fascinating debate in British Basketball than how we should detemine the league MVP.

Should it be decided purely on stats? And if so, should it be decided on one stat alone (points scored for example) or an average across a range of stats? Then you have to ask yourself the question of whether or not it’s important that the MVP has to be part of a winning side or a side you could reasonably define as having a successful season? And what about players who are clutch and players that if you watched back the tape were the key factor in their side winning a game on more occasions than any other player across the league?

That’s enough questions for now, it’s time for some answers or at least a look at who should be in our thinking when the various criteria above are applied.

Straight away it proves difficult to isolate one thing from another as we get in to the Demarius Bolds debate. He is the league’s top scorer by a country mile and before Friday night’s games he had scored two hundred points more than third placed Jeremy Bell. The Plymouth point guard also puts his hat in the ring here as he has played four games less than Bolds. The MK man’s average though is not likely to be surpassed by anyone betwen now and the playoff final. So if you are a points scored fan hand your MVP trophy to Demarius.

I’m not giving it him based on points alone. If you roll back the tape and count the minutes and seconds, Bolds has probably had the ball in his hands this season as much as if not more than any other player. Bolds is the ultimate go to man. Would other players who are pushing the leaders be closer to or ahead of Bolds if they got the same share of the limelight? And is it unfair to even draw the comparison as surely you can’t punish Bolds for this, the main reason he gets the ball so much is because he has proven that he can deliver.

However, coaches will try and shut him down and know that if they can minimise his effect on the game then they have a great chance of winning. The same goes for putting a hand in Jeremy Bell’s face but the difference with Bell is that if you are guarding the perimeter then Williams and Colbert will put you away. The same can’t be said for the Lions. No disrespect to Coach New and his charges but while Gill, Pedroso and Northern pose a threat, neutralsing Bolds will nine times out of ten get you the win. And whether that is becasue of the way they play or becausee of the talent at their disposal is another debate. I will just recognise here though that obviously Bolds needs his team mates to get and give him the ball.

You would think that maybe you could go to field goal percentages but neither Bolds or Bell (often another go to man) make the top fifteen for FG% or 3P% currently.

All this is where Joe Chapman steps in. Chapman is the league’s second highest scorer and has amassed his points in a side that boasts several hot hands. In fact Charles Smith can also make a claim for MVP on this stat count as he is currently the league’s fourth highest scorer. Chapman however, has the fifth highest percentage from the field and lies 12th in the stat column for conversions from 20 feet. This immediately suggests that Chapman is both prolific and efficient.

I need to move away from this quickly though. I may be doing the debate an injustice but I think it is obvious that you can’t give a player the tag of MVP based on stats alone. We’re talking about a player’s value, his worth and it’s Charles Smith’s name that brings us to that halfway house of a conclusion.

We have probably all seen examples this season where players have taken the game by the scruff of its neck and have clearly been the deciding factor in the win. Jimmy Langhurst, Joe Chapman, Tommy Freeman, Cameron Rundles, Jeremy Bell, Mychal Green, Richie Gordon and Charles Smith are all players that have scored big to give their team the victory on several occassions. With Smith most notably catching fire in the BBL Cup Final. We’ve also seen other players have stellar nights with big performances from Lehmon Colbert, Bradd Wierzbicki and Nuno Pedroso amongst others. It is the consistency however that obviously goes in the favour of that first crop of players. I have to include Demarius Bolds here again also. While the Lions have not won as many games as the team’s the other players turn out for, he has obviously contributed heavily to the wins they do have.

I believe that a players percentages from the charity stripe are a good barometer for whether or not they can be considered clutch. And interestingly, three of those players who have consistently got it done for their sides in games (where they have won) feature in the top five player percentages from the line. Namely, Langhurst (92%), Freeman (90%) and Smith (87%). Jeremy Bell and Demarius Bolds are eighth and ninth respectively.

So short of writing a dissertation here I have to take shortcuts and hope that you can see the threads running through and where my final contenders come from. After digesting how many big performances they have and how they influence the outcome of games and factoring in their potential to be clutch, it naturally leads us back to the stats. But we have to take a more holistic view of those stats. To get here, we had to work through scoring records and some of that more anecdotal evidence first to achieve our final nine as it has turned out.

Mychal Green, Tommy Freeman, Richie Gordon, Jimmy Langhurst, Cameron Rundles, Demarius Bolds, Charles Smith, Joe Chapman and Jeremy Bell.

Honourable mentions for great seasons so far for Gause, Thomson, Wedemire, Northern (current highest rebounds avg) Hardy, Prezzie-Blue (current highest assists avg) and Brown who haven’t featured yet in what I have had to say.

You will obviously make your own mind up on all that I have written and will have your own opinions. We still have over two months to go and our equation needs to be worked on further before we can identify our winner. And that person may need to be just that to tip the balance, a winner, and we may determine it with something like this:

MVP = Wins in which they scored more than 25 points x their scoring average x their field goal percentage (to include 3P% to get true efficiency avg) x trophies won.

I wonder what Joe Chapman’s odds are at the bookies?! As you can see though, you can never move too far away from the points mean prizes mentality when deciding on your MVP

Stats provided by BritHoops and those quoted are prior to games played on Friday 24 February 2012.