Basketball: Leopards' title win to spell greatness

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The Independent Online
IF Greater London Leopards beat Sheffield Sharks tomorrow to put the seal on a successful defence of their Budweiser League title, their coach, Billy Mims, is convinced they will have surpassed the achievements of any previous champions.

After Thursday's 97-92 victory over Thames Valley Tigers, Leopards are poised to become the first club to win back-to-back titles since Kingston clinched their third in a row in 1992.

"But there's no comparison," said the 38-year-old from South Carolina. "With clubs allowed up to five foreigners, the league is far more competitive. When Kingston were champions they had two Americans like everyone else, but collared all the best English players.

"Now the talent is spread around. Clubs like Watford Royals and Crystal Palace have struggled all season but they still beat London Towers and Sheffield.

"There's also been much more pressure this time. Last seasons everyone said we would self-destruct and we were the only ones who believed we'd win the title. This time we've been up there as favourites all the way through.

"Last season winning the title brought a feeling of ecstasy, but this time there will just be a sense of relief. It's been a long, long journey."

Leopards' American guard Ryan Cuff will play despite a broken finger on his shooting hand. The former England international Jason Crump also plays after returning against Tigers on Thursday, but the 6ft 10in centre faces knee surgery this summer.

Leopards, Birmingham Bullets, Sheffield, Newcastle Eagles, Tigers and Towers are all through to the play-off quarter- finals with the two final places between Leicester City Riders, Derby Storm and Manchester Giants, though Chester Jets could conceivably take the eighth place via a mathematical miracle.