Basketball: James silences his critic

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The Independent Online
PAUL JAMES, the first-year coach of the Thames Valley Tigers, has found his coaching credentials repeatedly questioned during his debut season, despite an excellent start to his Budweiser League career. His performance in yesterday's National Cup Final at Sheffield Arena, against one of his biggest critics, may have silenced some of those doubts as the Thames Valley Tigers returned to the peak of the domestic game by beating Leicester Riders 82-78.

It was the Tigers' first success in the competition after three previous failures, and no less satisfying for the fact that it came against Leicester and their extrovert coach, Bob Donewald, who had implied that James used underhand means to gain his position from the respected Mick Bett this summer.

Although there was a large element of attempted psychology in Donewald's outburst, it clearly hurt James who refused to shake his rival's hand before the game. Instead, the basketball court was where James did his talking, albeit with a large stroke of luck.

The Riders were enjoying their best spell of the game, thanks largely to the intelligent play of the 36-year-old American veteran Gene Waldron, whose 21 points had enabled them to lead for the first time since the opening minute at 46-45, when disaster struck.

Waldron fell awkwardly on his ankle, sustaining a suspected break, and Leicester's hopes of their first senior trophy went with him in the ambulance to hospital, though Donewald insisted afterwards that the loss of his key man was incidental.

He said: "Gene going did not make a difference. Paul [James] did a good job and his players stepped up for him. They kicked our butts. End of story."

James, less flamboyant but just as intense as his rival, added: "Of course the comments that I read made me more determined. They made me mad. But I had to stay focused and I think the players were more angry than I was. A lot of things were said but we are a professional club and stayed that way. We came out and got the job done."

The Tigers' worst problems were self-inflicted with three leading players, Jason Siemon, John McCord and Casey Arena, all hitting the four-foul mark early in the second half.

Accepted coaching wisdom would have been to take all out three players in order to avoid any being charged with a fifth foul that carries with it automatic ejection. Instead, and here came James' master stroke, the trio were kept in, all playing with great intelligence and maturity to see out the inevitably tense final moments.

James said: "I was never close to taking those guys out. They are smart players and they were either there until the end or until they fouled out. Thankfully, they stayed in."

The Riders pulled to within four points late in proceedings as Geno Ford connected with a pair of three-point attempts but McCord, whose superb 27-point performance came from 11 successful baskets from 14 shots, helped remove any danger of an upset.

Thames Valley's women's team assured the club of a double celebration by ending the Sheffield Hatters' extraordinary run of success in the National Cup.

The Tigers' American import, Andrea Mangum, turned in an amazing performance, scoring 22 points and 22 rebounds in a rampant 68-46 victory that ended the Hatters' proud sequence of eight consecutive victories in the final. Her efforts were all the more impressive given the fact she played the entire second half on four fouls.

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