Basketball: Jets reach for sky

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The Independent Online
The pressure of being expected to win every game is nothing compared with the pressure of being expected to lose. Ask Mike Burton, the coach of Chester Jets, the Budweiser League's perpetual strugglers, who reached the Wembley playoff finals for the first time with a 81-78 quarter-final win at Birmingham Bullets.

Friday's victory clinched the series 2-1 and eliminated last season's play-off champions in front of more than 3,000 fans at the National Indoor Arena. The Jets are going to Wembley for the finals on 3 and 4 May with the Leopards and Sheffield Sharks.

The League's bottom three has been the Jets' resting place for the previous five seasons, but this campaign they reached the 7-Up League Trophy final and until the penultimate weekend had a mathematical chance of taking the League title, before finishing fifth.

"I've felt no pressure," said Burton, a schoolmaster who first considered basketball as a coaching option when he went to the States to run a football clinic. "We've beaten every team in the league this season and gone into every game with the adrenaline flowing, expecting to win.

"I lost more sleep when we were losing all the time. When you've lost seven or eight in a row, face the league champions the next game and must lift the players - that's pressure."

Burton and his players handled the pressure on Friday, unlike his wife, Diana. "She had to walk out, she couldn't watch," he said.

When Birmingham stood off and dared Mark Ogley to attempt a three-pointer, he promptly opened a 74-71 lead. Then a three-point play and two more free throws from Billy Singleton, plus another pair from the foul line by the outstanding Englishman Matt Meakin, closed the door on Birmingham's play-off hopes.