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Basketball: Leopards must wait on Burks

GREATER LONDON Leopards open their defence as Budweiser League champions with a depleted line-up at Newcastle Eagles tonight, despite re-signing last season's leading scorer Eric Burks late on Thursday.

Burks replaces fellow American Royce Olney, who has returned to the United States for rehabilitation for a knee injury, but cannot play until Leopards obtain a work permit.

The Leopards coach, Billy Mims, and the club owner, Ed Simons, had been acting as agents for Burks during the summer, trying to obtain a more lucrative contract for the 26-year-old from Atlanta outside the salary- capped domestic league. Simons said, "Eric had two offers to play abroad for more money than he can earn here, but decided to come back and help us win the league three years in a row. We are delighted."

Last season Burks averaged 50 points a game in partnership with John White, but his former team-mate is also on the sidelines for his new club Manchester Giants in their opening game tonight against Peugeot Bullets Birmingham.

White, already doubtful following exploratory knee surgery last week, has had his playing licence withheld by the League, while they investigate allegations of salary-cap breaking. All the Giants have been issued with a one-game licence until the club's appeal is heard on Thursday.

Leicester City Riders, who revealed a new kit sponsorship with their football neighbours this week, open under their new coach Dave Harris against Thames Valley Tigers, led by his former team-mate Paul James.