Basketball: Nurse must breathe life into Giants

Basketball: New Manchester coach is burdened with expectation while champions Leopards are ready to start afresh
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BILLY MIMS is the coach with nothing to lose and Nick Nurse the coach who dare not lose. Neither American, though, is inclined to totally agree with the popular view of their prospects for the Budweiser League season, which begins on Saturday.

Mims opens Greater London Leopards defence of the league championship with a squad so massively rebuilt over the summer that he can hardly be burdened with the expectation of winning a third successive title.

Only Robert Youngblood returns from his key players, but Mims said: "The popular outlook might be that we have nothing to lose, but we have the league championship and we don't intend losing that.

"Robert hasn't come back here for a fifth season with any other objective than winning a third title."

Nurse, the former Birmingham Bullets coach, has the formidable task of improving on a season of under-achievement at Manchester Giants and producing results worthy of the magnificent 18,000 seat Nynex Arena, one of the largest arenas in Europe.

The 31-year-old has recruited an intimidating offensive line-up, including Makeeba Perry and John White from Leopards, Tony Dorsey from Birmingham and Tony Holley from Thames Valley Tigers.

Last season, under Jim Brandon, Giants scraped into the play off quarter- finals with virtually the last shot of the regular season, but Nurse is not weighed down by expectations of transforming the club instantly into league winners.

"I'd rather be the favourites than a 100-1 long shot," said the man from Iowa. "With names like Dorsey, Holley and White on our roster I understand why people make us favourites, but it's going to be a long, hard season in a tough league."

While Nurse is putting his faith in players who already have pages of league stats to their names, Mims is turning the clock back to his first championship team, with a largely unknown line-up.

Imagine Arsene Wenger planning Arsenal's defence of the Premiership after offloading Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka, and Patrick Vieira. Four of Leopards' five starters have left - Perry, White, Eric Burks and Ryan Cuff - plus Michael Defoe and Jason Crump.

Mims said: "Perry, White and Burks wanted to earn more elsewhere and that's fine. We run on a tight budget and weren't getting into any bidding war.

"Arsene Wenger says a successful team turns small names into big names and that's what we did with White and Burks. They were unknowns when we brought them to this country and Leopards turned them into big names.

"Last season we became the first Budweiser team to win back-to-back titles, but we still underachieved. We've kept the players who are hungry for more success, Robert Youngblood and Brian Moore, but we have no superstars and a bunch of new players hungry to prove themselves."

Apart from a new quartet of Americans, Mims has made key English signings. The muscular and aggressive David Attewell, 6ft 8inches, and Stedroy Baker joined from Derby, plus a potential recruit for the national team to make the England coach Laszlo Nemeth's nerves tingle with expectation.

Ben Baum is a 6ft 11in, 23-year-old born in Lakenheath, Suffolk, whose American education took him to two of the most powerful basketball schools, Oklahoma State and the University of New Mexico. He started in all six of Leopards' pre-season games. Mims said: "This is the deepest team I've ever had."

Giants may not match the Leopards' depth, but they have an offensive line-up to make opponents quake. Dorsey (26.1 points per game) and White (24.8) were first and third in the scoring charts last season, while Perry (11.8 rebounds) and Holley (11.7) were the top two in the rebound stats.

But with Holley also averages more than 21 points per game, will Nurse's three big guns see enough of the ball to stop their shooting hands twitching from under-use?

Nurse said: "I don't see a problem in keeping three big scorers happy and most teams have a three-pronged offense."

Nurse is equally aware of the need to keep the crowd happy. "This arena needs and deserves a good team. It was disappointing and embarrassing last season that they produced so poorly out on the floor."

HOW THE TEAMS MEASURE UP

GREATER LONDON LEOPARDS

Last season's league champions in name only as the captain, Robert Youngblood, leads virtually a new team. Billy Mims unearths 6ft 11inch Englishman Ben Baum at University of New Mexico, as well as signing David Attewell and Stedroy Baker from Derby and four new Americans - Bryan Williams, David Kruse, Paul Burke and Royce Olney.

BIRMINGHAM BULLETS

The play-off champions are expected to confirm a business merger this week with Nottingham Panthers ice hockey club. The Americans Mark Robinson and Anthony Harris replace Tony Dorsey (Manchester) and H L Coleman, while 6ft 10ins Neville Austin comes in for 6ft 11ins Chris Haslam (Greece).

NEWCASTLE EAGLES

Craig Lynch has seven returnees, plus Ralph Blalock (a 96/97 Eagle) and Corey Jackson, from Chester. Peter Scantlebury, who already holds the league record for most successful shots (3,245) will set the record for most appearances (467) in Eagles' opener against Leopards on Saturday.

SHEFFIELD SHARKS

League Trophy holders; John Amaechi has moved on and the coach, Chris Finch, brings back impressive duo Todd Cauthorn and Wilbur Johnson, plus Terrell Myers, whose three-pointer won the trophy. Travis Conlan will be an eye-catcher at Point, plus Italian-born Matt Gaudio.

THAMES VALLEY TIGERS

National Cup holders; coach Paul James loses Tony Holley to Manchester after five years as a Tiger, but brings back Casey Arena, Jason Siemon, John McCord and adds American Stewart Clark, Portuguese Francesco Mircolino and England's Bryan Balser (Derby).

LONDON TOWERS

Merged with Crystal Palace; Italian coach Lino Frattin replaces Kevin Cadle (Sky TV) and has England international Martin Henlan back after two years in Greece, alongside returning Danny Lewis and new Americans Dwayne Morton and Malcolm Leak (both with NBA experience) Eric Kubel and Ray Schultz (Watford).

DERBY STORM

The new coach Bob Donewald (Leicester) joins Storm after losing David Attewell and Stedroy Baker (Leopards), Balser (Tigers) and Ted Berry and Brendon Graves (Edinburgh). American D J Bosse sent home after suffering double jaw fracture in practice. They have new Americans in Rico Alderson, former Rider Nate Reinking and John Tresvant.

MANCHESTER GIANTS

The former Birmingham coach, Nick Nurse, has assembled the pre-season title favourites, signing Tony Dorsey (Birmingham), Tony Holley (Thames Valley), Makeeba Perry and John White (Leopards) and American Porter Roberts.

LEICESTER CITY RIDERS

Former player and assistant coach Dave Harris replaces Donewald and brings back Americans Billy Singleton, Gene Waldron, JaRon Boone, plus new US Player Eric Moore.

CHESTER JETS

Robbie Peers inherits coaching role from Mike Burton and has Canadian backcourt pairing of Titus Channer and Andrew Mavis, plus American Greg Meldrum and the ex-England centre Jason Crump (Leopards).

WORTHING BEARS

The new coach, Chris Pullem, tempts back veteran Steve Nelson to join Greek Nick Chatzinikolis, Americans Jon Gaines, Larry Coates, James Doyle and Canadian Andy Tyler.

MILTON KEYNES LIONS

Tough assignment for rookie coach Andre Alleyne in franchise up-rooted to Buckinghamshire after finishing bottom of the league for the past three seasons in Watford and Hemel. Signed Americans Michael Brown and Broderick Bob and Angolan international David Dias.

EDINBURGH ROCKS

New franchise under the former Manchester coach, Jim Brandon. Their pre- season was hampered by injuries to Brendon Graves (Derby) and Marek Powlak and they signed Ted Berry (Derby), naturalised Icelander Jonathan Bow, Americans Brad Wedel (Towers) and Dameon Page (Tigers).

Teams listed in order they finished last season.

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