Basketball: Sharks and Giants promise an awesome start

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The Independent Online
BARELY FOUR months after Terrell Myers shot spectacularly to win the championship for Sheffield Sharks by beating Manchester Giants and denying them the title, the same two clubs tip off the new season at the MEN Arena tomorrow.

But while the sport prepares for its 27th consecutive season of national competition, London rivals Leopards and Towers have already set their sights on September 2000.

The Euro League begins next season, a competition for the Continent's most powerful clubs, and the international federation, Fiba, will offer wild cards to two nations to complete an elite of 24 teams.

Competitively, English clubs do not warrant consideration. This fact was emphasised on Wednesday night when the Leopards lost 111- 75 against Reykjanesbaer in Iceland in the first leg of their Korac Cup Tie.

But such is basketball's marketing pull in the UK that England could receive an invitation to the Euro League. Participation in the League could be worth in excess of pounds 300,000, a vast amount to an English club.

Towers start their 10-game schedule in the Saporta Cup against Croatia Split on Tuesday at Crystal Palace, continuing the trend of recent seasons when they have been the only English club to play consistently in European competition.

Rick Taylor, Towers director and general manager, said: "Knowing the Euro League starts next season was an extra factor, but we would have played in Europe anyway. English clubs need to build a profile with Fiba and I am glad Leopards are playing. But I wish English clubs had played in Europe over the last four or five seasons and not suddenly show an interest because they think they see something at the end of the tunnel. We are ambitious in Europe. Fiba know that. But we will play in Europe next season, wild card or not."

The Leopards owner, Ed Simons, met the Fiba general secretary, Boris Stankovic, in Munich in January. Simons said: "I put English basketball's case in general and Leopards case in particular. His response was that we should take advantage of the situation by competing. Our place in the Korac Cup is to give us a profile in Europe."

Because of the gulf between English and Fiba rules, Leopards and Towers must omit three of their five Americans for European competition, hardly a basis for being competitive.

Simons said: "The eligibility question is an added burden, but we believe it is worth it." If a Euro-League invitation lands on his desk next summer Wednesday's hammering in Iceland will seem insignificant.

FIXTURES (Tomorrow): Birmingham Bullets v London Leopards (7.0); Brighton Bears v Newcastle Eagles (7.0); Leicester City Riders v Edinburgh Rocks (7.30); London Towers v Milton Keynes Lions (7.0); Manchester Giants v Sheffield Sharks (6.15); Thames Valley Tigers v Chester Jets (7.30). Sunday: Edinburgh Rocks v Derby Storm (5.0); Milton Keynes Lions v Birmingham Bullets (4.0); Sheffield Sharks v Leicester Riders (4.0).