Basketball: Simons sinks teeth in Sharks

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The Independent Online
RASHOD JOHNSON makes his debut for Greater London Leopards in the National Cup Final tomorrow, the unwitting centrepiece of a controversy that has spiced up preparations for an apparently one-sided contest in which the Sharks are overwhelming favourites for victory on their own court at Sheffield Arena.

Leopards' owner, Ed Simons, ridiculed claims by the Sharks coach, Chris Finch, that Johnson should not have been allowed to register for the final.

"Last season Sheffield made exactly the same move when they brought in John Amaechi from America," Simons said. "Their sole aim was for Amaechi to win them a title and that's what he did by winning the League Trophy virtually single-handed.

"At the time Yuri Matischen [Sheffield's general manager] rang me and asked for the Leopards' support. I told him that the League needed players of Amaechi's quality, and good luck to them if he chose to go to Sheffield.

"Now we get this nonsense from their coach. He should concentrate his aggression for the basketball court."

Finch is also angry that his own Peter Scantelbury is cup-tied and that the Leopards were allowed to postpone tonight's scheduled Trophy game with London Towers, giving them a clear week to prepare for the final.

Sheffield had to play Birmingham Bullets in a televised Budweiser League game last night, and Leopards' coach, Billy Mims, admitted he is grateful for the extra time.

"We've had all week to prepare," he said, "but Sheffield had to concentrate on Birmingham until 24 hours before the final. That will help us."

Sheffield have twice beaten the Leopards in the League this season by more than 25 points, but Finch warned: "They have no pressure on them, and if they win it makes their season."

n The National Basketball Association has wasted no time in trying to put the lockout behind it by pledging to lure back fans with cheaper seats and preparing for a shortened season. The league hopes to start the season on 5 February and play about 50 games.