Big stage beckons Sharks : BASKETBALL

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The Independent Online

Duncan Hooper

If Sheffield Sharks needed an extra incentive to keep their lead - currently 12 points - in the Budweiser League until the end of the season, it came with yesterday's confirmation that the McDonald's Open will be staged at the London Arena from 19 to 21 October.

The Budweiser League champions will line up with the champions of America's professional NBA, the Australian champions, the European club champions, and two other leading Continental sides.

The plans for the eighth McDonald's Open were confirmed before this weekend's NBA All-Star game in Phoenix.

Previous tournaments had featured a nominated NBA team, but next October the NBA champions will defend the title which has always gone to America.

Mike Smith, the Basketball League administrator, said "This is the world's premier club competition and the honour of staging the event reflects the increasing profile of basketball in England.''

Sheffield, playing in their first season in the League, are odds-on to take the domestic title and become the McDonald's first English participants. The draw pairs them with the European club champions on the opening night, when the other game will be between the other European teams.

The NBA and Australian champions have a bye and play each other in the semi-finals, leaving the European clubs to fight for the other place in the climax to the event scheduled for 5pm on the Saturday evening

The Sharks, their confidence jolted by a 72-71 home defeat against Birmingham Bullets in the semi-final first leg of the National Cup in midweek, are away to Worthing in the League tonight.