Basketball: Paternostro set for career as a rough Rider

The 33-year-old is returning to British basketball - but remains a hard man, he tells Richard Taylor
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"Feisty, always wants to win, gives every ounce of effort out on the court." Karl Brown could be running through his own notable qualities. The Leicester Riders coach, though, is talking about his latest signing Rob Paternostro, who returns to the British Basketball League after a two-year gap and makes his debut tonight at the start of a new campaign.

Their paths have crossed before, squaring up to each other in the back-court when Brown, now 39, was playing for the Riders against Paternostro's former club, Birmingham Bullets. Equally aggressive, the hard-nosed, in-your-face defensive terriers ran up impressive stats in bruises to match those of assists, steals and game-breaking three-pointers.

Paternostro, 33, recalls: "Karl probably gave me more cheap shots than anyone I have ever played against in basketball."

Some compliment from the Italian-American who has also played in pro leagues in the US and on the Continent. "He tried to bully me from the first time we crossed - pushing, pulling and banging. At least the only time he'll get hold of me now is when he yanks me off court."

Neither is big in basketball terms: Paternostro at 5ft 10in, and Brown at 6ft 2in. And it was Brown's success as a "smaller" player which partly inspired Paternostro. The Leicester-born Brown had an outstanding US college career as the defensive specialist for Georgia Tech when they reached the National Collegiate Athletic Association's "Final Four".

"I watched a lot of those Georgia games on TV and he showed that a little guy could make it."

Paternostro remained in Birmingham after leaving the Bullets, who with London Towers and Brighton Bears withdrew from the BBL in the summer to be replaced by Worcester Wolves and London United, tonight's opponents for Riders at their De Montfort University venue.

Leicester fans, who baited him from the stands two years ago, will now take his unquenchable effort and commitment to their hearts as did the Bullets' diehards.

Paternostro laughed: "We had a fans' night at the Riders last week and some of them admitted they dare not repeat the things they used to yell at me."

Whether Paternostro himself has mellowed over his two-year sabbatical should become clear tonight.