Basketball: Riders hoping Perry's return can lift season

With only 10 teams competing in this season's British Basketball League - the lowest number for nine seasons after Essex Leopards became the third club to fold in three years during the summer - it should be harder not to reach the play-off quarter-finals than to qualify.

Yet after just three weeks, Leicester Riders and Birmingham Bullets look odds on to miss out after both lost their opening four games.

But Riders, at least, have some hope of getting off the mark following yesterday's return of the talismanic American Purnell Perry. The 6ft 5in forward was in the Riders team which won the National Cup and play-offs in the 2001 campaign and he makes his debut at home to third-placed Thames Valley Tigers tonight.

The Riders coach, Billy Mims, is under pressure from fans, and Purnell's return could lighten the mood of disaffection at Riders' Loughborough University venue.

"It's great to have Purnell back in the Riders' uniform," Mims said. "He's a great guy on and off the court and the fans love him, too." The fans would love a win even more. Riders have lost 20 BBL games in a row since beating an under-strength London Towers last February, and Mims' predecessor, Tim Darling, was sacked after losing 15 in a row.

Bullets travel to Milton Keynes Lions tomorrow and the coach, Steve Tucker, hopes this week's signing of the veteran American Herb Baker, a 6ft 8in power forward, will lift his inexperienced squad.

This will be Bullets' fifth game on the road after they lost use of the Aston Events Centre due to a row between their abrasive owner, Craig Bown, the centre's operators and Birmingham City Council. They will have had six away games by the time Tigers are the first visitors to their new home at Birmingham Sports Centre, Highgate, on Saturday week.

The England international Yorick Williams makes his debut for Brighton Bears at Chester Jets tonight. The Bears have released Phil Perre.

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