On Saturday, the Riders will play their first road game of the British Basketball Championship season as they visit the SGS College Arena to face the Bristol Flyers.
Coach Rob Paternostro’s squad will travel to Bristol in high spirits after a hard-fought 88-81 victory over the Plymouth City Patriots last Friday.
Leicester Riders @ Bristol Flyers
SGS College Arena, Bristol
Saturday, September 30, 8:00pm
Riders Aiming to Build Winning Streak
After the bounce-back win in round two, the Riders will want to back up the victory with more of the same in the upcoming two-week road trip.
Leicester will face adversity against the Flyers and the upgraded Serios Group Newcastle Eagles, but the triumph over Plymouth demonstrated that this group is packed with resilience.
Trailing by 10, deep into the third quarter, Paternostro’s squad dug deep to wrestle back momentum through aggression at the rim and reliable free throw shooting.
Former Iowa State guard, Jaren Holmes, was a key part of the comeback and should be a focal point of the Riders’ offence come Saturday night.
Holmes is currently getting to the foul line eight times a game and hitting at an impressive rate of 88%. The abilities of both Holmes and captain Kimbal Mackenzie to draw fouls could be crucial to building a lead in this one.
Mackenzie himself had a difficult three-quarters last Friday, but his refusal to stop taking shots paid off, and he ended the game with a well-earned seven points – incidentally, the difference between the Riders and their opponents.
Leicester’s captain is the epitome of confidence, a trait that the Riders need to take into their matchup with the Flyers if they are to get the better of a team that finished third in the championship last season.
Texas-born guard Caleb Asberry made is Riders debut against the Plymouth City Patriots, and impressed in front of his home crowd.
“It felt good to be back, especially because I’ve been out for a little while. It felt good to be out there with the guys,” said Asberry.
After finding rhythm in the second half last Friday, Asberry looks for the team to put in a performance for the full 40 in this one.
“Everybody needs to buy in, and play our roles. That’s all it’s going to take: doing the small things.
“We’ve been watching a lot of film, and Bristol play hard. The rebound well from all five spots, so we’ll have to box out well. That’s been our main struggle, so we’re going to have to execute there.”
Bristol’s 2022/2023 in Review
An impressive 25-11 record in the BBL Championship saw Bristol place third in the standings last season, before making it to the Playoff semi-finals. The Flyers were unable to make it to the O2 Arena however, losing to the Riders by three points on aggregate in a hotly contested series.
A surprise defeat to the Surrey Scorchers in the BBL Trophy and a loss to the London Lions in the Cup wrapped up a promise-filled season that ended without a trophy.
Key players for the Flyers were Basketball Journalists Association Player of the Year, VJ King, and the winner of the BJA Pete Jacques Award for British Player of the Year, Jelani Watson-Gayle.
King was the heart of Bristol’s offensive production, dropping 17 points a night at a 44% clip.
Watson-Gayle assisted King with pinpoint accuracy from deep, knocking down 38.9% of his three-point attempts whilst averaging 11.7 points a game.
The Flyers, who will be without the award-winning duo this season, will nonetheless be hoping to remain a force to be reckoned with in the BBL.
Flyers Replace Key Pieces
Bristol managed to retain a large part of their roster for the current season, but lost the services of star players, VJ King, Jelani Watson-Gayle and Thomas Bell.
King moved to Germany to hit buckets for the Hamburg Towers, Bell will play in the Czech National League after a good rookie season with the Flyers and Watson-Gayle has not returned after playing for Winnipeg in the summer.
The Flyers responded by making four off-season moves, notably signing 6’11” centre, Brad Greene, from the Kapfenberg Bulls.
The American led the Austrian Basketball League in rebounds last season and put up 22 double-doubles for the Bulls.
Greene has carried that form into the BBL early, averaging over 14 points and seven rebounds in his first couple of outings.
Finding ways to combat Greene in the paint on both ends of the floor will be vital if the Riders want to come away with the dub.
It will be a tough task for the Flyers, however, as they took on the London Lions on the road on Thursday night, falling 98-84 to start the season 1-2.
Played for Both
Northampton-born power forward Shane Walker has suited up for both the Riders and the Flyers.
The 35-year-old played six years of basketball in the BBL, occupying the Riders’ front court between 2015 and 2018 before consecutive stints with the London Lions and Flyers.
Walker averaged 6.9 points per game in his three seasons with the Riders and became an important piece of a squad that won three BBL Championships, three BBL Trophies and two BBL Playoff titles.
The 6’10” big man also earned a place in the England squad for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, helping the national team reach the quarter-finals.
Walker most recently competed in the UK with the Flyers in 2021/22, taking to the court on 23 occasions averaging 3.5 points per game.
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