The Riders are set to take on the Final Four in the British Basketball League Trophy this weekend.
For Head Coach Rob Paternostro, it will be his sixth trip to Birmingham at the Riders’ reins as he goes for his 18th piece of League silverware with the club.
He reflected on his team’s journey through the competition so far, and previewed Leicester’s clash with the Phoenix on Saturday.
To punch their ticket to Birmingham, the Riders faced off against their historic rivals, the Newcastle Eagles, in a win-or-go-home scenario. The Riders controlled the game on the road against the Eagles, coming out 101-85 victors.
The result saw the Riders through with a 3-1 record, winning both of their home games against the Manchester Giants and Bristol Flyers before getting it done in the North East.
“We played some good basketball on both ends of the floor,” said Paternsotro, looking back at the team’s performances throughout the group phase.
“We took care of our home games, which was very important, and we showed a real toughness to go on the road in a win-or-go-home game and win by such a big margin in Newcastle.
“We felt really good about our team going into the game. With the additions of Teddy and Duke, we feel like we’re in a great position.
“We have confidence, we’ve been having great weeks in practice, and we can see the work we’ve been putting in on the court in games. It was an impressive win to be in control like that.”
The Riders made waves midseason with the acquisition of CEBL MVP Teddy Allen and experienced forward Duke Shelton to their roster.
The midseason moves have had a significant impact on the team.
“Our rebounding has certainly picked up, and both of those guys have really helped in that regard. Teddy’s size and energy from the wing have helped us close possessions, and adding Duke means we feel like we have more options to play bigger if needed.
“Looking at this roster, we have a lot of guys now that are locked in and alert.
“That has improved from the beginning of the season until now, and it’s vital when you come into any important game. We have to have a group that’s aware of what the team is doing defensively.”
It’s no secret to anyone following the team that the impact of Allen on this Riders roster has been immeasurable. He led the Trophy in scoring throughout the group phase and has given the team confidence going onto the court with an elite scoring threat.
Riders captain Kimbal Mackenzie attested to this:
“Of course, the thing that stands out with Teddy is his ability to score, but above that has provided us with an extra layer of confidence and swagger.
“He’s given our team the confidence to go on the road in a game like Newcastle, knowing we have him on our side. He’s a winner. It’s simple to say, but he cares about winning. You can tell throughout the week at practice- he always wants to play more, and he works hard on both ends.”
Paternostro seconded his skipper, speaking on what having another All-Star talent on the roster has added to the team:
“Before Teddy arrived, we were already beginning to put together some smart, intelligent play, but he’s given us an X-Factor that can do so much.
“His scoring has been tremendous. It’s given the group confidence knowing they have a guy who can make plays like that. But he’s also helped us in a lot of ways that people haven’t talked about.
“His physicality from the wing, his rebounding and his ability to find the ball are all things that we’ve been looking for before he arrived, and he’s been someone that can explode and take your team to another level.”
TJ’s Trophy Performances
Beyond Teddy, the Riders have difference-makers up and down the roster. A player that has particularly impressed since he landed in Leicester is Canadian forward TJ Lall.
“TJ has been fantastic in this competition, and he’s been a really good player for us all year. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league.
“He can impact the game in many ways on both ends of the floor, cover multiple positions defensively, and his athleticism is valuable, but offensively, he has shown an ability to score and shoot efficiently and to create as well.
“We’ve been very happy to have him playing for us. He’s been vital. He’s a hard worker- he’s there early and late in practice- and he wants to be in big games.
“Going forward, the sky is the limit for him. When you combine his skills with his willingness to guard anyone, you’re looking at a player who is going to have a bright career.”
Back to Birmingham
Paternostro returns to Birmingham for the sixth time as head coach. He played for the Birmingham Bullets in the British Basketball League for two stints between 2000 and 2004. It’s a city of great sentiment for him.
“I love it there. It’s always been a great place to play. I’ve been in this country a long time and played so many memorable games there, coaching and playing.”
The all-new Trophy format sees the Final Four fight it out over the weekend, bringing the Riders to Birmingham with the reigning champions Caledonia Gladiators, as well as the Cheshire Phoenix and London Lions.
“The exciting part about this weekend is that it’s four teams and four sets of fans coming to the Arena on Saturday. Having a lot of British Basketball League fans around the city is going to make a great environment for British basketball.”
Facing the Phoenix
The Riders will take on the Cheshire Phoenix on Saturday, who have already bested them three times this season.
Paternostro said that keeping them in the halfcourt is a big key to success in this one.
“We can’t allow easy baskets. We have to take away easy runouts and layups, offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities. We have to make it tough for them to get good looks.
“In these types of games, it’s important to limit offensive opportunities, and if you do that, you put yourself in a good position to win.”
Cheshire are one of the stories of the season, sitting a win behind second in the British Basketball League Championship standings. They reached the final of the Trophy last season but fell on the buzzer to David Sloan’s corner three.
The Riders will look to prevent them from making it back-to-back Finals appearances for the Phoenix.
“They’re really good in the open floor- they’ve scored the most in transition of any team season. They’ve done a good job of getting second-chance opportunities. That’s going to be vital to stop.
“When we’ve been able to limit those against anyone, we’ve been successful this year.”
These games, in these environments, are the types of matchups that the best players thrive in. Paternostro called out to his team to enjoy the occasion.
“There’s a lot of good players in this game, so it should be a really good event for everyone involved. We’ve got to enjoy it. These are the games we play for, and you have to have a group that enjoys the challenge and is fired up to play well on the day.”
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