Riders speak to BBC Radio Leicester ahead of the playoffs

BBC Radio Leicester stopped by to speak to the team for their weekly “Game Night” show.

Ahead of the upcoming British Basketball League Playoffs, Riders players and Head Coach Rob Paternostro reflected on the Championship season, and previewed the postseason.

Here’s what they had to say…

Teddy Allen

Riders leading scorer, Teddy Allen, has spent the final weeks of the season getting into playoff shape. Working through injuries intensely has led to the American being in the best health that he’s been in all season, right in time for the postseason. 

“I have been dealing with some injuries, but I feel like I’ve got my body right and I’m ready to get to work in the playoffs,” said Allen. 

“The last few weeks I’ve been working closely with our training staff to get my body right. This is the healthiest I have been since I got here in Leicester, and I’m ready to make a run.”

The Riders enter the playoffs as the fifth seed. Reflecting on the second half of the year, Allen expressed disappointment in how the games fell, but is looking at ways to rectify recent results with his own performances. 

“I wish we could have got some more wins down the stretch. I have to look at myself first and think about what I could have done better to help our team win.

“If it’s points, rebounds, assists or defence, whatever the team needs me to do I just want to go out there and compete. 

“Nobody wants to lose, but we all left everything out there on the court with our effort and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

The playoffs represent a fresh start for the Riders, and Allen sees that as an opportunity to set right unmet potential from the Championship season. 

“You never want to go out on a down note in win-or-go-home scenarios. We feel like we could have done a lot better throughout the year, and now is our chance to prove that. 

“We are locked in as a unit, and it’s time for everyone to work towards a common goal. Anybody can get it. Whoever is in our way, we feel confident that we can win.” 

TJ Lall

For the Riders’ end of season awards, TJ Lall was named the Defensive Player of the Year and Player’s Player to recognise his efforts. 

Lall looked back on his performances, and how he grew into the season as it progressed:

“I feel like I’ve played my role all year. Whatever the team has needed I’ve been able to give. The second half was better than the first for me personally. Playing together more, we’ve been a more cohesive unit, which has helped my game.” 

Despite a season filled with ups and downs, the Riders showed up with big wins in important spots all year. 

A win-or-go-home victory in the Trophy against the Newcastle Eagles springs to mind, as well as wins against the Sheffield Sharks on the road and the Cheshire Phoenix at home down the stretch. 

“We stepped up in some big games this season. But our mentality has to change now. We have to be more locked in and in tune. We’ll see the Sharks multiple times, so we have to adjust and be ready for their adjustments.”

On a similar note to Allen, Lall looks forward to the chance of showing the League what this unit is capable of. 

“Everyone here wants to win. We know we’re talented and have not shown our full potential, and were ready to show it during the playoffs. The pressure is good for us. We play better under pressure.”

Duke Shelton

Duke Shelton, an American big who joined the Riders midseason, has stepped into the starting unit in recent weeks. 

After an adjustment period where he looked to settle into the team, he feels comfortable in his role going into the playoffs. 

“I’ve adapted really well and found my position within the team. I’ve enjoyed my time here so far.

“I feel like I’ve shown flashes of what I can do, but maybe not to my full potential yet. There’s been times where I’ve been consistent but I’m looking forward to what’s to come. 

“Anytime you come into a new situation in the middle of the year it can be a little challenging finding your spot. Everyone is comfortable where they are and you don’t want to ruffle any feathers or step on toes. You want to come in, have good energy and try to help the team any way you can.”

Over the course of his nine-year professional career, Shelton has learned that postseason appearances are a valuable commodity, and is looking to make the most of his upcoming run. 

“This is going to be my second time in the playoffs in my professional career. I’m looking forward to the atmosphere we’re going to be playing in. Everyone is going to step up and raise their level of play. It’s the playoffs, which is almost like a new season where anything can happen.”

And with the new season comes a new mentality, where the urgency is ramped up and everything is on the line. Shelton understands as much, and the team is ready to go. 

“It’s a new mindset now. I’m sure the rest of the team feel the same way, and that also goes for the other teams in the league. We’re ready to compete. 

“The team that’s willing to give a little bit more, most of the time, will win. Basketball is a game where the team with the fewest mistakes has a huge edge, so we need to be focussed and ready to play our best ball.” 

Rob Paternostro

Five-time British Basketball League Playoff champion, Rob Paternostro, understands more than anybody what it takes to lift the silverware at the O2 Arena. 

Since the Playoff Final has been played at the O2, the Riders have been there every year bar one, and Paternostro is keen to continue that trend. 

“Once you get to the playoffs there’s so much urgency because if you don’t play well you’re going home. Everyone wants to be at the O2 by the end, and we’ve been there nearly every year. It’s wonderful to be there, so that’s always the goal.” 

As was the case for most teams in the League, the gauntlet of the British Basketball League schedule saw ups and downs throughout the season. 

But now that the dust has settled, Paternostro feels the team is in a good position to go on a postseason run. 

“We had a tough last couple of games, but we’ve been similar to most teams this year on our ups and downs. It’s been a real grind. 

“The changes to our roster had a positive impact for us midway through the season. Of course, injuries hurt us in the second half of the year with Jaren and TJ especially late, but at our best we feel like we’re a really good team, and we’re in good shape going into the playoffs.”

Tickets are on sale for the Riders’ round one home game against the Sheffield Sharks on May 4.

Tickets are 20% off until 11:59 pm on Wednesday, May 24. Get yours here!

Leicester Riders speak to BBC Radio Leicester

Leicester Riders featured on last night’s episode of “Game Night” on BBC Radio Leicester. 

You can listen to the full episode here! 

Radio Leicester spoke to the team about their season so far and their mindset going into the rest of the year. 

Here’s what they had to say…

Teddy Allen- “The team welcomed me with open arms”

Teddy hit the ground running in Leicester following his arrival in mid-December, winning British Basketball League Player of the Month right off the bat.

He credited his early success to the unselfishness of his new team. 

“It’s hard to come in somewhere and be successful with my teammates being unselfish,” Allen told BBC Radio Leicester.

“This group is exactly that. I had messages from players even before I arrived, and it was good to feel welcomed to the team. Everybody had open arms for me when I got here. I can’t thank them enough for that.”

The Riders have seen a turn in form since Allen’s arrival, but the American guard said everything was already in place for the group to be successful. 

“The team were on a skid when I got here, but we had to pieces to compete. There is a lot of talent in every position, all the way down the bench. I was able to inject some energy into the group, and after that, we rediscovered our form and everyone has been playing well.”

Basketball is in Allen’s blood, as his younger brother, Timmy Allen, currently suits up for Memphis Hustle in the NBA G-League. Teddy said that growing up in a competitive environment with his brother helped them both become the players they are today. 

“We’re only a year and a half apart, so we were always competing growing up, playing with and against each other. When you have a brother is a blessing. You have a competitor and someone to help you get where you want to go, and he’s definitely been that for me.”

Kimbal Mackenzie- “This group will do anything they can to win.”

Kimbal started off by reflecting on a hard-fought Trophy Final Four battle with Cheshire Phoenix, where the Riders fell just short against the eventual champions. 

“It was a difficult loss in Birmingham- that was a tough pill to swallow. I’ve been on both sides of those types of games, and I hate being on that end of it. 

“That said, our team is playing well and with a lot of confidence at the moment, and I think we’re in a good place. We have to keep looking forward, and it’s time for us to move on to League play.”

It was a difficult start to the season for the Riders, but their recent form has seen them rise in the Championship standings, and they look to kick on for the remainder of the season. 

Mackenzie said the professionalism of the team has helped them turn their play around. 

“My teammates have been great. They’ve been excited to show up and put their best foot forward. This is a group that will do anything they can to win. That’s what I expect of myself, and that’s what Coach Rob expects of all of us.

“Everyone here is professional. At every level you play, you have ups and downs, no matter how good you are, so it’s good to be back on track. We have great coaches and vets around me and it’s a professional group to be around. 

“We approach every game to win and put ourselves in a position to lift the title come playoff time. Seeding really matters with the new format, so we have to work hard to be as high as possible in the league going into the postseason.”

Rob Paternostro-  “We’re putting ourselves in a good position for a nice run.”

Head Coach Rob Paternostro has always taken pride in seeing improvements in his teams throughout the season. 

Therefore, he has wanted to see the uptick in recent form all season long. 

“We always want to have a team that gets better throughout the season. We have had a lot of great teams here, but they’ve always been better in February than they were in January. Everyone is improving. It’s a long season, so you need to have that in your group. 

“I like the way we’re playing right now. Over the last 10 games, we’re ranked first in offence and second in defence. We’re putting ourselves in a good position for a nice run.”

Home form has been consistent all season long for Leicester. They have a 9-4 record at the Morningside Arena in all competitions, with two of the losses coming at the hands of the table-topping London Lions. 

And Paternostro has been pleased with the recent improvement in play on the road. 

“Away games always are a challenge in any sport. We went up to Newcastle in a hostile environment a couple of weeks ago and came away with a big win, so it’s clear that we’re getting better on the road. We’re showing more focus away from home than we did earlier in the season.”

While the start of the season was below the standards Paternsotro has set for this team over the previous decade, the recent improvements to the Riders’ play has given him confidence in their ability to challenge for playoff silverware. 

“Let’s let it all play out. We’ve had a run that is unprecedented in any sport in this country, and of course, it’s tough to maintain that. We know there will be highs and lows, but I like how we’re playing.”

Duke Shelton- “There’s still a lot of basketball to be played.”

Another new signing to the team, Duke Shelton, has also settled quickly into Leicester life. His high-energy play style has been a welcome addition to the roster. 

“This team really likes to get up and down the floor, so I thought it would be a good fit for how I play. It’s been great playing for Coach Rob, who knows how to get the best out of his players. He’s a player-coach, and that’s something different to what I’ve been used to.”

Basketball-obsessed Shelton’s seamless fit into the team is partly thanks to his dedication to the game off the court. 

“I started playing basketball when I was 15, so I came to it late, but since then, it’s been my daily regimen. Every day I’ve had something to do with basketball, and it has given me the opportunity to see the world and meet a lot of different people from all walks of life. 

“The game offers a lot more than what you see inside the lines.”

After their Trophy campaign, where the Riders showed signs of high-level play, Shelton sees that there is more to come from his new team. 

“We showed a bit of what we can do in terms of our identity, but there’s more potential in this roster, and there’s still a lot of basketball to be played.”

TJ Lall- “We’ve been focused on the end goal”

With the Trophy in the books, the Riders now apply their full attention to the remainder of their Championship campaign and the playoffs after that. 

TJ Lall, like the rest of the team, is locked in.

“All year, we’ve been focused on the end goal, but now, with the Trophy done, there’s an extra level of focus on the league and the playoffs.

“It would mean the world to win the playoffs at the end of the year. That’s what we’ve been striving for. We’re here to win, so it would be incredible.”

With big roster changes taking place earlier in the year, players such as Lall, who have been with the team at the start of the season, have had to adapt. But to him, it’s part of playing in professional basketball. 

“Teams change all the time. You have to adapt and move on; the new guys have improved the team. 

“We feel like it’s achievable to win it all. We showed what we can do in the Trophy, despite the loss. We were right there and lost by a point to the team that went on to win it.

“The emphasis is on getting better every practice, and hopefully, by the end of the season, we’re at our best, and we’ll see what we can achieve.”

The Riders are in action on Friday, hosting the Plymouth City Patriots.

Get your tickets here!