D1 Men Preview
Wolves' men start the second half of their NBL Division One on Sunday afternoon when Reading Rockets are the visitors to Oaklands.
Thomas Baker's side go into the tenth of a reduced 19-game schedule with a 2-7 record but are just one victory behind seventh place Rockets who have three wins from seven games. With both attempts to play their L Lynch Trophy games called off due to Covid-19 issues and neither side able to progress to the knockout stage the tie was cancelled, and this will be the only game between the two teams this season.
American guard O'Showen Williams leads the Rockets, sitting just inside the league's top averaging 20.6 points per game, adding six rebounds, five assists and 2.9 steals as well. The signing of Reiss Pinnock from Loughborough Riders has seen the British point guard average 6.9 assists per game while the signing of former Leopards' captain Chuck Duru brings veteran leadership which often doesn't show on the scoresheet.
Both sides go into the game on the back of big defeats against champions Solent Kestrels, but Wolves' coach Thomas Baker is pleased with how his young side is coping with Division One: "While some may look at the scoreline in last weekend's game which shows the massive task this programme has to grow and improve, I was pleased with the effort and attitude of the group" he said.
"We continued to fight and hustle until the end and it is these behaviours that are needed each week. I have been proud of how our academy group have handled the task of stepping up week in week out to perform against some of the best talent in the country.
"Our focus remains at the defensive end and making sure we are not allowing teams to get comfortable playing against us. Reading are a team that are improving each week, and we are looking forward to testing ourselves against them this weekend. Lastly it will be great to welcome Chuck back, a player who was a massive part of my time as Leopards coach.”
Wolves will hope that point guard Jordan Santiago and forward James Cummings are fit to return. Santiago is third in the Division One scoring table with 24.6 points per game, adding a league-high 3.1 steals and an impressive 9.5 rebounds, while Cummings is leading the division in three point shooting percentage.
The Rockets were the Wolves' predecessors - Leopards - oldest rivals, being their first opponents at Wodson Park back in 2004 and playing around 50 times at an incredible 14 different venues over the course of 16 years. The most famous meeting between the sides came in the 2005/6 National Cup final with Leopards lifting the oldest piece of silverware in English basketball with a thrilling 79-75 victory in front of a 6,000 crowd.
Rockets won both visits to Oaklands last season, knocking Leopards out of the National Cup at the quarter-final stage, but the Big Cats' 97-91 overtime victory at Rivermead sparked the run that ensured the new-look Wolves would play in Division One during 2020/21.