In what has been by general consensus the hardest basketball season in living memory for fixture secretaries, four Capital teams will contest the finals of the Scottish League Play-Offs tomorrow and Sunday.
With clubs so dependent on educational facilities, many wish that the Christian Church would get on with agreeing a fixed date for Easter which, being early this year, has added to the problems.
Others believe that Basketball Scotland, who will also stage age-group play-off finals this weekend, have just been too ambitious in planning a programme which the system cannot support; a shortage of top quality referees does not help.
Little wonder then that Boroughmuir Blaze, whose initiative in acquiring their own training venue by taking over the Crags Sports Centre has been such an outstanding success, are favourites to complete a league and play-off double when they take on Edinburgh University in the men’s final at the Pleasance tomorrow, 4.45pm.
Full-time coach Simon Turner has developed a high-octane team who had five scorers in double figures in their semi-final win over last year’s champions Falkirk Fury and are always confident they can come from behind as they did then.
In former Worcester Wolves point guard Eoghann Dover, forward Tomas Cicenas who is a graduate of the Sabonis Lithuanian basketball school, and Scotland cap John Browne, he has a nucleus of tough defending hot shots augmented by the club’s former juniors coming off the bench such as Sam Stott and Ronan Mullan.
Turner faces the most successful men’s league coach, Danny Costello. The former Edinburgh Kings mentor has dropped strong hints that this may be his last game in charge of EU.
Dover is full of praise for Turner’s coaching: “He’s got better every year in the three years I’ve played for him. We know if we play at our tempo the university will find it hard to last the full 40 minutes against us.”
EU, runners-up in the Scottish Cup and third in the league behind Blaze and Glasgow University, have already surpassed Costello’s expectations and his loyal band of current and ex-students including Ben Warrington, Jac St John and captain Davy Rowan would love to give him a golden send-off. But Costello admits they’ll have to manage the high pressure Blaze defence and ensure they play at their own pace.
Edinburgh Kool Kats’ equally experienced veteran play-caller Graham (Ben) Gunn has no intention of throwing in the towel although faced with the even tougher task on Sunday at 3pm of facing EU women, who are unbeaten in Scottish competition this season, and have already won both Cup and League. “We’ll have to play at our very best and hope they are still down from their BUCS defeat,” he said.
EU lost to Sheffield Hallam 86-73 in the British Universities Championship final at Ponds Forge, Sheffield after leading 19-7 and 23-13 after the first quarter. Captain Erin McDonnel top scored with 23 points, point guard Sarah Halejian shot 20 in a sparkling display and Dori Lansbach added 12.
Coach Bart Sengers was initially angry: “Too many defensive mistakes made it too hard to win so we didn’t. We didn’t execute our game plan after running into foul trouble early in the game.”
But the Dutchman, who has been widely praised by the top English coaches for the improvement he has made in the EU team, added: “We’d have settled for that at the start of the season as our goal was to make the Final Four and we did that and managed to win against the number one (Northumbria). After not being a factor for one year and only a small factor last year this is an incredible achievement.”