‘UK’s best kept sporting secret’ live on BBC on Friday

Leicester v Sheffield in the 2016 BBL play-off final

Leicester Riders (in red) won two of last season’s titles – the Trophy and the Championship

It may be a sport dominated by the United States, but basketball in Britain is no slouch in terms of excitement and fan interest.

On Friday, the BBC will show the first of 32 British Basketball League (BBL) and Women’s British Basketball League (WBBL) games live on the BBC Sport website and app, as well as on selected connected TVs.

So what actually is the deal with British basketball and why should you be interested?

  • BBL and WBBL schedule

Why should I watch it?

If you like your sport fast-paced, high-scoring and aggressive, then BBL action will be right up your street.

“I think it’s kind of the best kept secret in the UK,” said Atiba Lyons, head coach of last season’s play-off winners Sheffield Sharks.

Sharks defeated Leicester Riders in front of more than 12,000 fans at London’s O2 Arena in May to lift one of four of the titles in a league which has struggled to achieve a true mainstream audience.


Sheffield Sharks celebrate winning the BBL play-offs title

But the BBL prides itself on the outreach work it does, and Lyons says as soon as they can connect with people, they get hooked.

“Figures show that one of the most popular team sports in under-25s is basketball,” continued Lyons. “The younger generation gravitate towards basketball.

“Once the older generation see it and get to a game you always get a great response.

“My partner’s grandfather had never watched basketball and he’s 90 years old. Now he comes to every home game in Sheffield.”

Great Britain women’s guard Georgia Jones, who plays for WBBL side Manchester Mystics, said trying to get fans through the door was like “the chicken and egg situation”.

She told BBC Sport: “When you’re looking at women’s basketball, I think a lot of people don’t really understand how exciting the game can be.

“People think it’s a non-contact sport but it’s actually pretty aggressive and it’s a lot more entertaining when you’re there physically watching sport.”

If you want proof of the velocity of the game, Jones is currently nursing a black eye picked up from one of her Great Britain team-mates in a practice session.


Georgia Jones (centre) was part of the GB women’s side to just miss out on qualifying for Eurobasket

Which titles are up for grabs?

In the BBL, teams are playing for four possible pieces of silverware: Championship, play-offs, Cup and Trophy.

The Championship winners are those that come out on top of the league table at the end of the normal 12-team season. The top eight teams enter the end-of-season play-offs before the showpiece final, which will be staged at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham on 14 May.

The BBL Cup and BBL Trophy are both knockout competitions, with finals on 15 January and 19 March respectively.

The 10-team WBBL follows a similar league format and has one knockout competition – the WBBL Trophy, the final of which will be played before the men’s version.

What has happened this season?

Sheffield’s successful 2015-16 campaign ended a 12-year wait for a play-off title, but this year the BBL Championship has so far been dominated by the traditional powerhouses of Newcastle Eagles and Leicester Riders.

Eagles, having made a number of new signings both from the UK and USA including Orlan Jackman and Deondre Parks, are four points ahead of the Riders, who have three games in hand on the league leaders.

But Lyons has high praise for the team in third, Glasgow Rocks, who have never won a Championship and whose only play-off title came under their previous guise of Scottish Rocks in 2003.


Glasgow are six points behind Newcastle Eagles, but have four games in hand and two points available for every victory

“They kind of flew under the radar but they’re starting to show some great form,” said Lyons.

“They were able to secure Neil Watson, who had been at Leicester for the past couple of years, and are a team that have been surprising people because it’s been traditionally a two-horse race.”

The WBBL is only in its third season, but after two years of near domination by Sheffield Hatters, Nottingham Wildcats and Team Northumbria, the competitiveness of the league has vastly improved.

There is a four-way tie at the top of the table between Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester Riders and Jones’ Manchester.

She said: “In previous years there was a big difference between the top and bottom of the league.

“This year it seems like everybody is competing with each other, we’ve had a few unexpected upsets already and anyone can beat anyone. That’s made the league more competitive.”

Who should I look out for?

The first BBC game sees Bristol Flyers travel to Worcester Wolves, with the 2014 BBL Cup-winning hosts already 16 points behind leaders Newcastle.

But coach Paul James is hopeful that they may have turned a corner following the return of Andrew Bachman after a rib injury and the signing of Mo Walker, who has already clocked up three “double doubles” – at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in the same game – in as many matches.


Worcester Wolves’ Mo Walker has clocked up 75 points in his three matches to date

“Mo is the inside presence that we have been missing all season,” James told BBC Sport. “He has had a tremendous impact on the three games that he has played with us.

“We were light in the rebounding area, but he has given us both a defensive and a genuine offensive option close to the basket. You can see from his stats what a great impact he has had. He is proving to be one of the dominant big men in the league.”

On 9 December, the BBC will show a fixture between the BBL’s two big guns Newcastle and Leicester, and Sharks coach Lyons is well aware of their danger men.

“Rahmon Fletcher for Newcastle was MVP last year and doing well and one of his team-mates Scott Martin – they’re a very dynamic duo and are definitely players to watch for.

“Leicester are very strong throughout and have one of the best British talents historically in Andrew Sullivan. He’s played an Olympics and been MVP a couple of times and they’re just playing strong team basketball. No-one stands out but they’re consistent every night.”

Before that BBL match, the first live BBC WBBL game will be fought out by Leicester and Manchester, who boast Jones, the first player to hand out 150 assists in the competition.

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