Levett Essex Leopards general manager Dave Ryan has vowed that the Big Cats will immediately bounce back after a heart-breaking weekend saw them relegated from NBL Division One.
Saturday saw Leopards lead for 39 of the 40 minutes in regulation time at London Lituanica before losing 88-83 in double overtime before a buzzer beater saw them go down 83-82 at Lancashire Spinners.
The Big Cats now face their first season in Division Two in their 13 year history, but Ryan is determined that his side will make a swift return to the top flight:
“It’s absolutely shattering” he admitted. “I can’t fault the players for their effort in the last three games since we had to change coach, they gave everything but we came up just short both times.
“The atmosphere in the locker room afterwards was unbelievable, it’s easy to exaggerate things but it was like someone died. To see the ball go through the hoop with nothing left on the clock was heart-breaking. I’ve been a supporter of football and basketball since I was a kid – and I’ve certainly cried before – but nothing has ever felt that bad.
“Ultimately three season-ending injuries to players who would’ve been starting killed us.
“But we have no right to stay up, we have no right to win games. What we have to do now is regroup, get better and make sure we bounce back immediately – no excuses, we just have to come straight back.
“We’d already spent a lot of time building for next season, making changes we felt were necessary and trying to improve things on the court.
“It’s not arrogant to say we have had the best game-day experience in Division One this season, all the work a lot of people have put in has paid off in that respect with the biggest crowds in the league and reaching the point we had to turn kids away from the pre-game coaching because there was too many of them to fit on the court.
“Now we have to make sure that not only do we have the best club in Division Two but we also have the best team and come straight back with silverware to show for our efforts.
“AJ [Roberts – Leopards’ American guard] said after the game ‘I’m not going out like that, I’m coming back to get us back where we belong’ – that’s the attitude we have to have.”
Ryan had praise for new coach Thomas Baker who stepped in after Leopards and Steve Ogunjimi agreed to part company a fortnight ago: “Tom’s been great. Talk about being chucked in the deep end without armbands, but he’s been up to the challenge.
“We’ll sit down and talk with Oaklands about next season, our partnership with them is vital to our club and will only make us better, but I hope he’s going to continue to be part of Leopards next season.”
The Big Cats wrap up their season with a trip to Worthing on Saturday.