End of the road for triumphant Tomcats

One of junior sports most compelling journeys will come to an end this weekend when Ipswich Basketball Club's Under-18 Tomcats side play their last ever game together.

Stuart Watson

By Stuart Watson

One of junior sports most compelling journeys will come to an end this weekend when Ipswich Basketball Club's Under-18 Tomcats side play their last ever game together.

In their four seasons together the Tomcats have been through an emotional rollercoaster ride both on and off the court, their trials and tribulations bringing men's basketball to the forefront of Suffolk sport.

Head Coach Nick Drane said: “I have no doubt that this teams achievements will be surpassed in the future, but what will never be forgotten is that these boys will have been the trailblazers for any future success.”

The story began in 2004 when young coach Drane, his own playing career cut short through injury, held a series of trials across the county to piece together a hugely inexperienced side.

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That side, later strengthened by the towering 6'11 England international Leigh Greenan, went on to reach the last 16 of the national league play-offs in 2006/7, their achievements drawing numerous accolades and awards.

However, it is just as much away from the court that the Tomcats journey has drawn so much interest.

In their first season, Jacob Swift was the first Tomcats player to suffer a horrendous injury when one of his lungs collapsed, while, two seasons on, the Tomcats were to be rocked again when Michael Holbrook was almost left paralysed for life when he broke his neck falling during a game.

Both players made miraculous recoveries to rejoin a side that, due to the number of characters it contains, drew a growing band of young fans. Indeed, such was the popularity of these distinctive young men that awe struck primary school children sought the autographs of their local heroes.

Drane said: “These boys have proven to everyone across the country that a group of boys from a small town with little basketball tradition can go on to achieve great things.

“I hope that these guys, all from very different backgrounds but thrown together through sport, will be remembered for never giving up and rising to every challenge that has been put in front of them.”

The Tomcats final two league fixtures take place at Westbourne Sports College this weekend. Firstly, Ipswich host Hackney White Heat on Saturday (12.15pm), before Sevenoaks Suns visit Suffolk the following day (3pm). Entry will be free, the Tomcats hoping that their previous record crowd of almost 300 can a least be matched for their final send off.

Tomcats' Five Greatest Victories

1: vs Coventry Crusaders (06/07 National Play-Offs)

Ipswich beat Premier Division Coventry by just four points to advance to the final 16 in the country in front of over 300 spectators at Westbourne.

2: vs West London (07-08)

With several key players having moved on, unavailable or injured, Ipswich were struggling for form in the South East Premier Division. Despite this, the Suffolk side turn back the clock with a vintage display, battling to the end and eventually wearing down and beating the league leaders.

3: vs West Herts (06/07)

Ipswich have won ten straight league games and on the final day of the season have to beat West Herts away from home to steal the league title from their hosts. The Tomcats lead from start to finish and eventually win by 14 points to clinch the title.

4: vs Harringey Warriors (05/06)

Ipswich travel into the heart of London to face division leaders Harringey and, despite an intimidating crowd and some controversial officiating, the Tomcats scrap out a four point victory. The first of what became their trademark 'never say die' performances.

5: vs Nene Valley Venom (06/07)

The day after Michael Holbrook had suffered a broken neck Ipswich travelled to Peterborough to play a game they had to win to keep their play-off hopes alive.

Despite the absence of three key players, Ipswich put in their greatest ever team performance to win the game.

Nick Drane's All Time Starting Five

Luke Fry

“Luke's playmaking skills and leadership won him Most Valuable Player in our first season and he was again a massive player for us, despite carrying an injury, in our championship season.”

Jacob Swift

“Jacob has undoubtedly given me more headaches than any other player during the teams time together, however, in spite of that, he has also been quite possibly our most consistent player.

“In our first season he carried much of our offence, averaging close to 30 points per game and over the three seasons he has certainly been the teams all time leading scorer.”

Sam Saggers

“I honestly believe that had we had Sam in our team this season (he left for Reading) we would have had a great chance of going deep into the play-offs.

“Quite possibly the best player to coach that I have ever worked with in terms of his work rate and ability to learn quickly.”

Aaron Moseley

“Aaron is hardest working kid I have ever seen and the first name of the team sheet every week. Not many people know that Aaron, now captain, only scraped into the team three years ago. He is without doubt the most improved player over the course of the three seasons.”

Leigh Greenan

“With Leigh in the side Ipswich can beat anybody. He is the most gifted player in the country and the best player I have ever produced.”

Tomcats' Five Most Significant Moments

1: Luke Fry's three pointer

Fry hits a dramatic three point shot on the final buzzer against Leicester. With him fouled in the process he then coolly sinks a free throw to win the match by a single point and confirm the Tomcats' qualification into the National Play-Offs.

2: Leigh Greenan's recruitment

In recruitment of 6'11 Greenan in January 2006 added the final piece to Ipswich's championship team, Greenan going on to become the club's first England international.

3: Aaron Moseley's block

With four seconds remaining in the play-off first round against Coventry, Moseley charged back to acrobatically block a shot which, had it gone in, would have surely resulted in an Ipswich defeat.

Instead, Johnny Parodi collected the loose ball and scored a three-pointer to seal the win.

4: Michael Holbrook's injury

Holbrook's horrific injury inspires his team-mates to play each game like their last, the Tomcats going on a winning streak that saw them qualify for the National Play-Offs.

5: 2007 Suffolk Sports Awards

The team is represented in four categories at the 2007 Suffolk Sports Awards for their achievements in the 2006/2007 Season.

Tomcats role of honour

BBC East Sports Awards 2007

Leigh Greenan - Young Sports Personality of the Year

Nick Drane - Sports Coach of the Year (Runner Up)

Suffolk Sports Awards 2007

Nick Drane - Sports Coach of the Year

Leigh Greenan - Young Sports Personality of the Year

Michael Holbrook - Triumph Over Adversity (Runner Up)

Ipswich Tomcats U18s - Junior Team of the Year (Runner Up)

International honours

Nick Drane - England U18 assistant coach, East of England head coach, England U16 assistant coach.

Leigh Greenan - England U16 & U18 squad member

Jacob Swift - Scotland U18 squad member

Matt Harber - East of England assistant coach

Josh Johnson - England U16 squad member