Hopes are high for Ipswich bball season

THE ever-popular Ipswich Basketball Club has grown once again ahead of the new season and expectations are high amongst the seven junior coaches.

Stuart Watson

THE ever-popular Ipswich Basketball Club has grown once again ahead of the new season and expectations are high amongst the seven junior coaches.

Despite the club's Under-18 men and U16 girls teams disbanding in the off-season, Ipswich have still managed to form four brand new sides to take the total number of teams at the club to eight.

With the exception of a new lower level women's side, the entire club remains a junior one, however, it is hoped that the constant growth of the club at grassroots level will soon lead to Ipswich having top-class senior teams for its youngsters to graduate into.

All of the club's teams will play their home games out of Holywells High School's dome facility this season, meaning that supporters will be treated to regular action-packed double, triple and even quadruple headers.

Now that the incredible journey of the U18 Tomcats has come to an end, Dennis Dixon's U16 Tomcats side have become the leading boys' team at the club.

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“They are big shoes to fill,” admitted the Canadian, “I haven't pushed that pressure on them yet, but I think that once the season starts and the expectations rise they will pick up on the fact they are now the club's senior team.”

Three of the U16 Tomcats - Nathan McGeachie, David Lockwood and Ethan Dixon - have been away on a five star basketball camp in Florida this summer and Dixon hopes that their experience can give his side an extra edge in National League's East Midlands Conference.

Dixon said: “They have brought back a lot of new drills to try in practise and have witnessed the mentality and approach that the kids have to the game over there.

“I think we will do well this season. We have got a fairly big team and size wise we will a match anyone. Also, with this being our second season, our experience of playing together should help.”

On the girls' side of the club it will also be an U16 Bobcats side that heads up the junior charge after last season's U16 side came to an end. It will be a baptism of fire for last year's U14 squad, the majority of whom are still being a year young for the U16s but don't have an U15 league to play in.

With the side set to take on some of the country's best teams in National League's South Two Division, U16 Bobcats coach Kathryn James isn't sure what to expect from the season.

She said: “We don't really know how it's going to go. We've got Southend in our league and they are always tough, but after them it will probably be much of a muchness. But, even though we are a year young I think we have got to aim for a top four place and the play-offs.”

Elsewhere, last season's U14 Tomcats step up to U15 level to make their National League debut under coach Nick Newman.

Newman, who was assistant coach with the Tomcats U18 side during their epic title winning season, will be assisted this season by two of his former players in Bradley Potter and James Fairs.

And, having led his side to the first round of the play-offs last year, his goal is to at least do the same again in National League's London South Two Division.

Newman will have one of the tallest players in his age group this season in the form of 14-year-old Dylan Johns, a 6ft 10in former rugby player who has just been signed up by Barking Academy.

“He will probably be the tallest everywhere we go,” said Newman, “But we are much more than just Dylan, we have two East of England players in Joel Keeble and Tyme Regent-Bascombe and are looking very strong as a team.

“We beat a men's team (Kesgrave) by 30 in a pre-season game recently and when we played the Ipswich U16s we only lost by five. This time last year we played them and lost by 70 points so you can see how far we've come.”

Behind them will be a newly formed Tomcats U14 side who will be led by rookie coach Pavel Kricka.

After playing the sport casually in his lunch breaks, Kricka joined Ipswich Basketball Club four years ago as a junior team manager and volunteer official. Since then he has risen up the ranks and, not only is he now club chairman, but also a head coach.

“We had the boys available for a team but no one was stepping forward to coach them,” explained Kricka. “I didn't want them to miss out so I stepped in.”

Like the U16 girls it will be a big step up for the U14 Tomcats who will go from playing school and community session basketball to contesting National League's Southern Conference Two.

Kricka, who will be assisted by former Tomcats U18 player Sam Saggers, said: “The club just seems to keep growing. Basketball has got a lot of street cred and the kids just love playing it. It's a fashionable sport.”

Elsewhere, club stalwart Bernard Ball, the man who coached the now defunct Ipswich Bobcats senior side, has made a return to coaching after an eight year absence.

The retired teacher, who has also taken over from Pete Kaznica as club secretary, will lead a new U14 Bobcats side this season and he is relishing the challenge.

“The National League South Division will provide a baptism of fire for the girls but, having seen their determination in training, I think they will be up for it.”

Following countywide trials earlier this year, Ipswich will have two new U13 sides for the new season.

Nick Drane, the coach who took the recent U18 Tomcats through from U14 level, can't wait to start a new journey with the U13 Tomcats who he believes can be even better than his last team.

“They are more talented than the Under-18 side I had,” said Drane, whose side will play in National League's South One. “We have got five players that are in or above the Jacob Swift level of natural ability and the best thing is that I have got these boys two years younger.”

Like the U18s he had before, Drane has a number of charismatic and instantly recognisable figures in his squad. Luke Mascal-Wright will captain the side, 11-year-old Robbie Maka towers in at 6ft 1in tall, while the year young Sam Newman brings a skilful and determined brand of basketball to the court.

All three of the above players will also play for Drane's East of England U13 side this season. Drane said: “They have had to work a lot harder for this recognition than anyone else because I didn't want people saying I was picking my own club players.

“The success of people like Sam Newman is testament to the community work that this club has put in over the last few years. Sam may give up a bit of size due to him being that little bit younger than some of the others but he has still managed, not only to get in his club side, but also into the East of England squad. That is a massive achievement because those that know me will know that I don't give anything for free.”

Christel Macaudiere and Fay Greaves will coach the new U13 Bobcats who, despite not having an official National League to play in at that age group, will still play in a strong Southern League full of top sides.

“We've got some good little players already,” said Macaudiere. “We've got a squad of 18 and some of them are quite tall for their age.”

Most of the teams at the club will not start their competitive season until later next month. For more information on fixtures, please visit: www.ipswichbasketball.net.

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