End of Season Review: NBL Senior Men

This hasn’t been the debut season we’d hoped for… but I’m sorry to say that it’s been the season we deserved.

We knew that this season was going to be tough. Having decided to join the NBL in Division 4, we saw the re-alignment of the divisions mean that we’d be grouped in with the reigning Division 4 Champions in the University of Nottingham, along with established programmes like Anglia Ruskin University and Northamptonshire Titans and reserve sides for those in higher divisions, like Essex Rebels II, Hemel Storm II and NTU Hoods. We also saw County Upper move up into the division, which meant that there was additional competition for players locally.

Before a ball had been tipped, we saw the withdrawal of UEA and Northants Thunder, a shame for us in retrospect, as we lost out on further playing opportunities, as well as potentially winnable games.

What we saw this season, is that it’s impossible for us to compete at this level without making significant changes. You simply cannot expect to train once weekly and expect to compete… and that’s a change we’ll be making next season.

We also picked up a number of players who, for a variety of reasons, either never played for us, or left abruptly. This disrupted our season significantly, and that's something I have to take responsibility for... we need to recruit the right kind of players for us moving forwards.

Despite that, it’s not all been doom and gloom…

The win against Hemel was naturally a highlight for us, but we had several other games in which we remained in touching distance, and a few plays here or there, and we’d be telling a very different story of the season…

When we talked about moving up to the NBL, we did so knowing we’d have a core of home-grown players, and they’ve continued to represent the club with pride: Billy Smith, Ashley MacDonald, Ed & Matt Spurling, Jimmy Steedman and Brandon Marshall all made the step up, and all played significant roles for us through the season.

We also saw the benefit of having both a local and national league side, as we first saw Deividas Gorodeckis move into the NBL ranks, followed quickly by Sonjay Williams. The ability to offer basketball at multiple levels is a strength we have, and will continue to rely upon.

Of the newcomers, Adam Ball became one of our Captains, and was our leading scorer for the season, whilst Denby Ablard improved every game, and became a leading player at both ends of the floor. Tom Guerrero added some long-range prowess and veteran leadership, while the pair of players from Kings Lynn, Vytautas Girdzius and Ben Berwick made valuable contributions throughout the season. Lastly, Damien Kidd joined us from Honington, a young big with significant potential, who we expect big things of next season.

I’m grateful for the superb staff we’ve assembled, with experienced former Head Coaches assisting me in Mac & Pat, and an amazing Team Manager in Lynne. We’ve again relied heavily on Andrew and Gina for videography and photography, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of our volunteers for helping build and run this team.

Looking at our award winners, offensively, Adam was a consistent scoring leader, and while others got hot to add some pressure to the defence, he was somebody we looked to rely on when we had the ball in our hands.

Defensively, we didn’t have the season we’d have hoped, but our two best defenders came very close for the award, Denby protected the rim, and Ash almost always picked up the hardest assignment on the perimeter, in the end, his energy and effort won him back “his” award, although for us to be the team we want to be, he’d be the first to point out that we need multiple players surpassing him at that end of the floor next season.

Our Most Improved Player was won in a landslide by the big guy, Brandon Marshall, who started the season as our third string big, and ended the season with a handful of starts and some highlight plays. In particular, I’ve seen the work he’s put in on his jumpshot, his footwork and his ability to create space, he’s now passing out of the post, too and creating opportunities for shooters, which is great to see. Brand would be the first person to say he has a long way still to go, and we all hope that despite the Covid-19 lockdown, he’ll come back with an improved motor and a little bit stronger, to help build the foundation of the player we know he can be.

My Coach’s Player of the Year was tough.

It’s the kind of award I could give to Billy every year, I rely on him so much. There’s also been players like Ben & Jimmy who don’t complain about minutes, do their jobs and work hard in training to push the players above them in the pecking order – which is so valuable for me. However, there could only be one winner, and when I think of this season, some of the memories which put a smile on my face quickest are of one of the loudest voices in the gym at training. Screams of “Let’s Go!” during shooting competitions echo through our training facility, and they emanate from Tom Guerrero. His enthusiasm for the game is infectious, he’s fully bought-in and committed to what we want to do here, and I’m delighted that he’s committed to returning next season.

Our final award is for the Most Valuable Player, and three players split the vote quite closely; our captain, Billy Smith, who fought through multiple injuries and contributed for us at both ends of the floor; our leading scorer, Adam Ball; and our big guy, Denby Ablard.

The player who won it was also amongst our runners-up for Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player, and was someone whose role and importance to us has grown through the season… Denby Ablard is our Most Valuable Player for 2020, and I’d like to be the first to

congratulate him – as it’s testament to the work he’s put in since he’s joined the club.

Naturally, at the end of the season, there will be some attrition, and we’re already working hard on growing our team on the floor to be more competitive next season. I want to thank the players for their efforts this year, and wish all the best to those who move on.

I have to say a massive thank you to all of our sponsors, but particularly our primary sponsors, Kuda Automotive and Moreton Hall Community Centre. Not having our own venue means that we’re at a huge disadvantage compared to the majority of the teams we’re competing against, and it’s the support of local organisations that continues to help us in bridging that gap.

My last thank you is to the Bulldogs Family, for your support this season. We haven’t earned it yet – and we certainly didn’t repay it with our performances… but we will continue to work, and I’m confident that we’ll grow into a team worthy of the support we receive.

- Coach Arron MacDonald