Bristol Flyers will make history at Arena Birmingham this afternoon, with head coach Andreas Kapoulas describing their meteoric rise from the lower echelons of British basketball as ‘something special’, writes Tom Howe.
Just over a decade ago, the Flyers were plying their trade at the lowest ebb of the game in this country, playing in front of barely one hundred spectators. At this point, the team set out on a vision to break into the British Basketball League’s (BBL) elite.
Kapoulas, who has held the reigns since day one, guided Flyers to their first pieces of silverware, beating Manchester Magic for the 2009-10 National Cup and the English Basketball League title the following season, on the way to moving into the BBL in 2014-15.
Their development has continued and now, Kapoulas is to lead the team into their first ever BBL Cup final against a Worcester Wolves side who are also making their maiden appearance.
“It has been a great journey for us,” said Kapoulas, who has also worked as head coach of Great Britain under-20s and England under-16s. “It is a great moment for the club. Fifteen years ago we were in Division Three which, at the time, was the lowest league in English basketball. Fifteen years later, to be playing for a major title in the top flight of British basketball is something special.
“Like every journey there has been highs and lows but it has been great to see the team moving into the higher leagues in English basketball. We are now in a professional league and in our sixth season. It has been great to see the programme grow through this period and now to have this opportunity in the cup final. We are building a programme here with pride about how we do things on and off the court.
“Continuity is an important thing. A lot of players have been returning and smart recruitment has added a couple of pieces to the puzzle that have made a difference to our roster this year. The biggest thing is this long term vision that we have and where we want to get to. We take pride in our concepts and play good team basketball at both ends of the floor which is very important. We then have individual creativity, every team needs that. Fred Thomas, Gentry Thomas and Levi Bradley are our three imports and are important parts of what we do.
“Players who have been with us for a long period of time, like Dan Edozie, Marcus Delpeche and Chris Taylor, have been stepping up. Lewis Champion joined us last year and then you have some new faces, the likes of Raphell Thomas-Edwards. There are other guys returning, players like Josh Rogers, who played for us in the past as a junior and after a few years away have returned.”
The Flyers booked their place in the final by defeating South Group winners London City Royals 175-159 on aggregate, making history with an emphatic win in front of a capacity crowd at SGS College Arena that saw them take the second leg 91–77.
The chance to pick up the season’s first trophy comes just months after Flyers were dealt the disappointment of missing out on the 2018-19 BBL play-offs, a step in the wrong direction having achieved their best finish of sixth in the prior campaign.
“It was disappointing not to make the play-offs, especially when we came from a season before where we had our highest finish in the league and were able to make the play-off semi-final,” continued Kapoulas.
“It was tough for the players, for the coaches and everyone involved. We knew we had a good group of players. We maintained that core and added three or four players that we thought would strengthen particular areas of our game. It was nothing radical. We knew we had a good group and we believe in what we do.”
Worcester, who overcame Leicester Riders 146-137 in the last four, have the upper hand over the Flyers during the current campaign, boasting two wins as well as one in pre-season, all by narrow margins. However, in the last meeting of the sides, Bristol came out on top in some style – winning 81-66 – which will no doubt play on the Wolves’ minds.
“We have played some good basketball recently so everyone is looking forward to the cup final,” concluded Kapoulas.
“We know it is going to be a tough game. Worcester is a tough opponent but I think everyone is feeling really positive at the moment. We look forward to the challenge.”
Durham Palatinates clash with Sevenoaks Suns in the women’s Cup final (12.00 pm), before Flyers go head to head with the Wolves in the men’s showpiece at 3.30pm, live on the BBC.