Plymouth Raiders head coach Paul James concurs with the cancellation of the British Basketball League (BBL), saying those within the game have a duty of care to ensure safety above all else, writes Tom Howe.
Having seen action postponed since March 17, weekly board meetings had been taking place to discuss ‘all available options to resume and complete the season in a safe and meaningful manner’.
However, ‘not without sadness’, all clubs have now unanimously agreed that the remainder of the 2019-20 season be cancelled and that when able to do so, competition should recommence with the new 2020/21 season.
For James, this was the correct course of action, but still the lockdown came at a crucial time for the Raiders, who were showing a better turn of form following a tough start to the campaign and had recently been taken over by Turkish billionaire Enver Yucel.
“Firstly, I don’t think it was how anybody wanted the season to end,” James told The Independent. “I think people would have liked to have seen it through to the end, good, bad or indifferent. I think the BBL has made the right decision in making the call now so that people know where they stand.
“Instead of thinking about whether this season will start, we can now start looking at rebuilding for next season. I think it’s absolutely the right decision and the important thing is that people are safe, and when we do come back, we do so in a very safe environment where we can continue with the sport we love.
“We started to gather some momentum toward the end of the season. To be fair, it wasn’t the season that we wanted. It was very stop-start.
“We thought we were going one way, then the Turkish investors came in the background, so that muddied the water a little bit in terms of what we wanted to do with the club.
“But, the positive thing out of this is now the deal has been done and we can move forward, giving the fantastic fans and sponsors of Plymouth something to cheer about next season.”
Glasgow Rocks were at the summit when the curtain came down on the season but, based on multiple teams being mathematically capable of winning, the independent directors of the BBL board have agreed there will be no winner of the championship title.
It is their vision, too, that the BBL Cup and Trophy competition formats remain as they were in 2019-20, with the Championship returning to a format where teams play each other three times over the course of the season, with a return to the court mooted for September.
“As long as when we come back it’s safe for everybody concerned, then we’ll be really looking forward to the season,” continued James, whose side were only kept off the bottom of the standings by pointless Manchester Giants.
“We’ll put together a very competitive team on the floor. No question we’ll have a better season than this one. Hopefully we can really make a push for the top half of the table and get to a Trophy final as well.
“We’re very excited about the prospects, moving forward, and it is a shame we couldn’t finish the season off in the right way but that’s all behind us now, we’ve really got to think positively.
“I stay in touch with the players regularly, the Americans have all gone home, they’re all safe and their families are. The same with the British players here, which is fantastic.
“You can start to see light at the end of the tunnel, with some countries starting to open up a little bit, their leagues restarting or setting dates.
“In the UK, as long as we keep going as we have been, I think September may be too soon to start the season. We don’t know, but that’s the target they’re looking at as they would do normally.”
While the rest of the NBA season is set to be played out at Florida’s Disney World Resort, teams on this side of the Atlantic, including the Raiders and their West Country rivals, the Bristol Flyers, will be chiseling away at their rosters to give them the very best chance of success when play returns.
“[Referring to NBA] That’s the way to do it,” joked James. “In all seriousness, I think we’re excited to be getting back in front of our own fans.
“There is a buzz around the whole club for next season and years to come. Hopefully we can give them something to cheer about and build a team that’s consistent.
“We’re still looking at the roster. With the new partnership, there’s a lot of things to sort out as well as what, when and where.
“In the next two or three weeks, we’ll be looking in more detail at the roster and what product we want to put on the floor when the season eventually starts.
“Nobody has missed the boat at this point yet. We’ve just got to keep looking forward to build a strong team, one we feel can be exceptionally competitive once it all starts up again.”