Hope springs eternal

New season, new faces, fresh challenges in the BBL.

The Post Up from MVP returns for a new season with exclusive insights and interviews on a weekly basis. This is where you’ll get our premium content first – directly into your inbox – with an independent look at the world of British basketball and beyond.

In this edition, we’ll take you through each team in the BBL ahead of Friday’s tip-off, chat exclusively to the new general manager of the London Lions, and talk to the sister act that’s representing Sunderland – and Seattle – in the WNBA Playoffs.

Plus we offer snippets of news and betting thoughts.

If you like The Post Up, please subscribe to get future issues direct to your email - or consider becoming a Patron to allow us to keep producing further content at MVP247.com.

BBL: The big team by team preview

The 2021-22 season begins on Friday night with the start of the BBL Cup.

Reduced to ten teams due to the regrettable withdrawal of Worcester Wolves, it is all change once again. Although there was ample relief following the retention of Plymouth in the shape of the Patriots following the Raiders’ collapse, some consensus has emerged on how this term might play out.

A top three, driven by budgetary differences, that comprises the obvious suspects of Leicester, London and Newcastle, the trio that corralled the domestic prizes last term.

Then what should be a competitive fourth to ninth, with Glasgow and Manchester re-ignited, Surrey potent if they can hold onto Andrew Lawrence and Rob Gilchrist for longer than their initially-contracted five weeks, and a younger Bristol and more experienced Sheffield and Cheshire all raising the stakes.

But then there is Plymouth, who begin the campaign devoid of imports, or indeed, recognised starters, and who will rely on veteran head coach Paul James to pull a few rabbits out of his hat as winter nears. Better that, however, than complete evaporation.

So, with little pre-season available to make more than an educated evaluation, here’s how the teams stack up entering Opening Weekend with some thoughts from around the league.

Bristol Flyers

Last season: 8th (league record: 12-18)

Head coach: Andreas Kapoulas (17th season)

Big arrival: Marcus Evans

Big loss: Teddy Okereafor

Insight: Changes rung for Bristol as the Flyers seek to be contenders by the time they are due to reach their new arena in 2024. Younger, potentially quicker, but losing an A-List backcourt in Okereafor and Ben Mockford, it may require a bedding-in period for a group that Kapoulas wants to treat as a fresh core. Bringing in Shane Walker, who will assist with the junior teams, is a plus. In the British big, they have the DNA of a champion. Among their imports, Marcus Evans and Zach Simmons look the standout prospects.

Prediction: 8th

Kapoulas: “It was a very difficult season this past year with Covid and playing with no spectators. And in terms of the team composition, we had some more experienced players in the roster, and also some players that have been with us for significant amount of years.

“We just felt it was important to have a fresh look on the squad. And as part of that process, we retained two of our players in Josh Rogers and Raph Thomas Edwards. And we made a lot of changes: we are a lot younger, which has its positives, but also has other things that we will need to work through the course of the year. But we also have a lot more length. And a lot had to do also with the style of play.

“We wanted to speed things up, be more up-tempo on the offensive end, but also dictate the tempo a little more on the defensive end. So, there was a process in terms of the type of style that we want to play from a basketball standpoint, and also a refresh of the squad as we're enter our eighth season in the BBL.

“And also, the overarching thing is that, in a couple of years’ time, we're entering the new venue.”

Cheshire Phoenix

Last season: 7th (14-16)

Head coach: Ben Thomas (5th season)

Big arrival: Teddy Okereafor

Big loss: Kahron Ross

Insight: As tradition dictates, the Nix have prioritised talent over depth. But Okereafor’s surprise arrival raised eyebrows after the accomplished GB guard opted to stay in the UK for another season, even when a possible twin switch with Ben Mockford fell through. Add beside him Jules Dang Akodo, who is overdue an opportunity to assume a bigger role, and there is a fine domestic backcourt. Namon Wright can score. Noah Dickerson too. All that Cheshire lack is true size but they still have an import slot vacant in reserve.

Prediction: 4th

Jules Dang-Akodo: “It's been pretty cool so far. The guys really liked each other, you know, we know we have a young team, you know, and we know that chemistry is going to be one of the most important things for us. So, we're really focusing on that, you know, just getting along with each other, just making sure everyone feels comfortable around each other.”

Glasgow Rocks

Last season: 11th (4-26)

Head coach: Gareth Murray (2nd season)

Big arrival: Jaycee Hillsman

Big loss: Julius van Sauers

Insight: The only way is up with Glasgow coming off the nadir of a four-win season that handed Murray the toughest possible baptism into the (player) coaching ranks. House cleaned, with the Jordans – Harris and Johnson – a lively combo and the return of Ali Fraser a welcome boon, especially as he holds down a day job on top. Keeping Boban Jacdonmi was a plus too. From Rock bottom, expect some rise up the standings with Murray, at 37, more content than last term to spend time on the floor with Alan Keane’s arrival as his assistant.

Prediction: 7th

Gareth Murray: “Last year was obviously very difficult. But we knew where we were financially and with the level of players that we brought in, and what were the expectations. But it's always difficult to lose games, especially when you're doing so well the year before. Or any year.

“Your expectations here are always high. And it's something that I like. I want high expectations. And I said to the guys. We might be one of the lower budget teams, the not-as-deep teams, but we still have high expectations. We want to be in that top half of the table.”

Leicester Riders

Last season: 1st (24-6)

Head coach: Rob Paternostro (14th season)

Big arrival: Zach Jackson

Big loss: William Lee

Insight: Still the team to beat, coming off another league title that was built on a strong start and bags of continuity. More of the latter, once again, with MVP Geno Crandall, captain Darien Nelson-Henry and whirlwind Conner Washington retained and Mo Walker and Zach Jackson returned, the latter after a mid-season back injury. William Lee’s abrupt retirement caught Riders by surprise but the machine is now so well-oiled that it will run onward without a hitch.

Prediction: First

Rob Paternostro: “I think the league is tough. I've always said over the years that you can't tell for a couple months, right? Until everybody gets settled. And I think that's going to be the same with us. This is almost going to be like a preseason for us, especially here in the Cup because we haven't had our roster. I couldn't tell you how good we are now.

“Not having Geno, not having Zach. Having Marc Loving come in late. We're still a work in progress. But, when you look at it, from a roster perspective, you feel like teams have improved on paper. I think that top to bottom, there's going to be some tough outs every night.

“So I think that will be interesting to see as we go through this Cup competition, as everybody's getting settled, who comes out of it heading into the league in good shape. But I do have high hopes for the talent of the league and also high hopes for how competitive it can be from top to bottom.”

London Lions

Last season: 2nd (23-7), BBL Trophy

Head coach: Vince Macaulay (12th season*)

Big arrival: Isaiah Reece

Big loss: DeAndre Liggins

Insight: Biggest budget? Tick. Grandest ambitions? Tick. Unquestioned favourites? Not quite, with a mediocre showing in their BCL qualifier raising an unwelcome sense of deja vu from last term when Lions were less than the sum of their impressive parts. Justin Robinson, missing then, should return in October from injury but a club that will omit an ex-NBAer (Marquis Teague) from its BBL roster needs its other imports to gel, and dominate, to justify an sizeable expenditure which includes a puzzling new logo.

Prediction: 2nd plus a knockout trophy

Josh Ward-Hibbert: “I think that the goal is a clean sweep … we did have the opportunity to do that last year and we put ourselves in opportunities to do that. We were in all the finals and were coming close in the in the league. But same again, to be honest, I think that has to be the goal for London Lions.”

Manchester Giants

Last season: 10th (10-20)

Head coach: Lloyd Gardner (2nd season)

Big arrival: Dan Clark

Big loss: Sam Cassell

Insight: No doubt Dan Clark’s arrival back to the UK was the eye-catching acquisition of the summer. The GB captain’s connection with Gardner sealed the deal. But luring Jamell Anderson upon his relocation to Manchester and repatriating Josh Steel and Will Saunders is a boon. Throw in a crop of promising Americans, of which only one is a rookie, and aspirations have swollen. About time too, most would say. Now for growth off the court too.

Prediction: 5th

Lloyd Gardner: “It's hard because we've done pre-season, we've had some games, a lot of teams are obviously missing lots of pieces. So we haven't played a game with our Americans in yet. We played Surrey, who are missing players. The teams that we've looked at everybody, seems to be short. And I think it's a very hard thing to judge until that comes.

“Obviously, you can look on paper and go: 'well, I think that team is pretty good on paper. I think they've made some nice signings.' But then at the same time that the chemistry is massive behind that, and how the coaches and the whole management can put things together for those players.

“So how do we stack up? I'm pleased with what we've got. That's all I can say at this moment. You know, my ambition, our ambition, we want to be competitive in everything: in every game and every competition and everything we do. We want to be competitive, top to bottom with the BBL.”

Newcastle Eagles

Last season: 4th (18-12), plus BBL Cup, Playoffs

Head coach: Ian Macleod (3rd season)

Big arrival: Corey Johnson

Big loss: Justin Gordon

Insight: Under Macleod, the formula has been simple: out-score the opposition. Very fun to watch. Little change anticipated for 2021 with Corey Johnson nimbly replacing Cortez Edwards and Wesley Person Jr a nice pick-up when Matt Scott tore his meniscus in the off-season. The Eagles have winners in abundance, led by Mr. Trophy Darius Defoe, and Rahmon Fletcher. With a Cup and Playoff crown snared, last term was a huge success but they would like a concerted challenge for the league title too on Tyneside. No reason why not.

Prediction: 3rd

Ian Macleod: “Last year, it was quite obvious that we were a big game team. We responded to the challenges of big games and we won some trophies. I think we've got a little bit more depth this year, and I think more depth will add more consistency. So for sure, we want to be challenging to win the league as well.

“But, we don't really set goals because why would you not want to win everything? it doesn't make any sense to say anything other than that. but for sure we want to be a more consistent team over the year. That's definitely something that I had in mind when I recruited.”

Plymouth City Patriots

Last season: 3rd (21-9) (as Raiders)

Head coach: Paul James (4th season)

Big arrival: Kingsley Okoroh

Big loss: The Raiders

Insight: No, we don’t know either. Six players only have been announced for the immediate rebirth of Plymouth hoops following the sorry demise of the Raiders. James will have to cope without foreign recruits for the foreseeable and none of the existing British core has stuck around on a diminished contract. The Patriots (and that will take some getting used to) will have some leeway to fail. Unless some magic is coming out of a hat, there’ll be a lot of that in the offing.

Prediction: 10th

Denzil Ubiaro (to BBL website): “Coach’s experience is going to be priceless for us in this new adventure and will be much-needed. We’re still bringing our roster together, without having had any team meetings or anything like that at this stage I can say quite confidently that the playoffs are our aim, as a minimum.

“For us to be successful in our first year would be so huge, and set us up for a bright future. As a new organisation, maybe expectations from outside won’t be that high of us, but we’ll have our goals and expectations as a group and if we achieve them then it’ll set us up nicely for an exciting future for Plymouth basketball.”

Sheffield Sharks

Last season: 5th (15-15)

Head coach: Atiba Lyons (14th season)

Big arrival: Aaron Anderson

Big loss: Jeremy Hemsley

Insight: Six retentions, five newcomers, Sheffield are gambling that more can somehow be squeezed out of their existing core while adding point guard Aaron Anderson and fellow American Jonathan Williams to light a spark. Certainly, the experience quota has gone up. But is there a genuine uplift in the works that can have the Sharks ushering prizes back to Ponds Forge? With Mike Tuck back for a 13th season, it all has the streak of predictability. Oddly, that may yet be an asset.

Prediction: 6th

Mike Tuck: “The biggest thing is making fans feel comfortable coming back into the arena and we're putting out some posts letting them know that we're following protocols. There's going to be groups who just want to get back. They want to see basketball. But then you're going to have the other side that are still a little tentative about getting out there and are still worried.

“So we just want to make sure our fans, no matter who they are, they're feeling comfortable coming back into the gym. And for us be sitting out for so long and not have anybody in there, from a business side, it's great. Because obviously you have the fans, you have that energy, merchandise will start selling again, we're getting revenue from ticket sales.

“And then from a player side, there's nothing better than the roar of that crowd. So I'm excited for it on all fronts. I'm even excited for the away games. I feed off the negative energy of all these arenas I go to. So I'm excited for just the BBL in general.”

Surrey Scorchers

Last season: 9th (10-20)

Head coach: Creon Raftopolous (8th season)

Big arrival: Andrew Lawrence

Big loss: Tony Hicks

Insight: Improved defence was Raftopolous’ chief objective, in order to trim the gap between his Scorchers and the remainder of the middle ground. Stanley Davis and Saiquan Jamison look to be an upgrade on their prior trans-Atlantic cabal along with the intriguing capture of British exile Legend Robertin. The only fear is that Surrey may peak too early, with Andrew Lawrence – finally fit again – and Rob Gilchrist on short-term deals until the end of October as they explore the European market amid its joyous post-Brexit reshaping. If, somehow, both can remain, Scorchers will be interesting. Should they flee, depth will be an issue.

Prediction: 9th

Creon Raftopolous: “It's honestly going to be a super-tough league. London Lions, in terms of who they've been able to recruit, in terms of the British core that they've got in, it helps them a lot. Because it's all British guys with BBL experience that have put up numbers. So I probably put them right up there. And then you add the imports that brought in.

“We know Leicester Riders whole core are all back. Geno had an amazing season last year so he's right up there. Fletcher returning to Newcastle with Darius (Defoe) and the culture that they have - those three are right up.

“Thereafter there'll be some fighting to try and get into that top five. But it's a chemistry thing. Sometimes, teams hit the floor running, sometimes something just doesn't work out. So I think it's going to come down to who's prepared the best. Because I can't think of a weak team.

“Obviously, Paul James is going to have his work cut out for him because, even though it's a young British roster, sometimes your imports can make a big difference. So depending upon what he finishes off his roster with, they also might be competing to be in the playoffs. And that's the scary part. Ten-team league, only two miss out on the playoffs. So nobody wants to be those two teams.”

*As Lions franchise

Next week: we’ll take a look at the WBBL.

Burman looks beyond baby steps to make London Lions a fully-grown force

“I think this league is a sleeping giant,” Brett Burman declares unashamedly. A mission statement in the making. The London Lions’ rookie General Manager trusts he can pump up the volume and ring the loudest of bells as he assesses the landscape from atop the tower.

No simple task, the American acknowledges, within a British Basketball League that regrettably remains more minnow than goliath by most measuring sticks of sport in the UK.

But not as hard as some might assess, Burman opines. He was quietly appointed to the role in the early days of summer, the latest stop in a hoops journey that has included serving as an assistant coach and personnel evaluator with the Grizzlies’ G-League offshoot, the Memphis Hustle, as well as spells within the Detroit Pistons organisation and as a director of basketball operations at Tulsa and Indiana universities.

Due diligence was undertaken prior to pursuing the role, and again since its acquisition. Watching the previous edition of the Lions unexpectedly opened my eyes, he offers. “I was really impressed with a bunch of these players who I didn't really know much about. Who are highly skilled, well-trained, athletic … and big.

“You know, there's a lot of size in this league. And nowadays teams are playing small … everybody always says the big man is his dead these days. You go look up and down rosters and there's a lot of good big men.

“So it's a really good level of competition - I just think people haven't been privy to it, they haven't really seen it with their own two eyes. So they're just unaware of how good the competition is.”

Perhaps, dare one suggest, that all makes his job even more of a challenge.

To convert the financial muscle of the Lions’ owners, 777 Partners, into the kind of domestic dominance that inexplicably eluded them last season. All while beginning a slow build to construct the sort of European power that befits a city of London’s stature, one that – to state the obvious - does not meekly exit the Basketball Champions League at the very first hurdle.

The sort of project that needs strong strategic leadership of the kind Burman confidently expects to inject into a project that he views as possessing limitless potential.

Speaking from Miami, where we talk as he and his wife awaited the birth of their first child, Burman acknowledges that it was a simple decision to pivot his career path and pan for gold at The Copper Box.

“These jobs don't just come open every single day. So anytime you can get an opportunity where I get to use my influence and be in charge and run a team, that's the first box, that's a no brainer.

“Second aspect is, does it does it have growth? Does it have potential? Does it have legs underneath it? And this team, 100 per cent, it's got everything you look for when you take on a job, when you take on a position.

“You know, we have great ownership, good coaching, good resources, great personnel  between the staff, the people I get to work with every day, working with Vince (Macaulay).

“He's a great resource and someone that I've been able to learn from more than anything.

“So the bones are all there,  the pieces are all in place. And from a team and from an organisation, it's only going up, it's not going down. Not going backwards. So I was excited. I was rejuvenated, and really, really fortunate to be put in this position: to take over and run this team.”

He brings varied perspectives from his prior employment: as coach, manager, scout, and with business insights too.

His job description is the de facto head of basketball in east London. The role, by necessity, will require him to pitch in more widely as 777’s man (eventually) on the ground.

A five-year plan beckons, with another five loosely mapped out. Nuggets from past colleagues brought to bear.

“My whole pitch is: I can't be someone I'm not - I can't be these Hall of Famers that I've worked with,” he says. “What I can be is the best version of myself, and take things that I've learned from each and every one of them. And infuse it and bring into the London Lions.”

Of course, it is well understood that the greatest growth, revenue, return on investment and kudos will come from European endeavours. London’s high-speed exit from the BCL earlier this month at the hands of Treviso was even less impressive than their rapid departure of a year ago.

Into the FIBA Europe Cup they now go. Small beers in continental terms. Three levels below the EuroLeague which Macaulay has previously insisted is the cherished pot at the end of this particular rainbow.

As much as Burman will demand progress, he is preaching some patience too.

“We're striving to be a factor and to be a player,” he underlines. “And those teams need to look at us and view us as a real threat.

“And I think right now we're saying is, everybody looks at London, and it's one of the best cities in the world hands down, everything about it checks all the boxes. But from a basketball standpoint, it has yet to cross that threshold, where it's being considered a realistic, viable player in the European market.

“And as a strength and a weakness, that's where we stand. Our weaknesses is we haven't had a sustainable success in Europe. So these teams don't really look at us right now as a team that's maintained that level of competition yet.”

Fair comment, he signals. There is no track record to fall back upon. But it is full steam ahead towards one. Strength, from ambition. “In that we have the resources, we have the backing behind us. That people in London, people in the UK, are itching and dying for a team in the BBL to call their own in the European competition.

“Imagine if we have success at the European level, and now people are starting to get behind us and start to get excited about competing in the FIBA (Europe) Cup, hopefully competing in Basketball Champions League, hopefully competing at that highest level.

“And that's the strength because, right now with the infrastructure and the resources and what our goal is, what our mission is, what our five-year plan is, the ten-year plan is to only go up.”

A possible tornado, he ventures. There is no timeline, however, to blow into the EuroLeague itself, no matter how regularly its bosses have winked flirtatiously towards London in the hope of tempting a team from the city into a betrothal. “There's no set goal where 'we have to be here, we have to be in this league,'” Burman adds.

“There's no actual, 'ok, if we don't hit this barrier, we failed.' We want to be a player in Europe, we want to have success in the BBL, we want to have success.

“And in European competition, we want everyone - from whether it's Russia, Lithuania to Denmark, to Hungary to Spain, to Italy to France - we want them all to consider us as a threat and consider us as one of their own in the whole European basketball industry.”

An awkward question to punt his way. In recent weeks, former Lions players have publicly (Ovie Soko, Fahro Alihodzic) and privately suggested that a coaching staff with Macaulay at its head cannot be a sustainable option if the club’s men’s team is reach a mythical next level, no matter what contractual assurances were negotiated when the Lions’ owner of three decades sold the franchise to 777.

Burman will assuredly be judged on whether those over whom he has oversight extract an acceptable return on the dollar from a roster which he has personally pieced together.

He had lent on recruits with ties to his past sphere of influence in the G-League. When domestic duels commence this weekend, former NBA first round draftee Marcus Teague – arguably the Lions’ most notable off-season signing – will be sat out from BBL duty, a luxurious asset for European competition only. Ditto Lithuanian forward Aurimas Majauskas.

But Burman is resolutely supportive of the head coach and other colleagues he has inherited to fit the pieces he has chosen together. The external chatter, certainly, has filtered through but he will rightly make his own judgments.

“You can only listen to it but you can't put any energy into it,” he states.

“And being in coaching, this is where I put from my previous background, that's where I put my coaching hat on is: if you're not in the locker room, if you're not in practice, if you're not in the film sessions, if you're not there every day, if you don't have a pulse on what is going on, if you don't touch the players, be around, then it's one of those situations where you just have to just chill, treat it as, 'ok, I can't put much thought or time and energy into this because my goal is the team, the team, the team.

“And that's the same with coaches, management, as players.

“So we're all in this bubble together. And everything outside of that bubble doesn't really hold weight. So to answer your question, I've been fortunate enough to jump into this job head-first and learn from Vince.

“Vince is a great coach. He's such a vital piece in British basketball, in the London Lions, in everything to where we've gotten to this point. I've been grateful and fortunate to have jumped into this job and had him as a partner.”

No grand predictions for this term. Everyone who foresaw a clean sweep for the talent-laden group from last season had their fingers burnt and Burman is wise enough to avoid the fool’s game of bold promises.

“Everybody enters this league, everybody signs up, everybody puts a team together with one goal: to win,” he affirms. “Nobody goes: ‘we just want to show up and not look bad.’ So our job is, is to go out and win. We want to win as much as we can.”

He will be back in the UK soon, as a proud parent, but with two different offspring to help nurture as they grow and mature.

Sleeping babes, waking giants, parallel skills needed. Two years into the 777 era, Lions, though, are approaching that point where they can no longer preach the need to walk before they can run.

Let the bell sound.

“I'm personally excited and I left the NBA to do this to be a part of this,” Burman proclaims. “And it's something that I wake up every day and I get excited about. I get excited about the future.

“I get excited about what we have, and get excited about the opportunity.”

Listen to more of our chat with Brett Burman on the new series of the MVP podcast.

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The Samuelson Sisters Whip Up a Storm

Reunited at the Seattle Storm, the Samuelson sisters – Karlie and Katie Lou – are back on the same side of the court. Karlie, a critical force for Great Britain, and her younger sibling, who was due to play in 3x3 for the United States at the Tokyo Olympics until contracting Covid, are the product of an Anglo-American marriage and basketballing genes of the highest order.

They will soon return to Europe in tandem for a second season together at Spanish champions Avenida Salamanca. But firstly, there is the small matter of the WNBA Playoffs with the Storm, the reigning champions, set for a single elimination second round game this coming Sunday.

I chatted to both this week with questions and answers lightly edited for clarity.

What is the experience of getting to play with your sister? It's not the first time. But is it something special and how much of an innate understanding do you guys have?

Karlie: I've played with her in Spain, but it's super-special. We never really expected to play on the same team in the WNBA. But I know her game. Like I know what she can do on the court. I've seen her get MVP of the finals in Spain. And, yeah, I think we have a good great chemistry.

I mean, off the court, obviously, we get to hang out, spend a lot of time together. But on the court or whether I'm on the bench and talking to her, we have each other's best interests at heart, and we've seen each other do our best. I think it's just like a confidence and comfortability thing.

Both your parents played sports at a high level – Dad Jon as a basketballer for Gateshead, Mum Karen for England in netball. How much memories have they shared of their sporting times?

Katie-Lou: Especially our dad, he doesn't like to talk about it as much. He's super-humble about it, because I didn't hear many stories from him about him playing. But then people that he grew up with, or his former coaches, ended up talking to us one time. And they used to tell me at least that he was super-good, like doing crazy things, and was a really good player. So it's funny to hear from other people that my dad was really good. And our mum, she shared with us that she was a netball player.  

Karlie: She played both. When we were little, she would play in an adult (basketball) league. We would be in the bleachers when she would play. That was fun. She definitely doesn't play anymore. But that was fun to watch.

Obviously, you've both played for different national teams. Has it been nice for your folks? Bonnie, your elder sister, was in the fringe of GB, but you two split the difference. So have they both been able to enjoy it, both representing each other's country in a way and getting something like patriotic pride?

Karlie: Absolutely. I mean, obviously, they're super-proud of Lou. She basically made an Olympic team. And then for me, my mum was super-proud when I first started playing with Great Britain. And actually she came to watch me play. And it was her first time going back home in 23 years. So like that was really special to see. And I got to see actually where she met my dad and we went up in northern England, to Sunderland, where she's from. And I had never seen that. So me playing for the national team got us that opportunity. And I think it's really special for her to watch.

Lou, you've seen Karlie playing for GB - how weird was that experience, to see your sister in this national team. Because there might have been a point where you guys might have played against one another - it still could happen - what's your experience been like of watching her?

Katie-Lou: It's been cool. It's been really, really awesome to see her do so well. And I just know that she loves playing with her team and the girls on the team. And so, it's been fun to follow that journey. And follow that along with her. I know she's been doing it because it's cool to be involved. I feel like I'm like involved in the EuroBasket and I understand what's going on there, even though USA was not involved. I feel like I know more about basketball and just everything that's going on. It's been fun to follow her journey.

When you guys were like growing up and really young, how influential was basketball? Like, was it something that was very heavy in the family already? Were you playing other sports as well or as kids, did you basically become obsessed with basketball?

Karlie: Yeah, we played we played soccer. We played a little bit of baseball. We danced. So we got a wide variety. But our oldest sister Bonnie, she ended up liking basketball the most and we're a really, really tight-knit family. We all ended up playing the same sport and we're near the same age. But yeah, we're basketball through and through. After Bonnie decided on basketball, we kind of followed and I'm sure my parents were both happy about that.

What's the biggest highlight for you this year?

Katie-Lou: It was a big highlight when she joined the team, so that was fun. But this year has been, for us, we've all had a lot of ups and downs trying to navigate things. But at the end of the day, I'm excited to get to play in playoffs. We didn't make playoffs last year for me, specifically. And it's a single elimination game, such a high-stakes game, and so it's going to be a lot of energy. A lot of fun.

Karlie: The number one highlight for me, it was very unexpected, getting signed by Seattle for the rest of the season. But I think another highlight was getting picked up by LA and getting to hang on to know my injury hardship contract that I was on for as long as I did. And I just think it gave me an opportunity to play in this league. And it's hard to make this league and I've had quite the journey. And so I'm really grateful for like, the opportunities that I've gotten with the Sparks. And now with Seattle.

Obviously, you have some experience with this type of do or die scenario from playing overseas, playing in college. But now the WNBA Playoffs - do things amp up? Is it more or is it just the same game?

Katie-Lou: There's definitely going to be nerves. Anyone that hasn't been in that situation, who tries to tell themselves there's not going to be nerves, it's not going to work out. So knowing that there's going to be a heightened adrenaline too but using that to my advantage, to just play as hard as I possibly can and leave it all out there.

Because there's nothing guaranteed after that. This is one game and we have to take care of business. So knowing that, putting all that energy, nerves, whatever it is into my effort in the game is what's really important.

Lou, is there a better hype man than Karlie? Because I see, after all your big plays, she's always hyping you up on Twitter.

Katie-Lou: No, there's no-one better than Karlie.

Karlie: I just think, watching Lou over this season, I think it's inspiring to see her bounce back from what she went through getting Covid and with the Olympics. And I just think this season as a whole has been different. And with the whole Olympic break, it's been good to see her get minutes and do as well as she has with what happened to her. But yes, I'm Team Lou. I'm her biggest supporter.

Just in talking about the Olympics Karlie, and I'm sure you took a little bit of interest in the 3x3 tournament. You'll be aware there's a little bit of a push to qualify GB for Paris. Is that something that, particularly with your skill set, would interest you and do you welcome that there might be more than one option to play in an Olympics?

Karlie: I think 3x3, one it looks exhausting. But two, it looks really fun. It's a totally different game and watching Lou play, it's a totally different game. But I'm interested in it. I think it'd be fun to try.

What did you pick up from actually viewing it? Because for a lot of people, the Tokyo Olympics was the first time they've had a proper look at international competition. What do you think of the potential GB roster - people like Temi Fagbenle who are playing it at the moment ...  how do you see that group might fit?

Karlie: Temi is perfect for 3x3. She's got the skill set, the height, the speed, the stamina, just the pace of 3x3. And to be smart and strategic, that is what I noticed. And the physicality, my goodness.

Referees seek pay uptick

A possible early season jolt has been averted after a temporary truce was brokered between the BBL and its referees over the match fees.

Frozen at £85 per game since 2017 – thought to be one of the lowest rates in western Europe – there has been elevated discussions in recent weeks to secure an increase in the payment for each game.

It comes just as Haydn Jones assumes the position in charge of officiating in the BBL and WBBL following the conclusion of Martin Ford’s tenure in the post. The league is understood to have cited “financial pressures” for pushing back on a modest pay rise although MVP has been told there has been no threat of any kind of strike action.

One source, with knowledge of the talks, said: “BBL have given an interim offer to start with Cup games (so there is no delay for season). Negotiations continue for more suitable pay for Championship games that start end of October. Hopefully this will be sufficient time to achieve a reasonable outcome.”

Telly tale

The BBL is expected back on TV in time for the start of the league championship campaign in late-October, with the same Friday evening slot on Sky Sports and the same crew led by presenter Nat Coombs.

However the decision to make the league’s streaming service, BBL Player, free this term has been questioned by some as undermining the value of both the Sky deal and the games offered online, particularly when clubs are desperate for the additional infusion of income brought by fans returning to arenas.

It is the latest variation on a theme that has seen previous paywalled services (BBL TV), succeeded by free to social media, free on YouTube, and then a paid version of BBL Player last term.

With little investment in the actual production across the BBL, would a modest sum to watch to plough back into the product not have made more sense?

Betting Tips

This term, we’ll look to offer tips to beat the bookies in the weeks ahead.

Getting match odds on the BBL Cup has been problematic in the last few seasons but they will assuredly appear over the weekend. But here’s a secret we can let you into: the first few weeks will be weighted not on summer signings but on last season’s league position.

Which offers some opportunities based on some teams’ Americans still to arrive and shifts in strength during the off-season.

So, if available, look for Glasgow on a spread of +10 on Friday versus Sheffield. Bristol on a spread of -20 against Plymouth a day later. Or, with a Covid blast hitting London Lions, grab Surrey to win out on Friday.

Head to MVP247.com for all the latest basketball news – and to subscribe to the MVP podcast which returns for a new series this weekend with a detailed look around the BBL.

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Images: Mansoor Ahmed, team sources