Having asked local Jets fan and sports journalist Rob Jeffries to write a review on the 2011/12 season, he obliged by handing us what can only be described as war and peace. It is a great read and Rob has done a terrific job we will be posting his review in three parts over the next two weeks.
Let us know your highs and lows of the season by visiting our Twitter account @cheshirejets or like our facebook page www.facebook.com/cheshirejets
The 2011-12 BBL season for the Cheshire Jets may have had a disappointing end, nonetheless it can definitely be a season for everybody involved to be proud of and to have learnt something from.
From the announcement of John Lavery stepping up to become the new head coach of the Cheshire Jets, the speculation of the possible signing of LA Lakers star Ron Artest (aka Metta World Peace) after the NBA lockout that halted a big part of the season across the pond opened the door for many superstars to join on possible contracts, injuries galore for the Jets side, the creation of #TeamMohawk, all the way through to the agonising five-point aggregate loss in the play-offs to eventual “Clean Swoopers” Newcastle Eagles; this season has been full of highs and lows.
Coach Lavery made the decision to stick with an age-old Jets tradition of running with a basic 6-man rotation, and with this gave an opportunity for some of the promising youth players to experience what it was like on the team bench at the highest level of British basketball – and the possibility of some valuable minutes during some points of the season.
Fans’ favourites from the previous season, Shawn Myers, Matthew Schneck and captain Colin O’Reilly were welcomed back early into the summer, and were followed closely in by rookies Bill Cole (of the famous Fighting Illini) and Adam Brown (who appeared for Houston Cougars in the NCAA Tournament in 2010). To complete the initial line up saw guard Keith Page step up from EBL side Manchester Magic to make his foray into the big time of British basketball.
Phil Brandreth, well known already for his time with the Jets was again in the line-up to help bolster the squad on the bench, alongside Ryan Gallagher, Jason Helsby, Lewis Halpin and Joe Wilson. Previous head coach Paul Smith was on hand still as assistant to Lavery during his first season in the main role.
The season got underway late September with the BBL Trophy group stages, and despite significantly close losses home (84-86) and away (62-66) to Sheffield Sharks in the first games of the tournament, the following defeat to Mersey Tigers at home (78-83) in the group sent the Jets crashing out of the competition.
Interjecting the final, and somewhat irrelevant, game away at Mersey in the Trophy was the first BBL Championship regular season game versus Leicester Riders. It could not have been a worse start for Cheshire, considering narrow margins in previous games, Riders blew the Jets out by 21 points at home (59-80). Not sitting back, Cheshire responded by producing a 12 point victory (74-62) against Tigers, which propelled them into the final game of October away to Guildford Heat and a first league W of the season with a 90-84 score line.
At the beginning of November, a game high 25 points from Matt Schneck was not enough to prevent a shock loss (72-74) to newcomers Durham Wildcats in Newton Aycliffe on Bonfire Night, however again normal seemed to resume the next evening as Glasgow Rocks came to town. It wasn’t without difficulty though, as being 17 points clear with only seven minutes to go, Rocks – with ex-Jet Gareth Murray – fought back to within five points, but could not keep it up leaving Cheshire to claim an 85-78 win; the first at home so far.
A sense of deja vu came over the Northgate in the next encounter of the season, which also happened to be the quarter-final stage of the BBL Cup. The visitors were Leicester Riders, the points margin was yet again 21 (albeit a different score line – 74-95) and another competition to bow out of, however it was clear to see that Leicester were definitely a side that could be in with a chance of some silverware in that form, and the only team that had really blown the Jets out of the water.
The first of what would be three visits to Chester for Newcastle Eagles over the season was incredibly hard to swallow, as Matt Schneck suffered an ankle injury part way through the game forcing him to the sidelines and allowing Eagles to claim their eighth consecutive league win by only a few points (74-78), and their best start to a BBL season in their history.
The first game of December saw a match up against local rivals Mersey Tigers, and despite having an eight point lead in the last three minutes of play, Mersey in front of a home crowd were able to turn things around and level the game up with just 30 seconds to go. That shift in momentum stayed with the Tigers, and although Bill Cole posted a huge 34 points, the Merseysiders finished overtime five points ahead (97-102).
Durham Wildcats were due for their only visit of the season, and with the league starting to take some shape, it was vital that Cheshire were to post a win; both to gain some momentum before Christmas and for crucial standings in the league table.
Although having a nine point lead going into the final quarter in that game, Durham were more than up for a challenge and racked up a massive 35 points in the last ten minutes, but late points from Adam Brown gave reason for Jets fans to celebrate a 93-90 victory.
Shawn Myers was released after this game due to an on-going thigh injury, but brought in to replace him was Dan Briglia, who was involved with Essex Pirates the previous season.
One last fixture at home to MK Lions was in order before the Christmas break, but with the visitors having looked in confident form coming into the game on the back of two wins and some impressive performances from Demarius Bolds, it was still a hurdle the Cheshire side had to overcome before the festivities.
The game was opened up in the second quarter when Lions went on a 13-1 run, which gave them the control for the most part, but slowly the Jets hauled themselves back into contention until yet another burst from the visitors late in the game saw them take the win 75-86.
With 2012 signalling what could be a brilliant year for British basketball, for Cheshire Jets it began in the most frustrating way possible. Little did anyone know at this stage that going back from the defeat at home to Eagles, the Jets would find themselves soon with just one league win from ten games.
The first defeat of the year came away to Sheffield Sharks. Cheshire were without Colin O’Reilly, but Sharks also had their share of absentees. However, from the outset the home side were looking to keep their unbeaten streak since November on their own court intact, and did so with aplomb, running out 77-90.
Fortunes were again not in the Jets favour as Guildford Heat came to town. The first victory of 2012 looked to be on the cards as Cheshire were seven points clear with only three minutes remaining, but a magnificent comeback from Heat with Tayo Ogedengbe sinking a basket to tie the game with 16 seconds left on the clock. Lady Luck was not on Adam Brown’s side either as his attempt on the buzzer rimmed out taking it into overtime.
After having been in charge of the scoring all game, the momentum Heat had gathered gave them the victory with a 9-1 burst leaving just 41 seconds to go. Despite that, Matt Schneck and Dan Briglia scored baskets late on but it was never to be enough as ending the night on the high side were Guildford 89-92.
Almost a two week break followed (to allow for the BBL Cup final and no clashes) and with it came the introduction of new signing from MK Lions, Nathan Schall, who had linked up with the Jets in the off-season and was already closely linked to Keith Page from their time together at Manchester Magic.
A first visit of the campaign to Worcester Wolves was next, and Wolves had only lost one of their last nine league matches. A side who were increasingly becoming ones to watch, it was no different again.
Worcester dominated throughout, thanks mainly to the scoring and assists of Sherrad Prezzie-Blue, and the three point shooting of Tommy Freeman. Lost in the midst of this was the refusal of knowing when to give up, as shown by Adam Brown, who lost his two front teeth on court, but still played through the pain. Worcester continually kept pushing the score out, and Cheshire could only close in finally and keep it to a ten point loss (87-97).
It was to be an away double-header, as the following night was a trip to Plymouth Raiders, still smarting from their BBL Cup defeat to Newcastle Eagles. Although a 30 point win over Guildford the previous night would have taken the sting from that experience, they were still in the hunt for Championship glory. Add in the fact Cheshire had suffered a defeat by fellow challengers the previous night and it was stacking up on the side of Plymouth.
However, the game did not go as according to plan, and Cheshire were on the high side for the most part. That was until the Raiders’ fight back, with a turnaround of 22 points to put them up by 11 at one stage in the final quarter. Without doubt, one of the most frustrating moments of this season, but Cheshire still had heart and close the result to just a six point loss, 75-81. Nonetheless, the L column was still increasing each and every game.
With two sides both on huge losing streaks, it was a battle to keep things alive in the hunt for a play-off spot for both Durham and Cheshire as the two sides were to square up next in Jets’ schedule.
The head-to-head scenarios are key when deciding the outcome of who gets a place in the end of season finale, and with this one being a bottom of the league decider Cheshire were knowing a victory was well and truly needed.
It could not be a closer, tense or again agonising finish, as the new boys of the BBL stuck firm despite Cheshire having the better of Durham early in the first quarter with an 18 point lead. A 24-3 run from the end of the first and start of the second quarter gave Durham their first lead of the game, but that lead was to pass back and forth later on, particularly late into the final stanza as free throws were to make or break where the W stayed; in Durham or back home with Cheshire. Bill Cole was to miss his three point shot at 86-89 though and Wildcats’ Paul Elderkin was able to secure the head-to-head over Cheshire with a shot from the line, 86-90.