As the Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles prepare to do battle in the season finale at the O2, we took the opportunity to mull over the 2016-17 BBL season with DBL Sharks Sheffield Head Coach, Atiba Lyons. It was a season that presented many challenges and despite an unprecedented raft of injuries, Lyons and the staff at the Sharks guided the team to a creditable fourth place finish. No repeat of last year’s remarkable Playoff win in London but plenty to reflect on and continued optimism for the future.
So in the nine years that Atiba has been at the head of the Sharks, how did the season rate in terms of the challenge it presented?
‘It presented new unique challenges. We have dealt with these issues in past seasons but never this many one after another. I was forced to go outside of what I usually do which I think will help me going forward.’
The seemingly never-ending injury list amongst other things saw the club use eighteen players throughout the season; a record for the Sharks although perhaps not one they will relish! How much of a challenge did that present to Atiba and the organisation?
‘Even using all the summer months to recruit it is very difficult to get the right players. The game is so different from NCAA and it is difficult to tell how rookies will respond to Europe. So adding them throughout the year is especially difficult because you have to split your focus with selecting the best fit for your current team but also preparing the team for games. I would like to sign more established players in the UK or Europe if it’s not possible to resign players. That makes recruitment one thousand times easier.’
The season wasn’t without its positives however. What was Atiba’s personal high-point of the season? The answer was fairly emphatic.
‘The high point of the season was probably beating Newcastle only because it had been a couple seasons since the last time.’
And due to the topsy-turvy aspect of the campaign, there were low moments too…
‘The low points were all the changes, injuries and unforeseen issues before the 1st game of the year. Also Kyle Odister having a severe shoulder injury which endangered his career at such a young age.’
The Sharks ended the year with the roster filled and it was noticeable to see the part played by the younger members of the side.
‘I think Eddy [Brownell] and Marko [Backovic] have made some great steps forwards this year. I was able to increase their court time in competitive minutes. George [Brownell] had a tough year with injury but I was happy to see him show form at the end of season and playoffs. He made some crucial shots and had a positive impact during the playoffs. Aaron [Williams] didn’t get as much court time but he has shown strong development and was one of the leaders on the Hallam University team that finished 2nd this season.’
Given all the adversity, fourth place wasn’t such a bad finish!
‘It’s a solid finish. We aimed for top 4 this year. I would have liked to advance in more competitions, we will have to do better next year.’
Historically, it has been difficult to keep teams together season by season. But how does Atiba feel about his current bunch?
‘I think every player on this team made a case to be retained for next season. It’s just impossible for us to keep everyone because they will be made offers from other teams. I plan on trying to retain as many as possible.’
Despite the rollercoaster that was 2016-17, the future is still very bright for British basketball and the potential of the DBL Sharks. Steps are still being taken towards the new arena; there is the new pre-season tournament with sizeable monetary prizes at the O2 and television coverage of the sport is growing in the UK. Is Atiba still as keen as ever to be part of this growth in UK hoops?
‘I love to compete and I love winning championships. If no one was in the arena I would be exactly the same. I do feel the new media attention is long overdue for a sport that is beloved across the globe. I think the loyal fans of basketball have a lot to look forward to. The potential for the sport is unbelievable. We have the right leaders in the BBL. Sir Rodney Walker is leading us in the right direction.’
No doubts there then! After a torrid nine months, I think everyone in the SharkNation will agree that Atiba and the team deserve a bit of rest and recuperation over the summer months. Remember that legendary Snapchat takeover? A familiar face might be joining Atiba on his travels!
‘Ha Ha. I will be going back to the USA and seeing family. I will bounce around between Florida, Atlanta and New York. I hope to do some more fishing this summer and you might see Shaq on the boat as well!!!!!!’
So there you have it. Keep tuned to all our social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) and the website over the summer months as plans for 2017-18 unfold and we look forward to another exciting season on the South Yorkshire hardwood. From everyone at the DBL Sharks Sheffield, have a wonderful summer and we’ll see you in September!
Image: Sharks Team Photographers