And That’s A Wrap…Rounding Up The Season With Coach Lyons.
It’s been a couple of weeks now since that epic 84-77 win over Leicester Riders to claim the BBL Playoff title in front of 13000 eager fans at the O2 Arena. As thoughts turn to the summer and holiday season, we caught up for a final time this campaign with Coach Lyons to reflect on a truly memorable year for the Sharks.
First all, we were keen to get Atiba’s thoughts on that memorable day out in the capital. Had it sunk yet?
‘It’s slowly starting to sink in and it feels great to cap a season where we were written off before Christmas into a season where we won silverware. It probably is my favourite win because my mother and my daughter were at the game. It was the first final my mother was able to come to and it was a surprise on the day of the game!’
A key aspect to the team’s win in London was the tremendous team spirit they showed, which emanated from the ten game winning streak at the beginning of 2016 all the way through to the Playoff victory.
‘I think once we started winning and we started to win convincingly our confidence just elevated. We also were the type of team to always remain positive and even when we were down we felt we were a game away from turning the corner collectively. We had a lot of great characters on the roster that kept the team laughing and smiling as well even in adversity.’
It was a stellar performance from the Sharks’ skipper Mike Tuck that was one of the keys to success. Does he, like a fine wine, get better with age?
‘This to me was Mike’s best season with the Sharks. He was consistent and led the team with his actions on and off the court. He isn’t a loud vocal leader but this season he made a point to be an example of how to be a pro and was competitive every practice. I hope he is like fine wine because I would love to have Mike for another 7 years!’
The yellow-shirted SharkNation were vociferous in their support at the O2. Is that the kind of support Atiba would like to see week-in week-out at the new Park Community Arena when it eventually comes to fruition?
‘It was an amazing game and Andy Webb at the BBL did a magnificent job filling the O2 arena. Sheffield has such a strong sporting culture at times you have to jump up and down to get attention and not get lost amongst all the great sporting clubs in the city. The new arena will give us a home and a place that sporting fans can identify as the Sheffield Sharks home. Football clubs have their grounds and Steelers have Ice Sheffield and the Arena at times. Throughout our history we have played in many of Sheffield’s amazing venues but no place to really call home. There is no reason people in Sheffield can’t support all the teams!’
Inevitably, thoughts now turn to next season and the shape of the roster. It is now known that Patrick Horstmann is moving back to Germany but what about the rest of the guys who contributed to one of the most memorable campaigns in recent history?
‘Continuity is the way forward when trying to build on a successful season. We will be looking to fill Pat’s role to add some depth we lacked towards the end of the season with all the injuries. All the players would love to be back in Sheffield and we will do our best to retain as much of the team as we can.’
Not content with being one of the hardest working coaches in British basketball, Atiba is once more looking to the future with his new venture, Elite Pride Basketball.
‘Elite Pride Basketball is a new venture I have started with my partners to bring different basketball events and camps to the region. Whenever I fly back to USA I am approached with offers from different camps and tournaments to attend or to work. We decided to take control and create a new vehicle to deliver different events. This summer I will be working with my good friend Matt Catanzarite and my old High School coach Tom Catanzarite to deliver a youth camp for the local kids. My alma mater Lemon Bay High has been very supportive and they have a gorgeous new facility that rivals University faculties. It is my pleasure to support when I can. This summer is the start of bringing teams and running tournaments featuring top American junior teams to play in Sheffield as well.’
‘In addition Elite Pride Basketball is running and organising a British Basketball Combine at the same venue on the weekend of July 2nd and 3rd. I have spoken to coaches in the UK about recruiting throughout the years and I know the difficulty we face dealing with agents or video not matching the player that arrives. So I have been given the green light to recruit on numerous teams behalf. I don’t want to run around the country going to camps that may not attract the talent or positions I am looking for. So coaches are sending me the type of players they need for the upcoming season and I am actively inviting players that fit the job. I will be evaluating and sending them to the appropriate coach. Also Head Coach Greg Gibson from Loimaa Bison in the Finnish Top league and VTB league will be in attendance as well as recruiting on his behalf for other pro clubs in Finland. I am having a great response and places are filling fast. If coaches are interested in using this event as a recruiting tool please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If players would like to submit a resume or more information go to www.elitepridebasketball.com.’
After a Playoff-winning season, progress into the playoffs in the EBL, successful seasons for the many Junior Sharks age-group teams and a new arena in the offing, where do the Sheffield Sharks sit currently in British basketball?
‘It has been a great season on many fronts. In addition to the pro success we have 7 very talented junior teams filled with promising talent. I went to the presentation evening and we have some of the most dedicated and inspiring coaches in the country. I knew they were strong coaches but the connection they have with their players is great to see. We have a Division 4 team on the cusp of being promoted. The arena has cleared planning and it is now in the final stages before building begins. Our future is very exciting!’
And finally, after a hectic nine months plus, surely there will be time for a little rest and recuperation?
‘It all about family time this summer. I may get out to do some fishing but I will be happy spending all day with my daughter. I will be going back to the States for a short trip and spend time with my brothers and their kids.’
On behalf of the Sheffield basketball-loving public, have a great summer Coach! Thanks to everyone connected with the club for a wonderful season. Enjoy the sunshine and it will soon be September once more!