After a seven-month hiatus, the 2020-21 season will set off today, albeit with modifications to the norm. In fact, the season will only comprise of the league and knock-out competitions with the auxiliary competitions being put on the side for the time being.
In order to be as pro-active as possible should, hopefully not, the virus affects local basketball, game days, respectively for the men and women’s national leagues, will be fortnightly and the first weekend of play will feature Game day 1 for the BOV Men League.
Additionally, there are also construction works going on in the Ta’ Qali basketball pavilion with new stands, and other internal structures, being built and this facility should only be available to host games as from mid-November. Until then, all the scheduled games will be played only on weekends in the adjacent basketball training courts facility.
A detailed COVID-19 protocol plan is being applied for the games, including swab testing of players, and all the games, until further instructions, will be played behind closed doors.
Game day 1 of men’s league will feature three games between the six sides who will be fighting for the 2021 crown.
The league will set off today with the game between Mellieħa Libertas Spalding and Hibernians (tip-off 3.45pm).
It will be interesting to see Mellieħa’s return to the top echelon of local basketball. The northerners decided to engage a female head coach, Silvia Gambino, to lead their squad.
This young coach has seen the inclusion of a number of summer signings such as the experienced Peter Shoults (ex-Gżira Athleta) and promising Isaac Bonett (ex-Hibs) as well as other players on loan, Miguel Gauci Montaldo (ex-Gżira) and ex-Starlites Miguel Falzon and Mirco Azzopardi.
Gambino said that it is a new challenge, with a nice mix of experienced and young players.
“I believe we will surprise in the end. It surely will be a different and difficult season as things may not be easy to handle with playing every two weeks and behind closed doors,” Gambino said.
As regards the foreign talent, Mellieħa acquired Serb Vukasin Jandric, from Luxol, and will rely on other ‘local foreign players’ Nenad Stojanovski and Klemen Skrabec.
Hibernians have more experienced players and added more depth to the squad with the inclusion of Keith Dimech from Luxol. The latter young forward has already proved his abilities in the past seasons and should offer more options to coach Mario Tabone.
Tabone said: “Due to the present circumstances, we have decided to invest in young talented local players such as Keith Dimech and in nursery bred youngsters such as Matthew Attard.
“It seems unwise, in such uncertain circumstances, to invest considerable money on imported foreigners and thus, for the time being, we shall be utilising our current roster. We are marking time and we shall re-consider in the next signing window (December) on how best to proceed.”
Also related to the Paola side, many are also asking whether Samuel Deguara may be donning the Hibs outfit given that he was practicing with them in the past weeks. Deguara played for the Philippines’ side Alab Pilipinas last season but is still uncertain about his future due to the COVID-19 situation.
The other two games of Game Day 1 are scheduled for tomorrow.
Two young sides with new play callers, Depiro and Gzira Athleta, will face other in Sunday’s first game (tip-off: 1.30pm).
Depiro engaged 42-year-old James Bamfield as head coach. The latter was, until last season, the assistant coach at Manchester Giants (BBL) and the national coach of Wales and is now being entrusted to run an ambitious task.
“The project here is very exciting with the goal to build towards an ability to compete for championships, while providing a clear pathway for young players,” said Bamfield.
“The committee have shown a willingness to invest in the club facilities and coaching staff with the aim of maximising player development. Many of the youngsters will see their roles increased.”
Depiro have two foreign imports, both forwards with NCAA Division 1 experience, Cuban Marlon Sierra (201 cms Bowling Green) and American Cliff Thomas (22 years, 203 cms High Point).
“The players have quickly become a tightly bonded group and are highly committed to each other and to improve,” Bamfield said.
“Sierra and Thomas should contribute further to build a new culture. We have no expectations but are highly motivated to show who we are becoming as a club.”
Gżira Athleta, who were crowned as the last league champions 18 months ago, are also a team in transition and will be presenting a young squad, comprising mainly of U-23 players although some with considerable national league experience, under the direction of Peter Farrugia who will be the main play caller this season.
Farrugia stressed the point of an extensive young element in the side.
“Francesco Mifsud Bonnici is back after a positive season loan at Luxol whilst new signing Nenad Bukva has obtained the Maltese nationality,” he added.
Similar to Depiro, Gżira Athleta signed two Americans, Dedrian Parmer Junior, a 198 cms forward coming from NCAA Division 2 experience at Oklahoma College and 203 cms Dylan Causwell, a 24-year-old whose father, seven-foot centre Duane played 11 seasons and 541 games in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings and Miami Heat.
The last game in the weekend’s programme is between Starlites GiG and BUPA Luxol
The Naxxar-based side opted to bring back two of the foreign imports they had on their books last March, namely 26-year-old Bobby Ahearn and Florida-born Travis McConico.
Starlites coach Paul Ferrante seems quite clear on his targets.
“Once again we will be fielding a high energy side and the plan is to have yet another competitive team which will help us to strike the right balance between players’ development and competitive edge,” he said.
“With Ahearn and McConico, we will aim at having the right mix to be able to adapt to various situations throughout the season. Our younger players will see their bar being set a little higher and in turn will gradually carry more responsibility.”
Luxol’s mentor Duncan Fenech has seen major departures but the young promising and talented coach is still adamant in working hard.
“It will be exciting to be back on the court. It will also be different due to the protocols and the fewer number of games will also be an important aspect to manage,” he said.
“Our team has changed from the previous season as most players are coming from the club’s youth section. Our objective is to bring these components together to be competitive as early as possible in the season in the same way we did in the previous one.”
Two American imports will don Luxol’s colours, Arsenio Arrington, 24, who last played in the German Regional League (Koenigs) and in Summer NABL games in July, and Kyree Elder, 22, from Tennessee, who is reported to be coming off a notable NAIA season as a senior with Shawnee State.
Luxol will also include Lithuanian Rytis Rutkauskas who previously played in the local second division.
SATURDAY: St James Hospital U-16 Boys 9am Starlites Mazars B vs Shamrock Stars; 11.15am Gżira Athleta vs Depiro KVH. BOV Men’s League 3.45pm Mellieħa Libertas Spalding vs Hibs.
St James Hospital U-16 Boys 9am Starlites Mazars vs Hibs; 11.15am Siġġiewi vs Luxol. BOV Men’s League 1.30pm Depiro vs Gzira Athleta; 3.45pm Starlites GiG vs BUPA Luxol.