The 2021-22 local basketball season will set off this weekend with a mixture of fixtures from various categories.
The senior men category will begin with the MBA Shield competition which will run throughout October and which will then be followed by the BOV League commencing at the end of next month.
Six teams will be vying the main honours this season and most of these clubs are practically all geared up and raring to go for the first tip off of the season.
Athleta will be fielding new imports this season as they set off again under the guidance of their coach Peter Farrugia.
“We almost have the same team as last year with the exception of the two import players. We will seek to give more game experience to our home-grown players and our main target is to make it to the play offs.”
In fact, Gżira Athleta brought over two American players, namely 24-year-old Zachery Hudson and small forward Shawn Montague. From a local perspective, Billy Zammit returned with the club whilst Sean Galea departing Depiro-bound.
Mississippi-born Hudson (203 cms) last season played in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA-which is the second college category besides NCAA) Division 1 with Central Baptist Mustangs whilst Montague (198 cms), from Yorktown Heights in New York started in the NCAA Division 1 as a freshman but then played the last two college seasons in NCAA Division 2 with Southern New Hampshire University.
A team who has, in the past years, apparently embarked on an ambitious long-term project is Depiro. The Mtarfa-based team will be again led by Englishman James Bamfield (presently also the Wales national team coach) and assisted by Adrian Baldacchino.
Bamfield seemed resolute in his plans.
“We will continue to build and develop our young core as we believe that these youngsters can compete in the top division and give the club a solid foundation moving forward. We have acquired Sean Galea from Gżira Athleta, so this adds further young talent to our group. We will continue to develop a culture of hard work, personal development and competitiveness. The goal as always is to maximise our performance both as individuals and as a team.”
The team has decided to bring over three US imports for the season including Tyrin Jaquain (TJ) Atwood who had positive performances for Depiro last season. Atwood, who played NCAA Division 1 basketball with Lamar before signing for Danish side Basketligaen prior to his Depiro venture, will be joined by compatriots Alexander Oriakhi and Corey Henderson.
Centre Oriakhi, 31, comes over to Malta with a remarkable career story so far after also winning the NCAA Championship in 2011 with Connecticut. Oriakhi was the starting centre in that team flanked by the well-known NBA star Andre Drummond.
Oriakhi was drafted 57th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns but only made appearances in the NBA Summer League for three years apart from the G-League.
In the last years, the 206cms centre born in Massachusetts, has travelled extensively and played in various leagues including with Limoges (France) and Orlandina (Italy).
Shooting guard Corey Henderson, 26 years, makes up the Depiro imported trio. Dallas-born Henderson played NCAA Division 1 basketball with Tulsa and then joined Romanian side CSM Marmatiei in 2020.
Paola-based Hibernians will be surely also eyeing the major honours this season and according to their coach Mario Tabone, their target is to gradually improve as games go by and reach the peak at the right time for all the important games throughout the season.
“It will be definitely a tough season as all clubs did their utmost to get the best local players and valid foreigners,” Tabone said.
“Our team is a mixture of talents ranging from experienced players to young players coming out of our nursery. I also hope that the team will be closely followed again by our supporters since they can return back on the stands.”
After a positive and strong showing late last season, Pontiac-born Mason Vires has rejoined Hibs for the coming season. Vires, 180cms, played with Culver Stockton College in the NAIA Division 1 up till 2020.
He will be teaming up with fellow American forward Christian Soderholm, 23, native of Illinois and who also experienced, up till 2020, the NAIA division 1 game with Central Methodist University.
Hibs lost guard Nik Vasovic to Mellieħa and Marko Matijevic (Luxol) whilst Paul Attard went on loan to Luxol in exchange for Keith Dimech who will again don the Hibs outfit similar to new signing, veteran guard Peter Shoults.
Luxol, again under the play caller Duncan Fenech are the only team which have not, as yet, made any official announcement on any import players and reports are that the team is still currently looking into a number of options in this regard.
Fenech stated that the team is certainly looking forward to compete again after the ‘sudden and unexpected stop last season’.
The squad has been strengthened with the addition of ex-Hibs centre Marko Matijevic (who had also previously played and won honours with Luxol) and a young guard, on loan also from Hibs, Paul Attard.
“The focus for this year remains that of pushing the younger components of the squad and hopefully with more games to play this year, the progression will be a more successful one. The new additions, youth and experience, should fit in well with this project” concluded Fenech.
Northerners Mellieħa Libertas will be under the helm of a new coach this season as veteran Adrian Mifsud takes charge of the side. There were also a number of changes in the squad and Mifsud said: “I feel that the team has been strengthened but it will take some time for all players to get used to each other, yet the ultimate objective is to see Mellieħa achieve a place in the play-offs for the first time ever”.
Serb Vukasin Jandric will be again one of the imports and the shooting guard, who has played many years in Malta, will be joined by the young 23-year-old US import Jeremy Joyner. The 208cms centre, born in Riverdale, Georgia, played last in the NAIA Division 1 with Life University.
On the local side, Mellieħa’s new addition include the naturalised duo Nik Vasovic who arrived from Hibs and Nenad Bukva from Gżira Athleta whilst Mirco Azzopardi signed from Starlites.
At the same time, Miguel Falzon and Matthew Formosa were reconfirmed back on loan from the Naxxar side.
Starlites, under the direction of coach Paul Ferrante, will have new imports and according to Ferrante the Naxxar-based team will “focus for another positive season and we will plan one game at a time. It is early to set targets when we are still to discover the new signings and the changes around our opponents.”
Kurt Xuereb joined Starlites from Depiro yet Jack Zammit (now back studying and playing in the US) and Ryan Carabott will be missing.
Starlites’ foreign duo are both American, Jacob Bates and Jamiah Windom Haynes.
Bates, 23 years and native of La Grange in Kentucky, played in the NCAA Division 3 with Centre College up till 2020 whilst Haynes, one-year Bates’ senior, hails from Kyle, Texas and is a forward who up till this year was playing in the NAIA Division 1 with Sterling College.
PLAYING ON SATURDAY
St James U-16 boys: 9am Depiro Blue vs Starlites Mazars B; 11.15am Hibs vs Eurobasket Pembroke; 1.30pm Gżira Athleta vs Depiro.
MBA Shield (Men): 3.45pm Hibs vs Starlites Naxxar.
PLAYING ON SUNDAY
9am U-14 boys tournament.
St James Hospital U-16 boys: 9am Luxol vs Starlites Mazars.
MBA Shield (women) 11.15am Starlites Naxxar vs ARMS Depiro; 1.30pm Caffe Moak Luxol vs Hibs.
MBA Shield (men) 3.45pm Mellieħa Libertas Spalding vs Depiro.