Ballincollig are the defending champions but the InsureMyVan.ie Irish Super League has never been deeper. With challengers emerging from pretty much everywhere, from Neptune through who will emerge to lift Basketball Ireland’s most prestigious men’s title?
There are big changes in the InsureMyVan.ie Irish Super League this year. Basketball Ireland has changed the rules in terms of who is allowed to play. This has changed the dynamic in a league that was already one of the toughest to predict in all of European basketball.
For all the changes, there’s only one thing that matters. Being the team that wins the last game of the season.
A sleeping giant feels ready to wake up
Neptune, one half of Cork’s traditional big two alongside Blue Demons, is on the rise in the Irish Super League. With homegrown hero Jordan Blount back for his second season, the Cork club is eager to return to the mountain top.
“This year we’ve recruited really well. We’ve recruited the style we like to go with. We’ve two really good guards in Chrishon Briggs and Jonathan Lawton. Briggs can play the 4 too while Max Cooper is a 5 that can play the 4 as well,” Blount told BallinEurope.
“Last year we were close to our potential but it was a great learning curve. There were a lot of adjustments to make. We’re close to getting there.”
For Blount, it’s all about ensuring he gets everybody going when it matters.
“My role is to be versatile. This year, I probably won’t have as much pressure to score. My role, regardless of anything, is to be the energy guy. The level of Irish players in the league has come on leaps and bounds,” he said.
“That has become more valuable now that two Americans are allowed plus Europeans. The average Irish guy is getting better. We’re improving all the time. The talent in the league is the highest it has ever been. The league is getting better and better. Basketball Ireland is doing a great job of promoting that.”
Ah yes, that two Americans point of Blount. We should expand on that.
A big change on the floor
For the first time in a very long time, two US players will be allowed on the floor at the same time in the men’s competition. The women’s Irish Super League has permitted this for a while but it’s a huge change to the men’s game.Teams were allowed two US players on the roster before but they had to alternate. That led to some odd game management. Blount believes that, with that excuse gone, it will raise the game for everyone.
“It puts a lot of pressure on coaches. Now there is a higher amount of higher calibre players. That is going to demand a higher level from the coaches. Now with all this talent, how do you mesh it? Obviously there’s a lot of demand on players too. It gives clubs versatility in how they use it. Now, if you’re not happy with a US player’s performance in a game you can get rid of them,” he said.
“There’s no drop off because you still have the other American and the Europeans. It changes the dynamic. We’ll see a lot of chopping and changing with teams. It also makes the Irish players step up. We played Sligo in pre-season and they had five pros starting, 2 Americans and 3 Europeans.”
An interesting perspective
Josh Wilson of Éanna understandably welcomes the rule change. Being a US player, it’s nice to avoid the odd game management. Still, he recognises the wider benefit for the Irish Super League.
“The two American rule is perfect for the league. It’s great for the audience, the fans. You’re putting your best talent out there at all times. Now we can see how good everybody’s recruiting is. It raises the standard of the Irish players too.”
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So what’s about Éanna
Wilson’s side were cup runners up last season. They followed that up by winning the Northern conference. Then, despite such a good regular season, fell in a 2OT thriller to Ballincollig in the first round. Wilson said the club has learned and changed things up.“Last year we dealt with bad luck. We finished the year with about 8 players. We got injuries at the wrong time. This year, hopefully, everybody stays healthy. We’ve got a bit bigger now with an actual centre, Jim Gormley,” Wilson said.
“Big James is a rim protector and gives us the inside presence we’ve been missing for a couple of years. We’ll be similar in style for the most part. We’ll have more of an inside presence of course,”
“The changes will be more at the defensive end. We know that if we get beat off the bounce, we have James there to deter guys from trying to get lay-ups. We’re just looking to get it completely done this year and go all the way.”
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The view from the champs
Ballincollig went on a Cinderella run to win the Irish Super League title last season. Ciaran O’Sullivan, player/head coach of Ballincollig, has been through the highs and lows with the club. He knows that there is immense pressure on his side coming into the new season.
“In the playoffs, maybe five out of the eight had a huge chance of winning last season. Winning as one of the four seeds in the playoffs last season, there’s definitely a target on our back now,” O’Sullivan said.
“We did well last season but keeping it building now is a new challenge. We’ve brought in Nico Roso, where even though we won the league we felt we were under par in the regular season. We felt we needed more size on the boards. He has pedigree and had a good year in Norway last year. He’s a big game player as well, so he’s a key signing.”
A twist in the strategy
O’Sullivan and Ballincollig have focused, where they can, on continuity. John Dawson is gone, essentially for budget reasons in order to fit in two Americans. Still, in the two they have signed the approach has been interesting.
“The two Americans are interesting. They went 95-7 in DII in college with IUP [Indiana University of Pennsylvania]. They played together, Dave Morris and Shawndale Jones. We’re looking for a different angle there. It’s winning players, coming from a winning programme. They’re fresh out of college. Maybe that will help with issues like homesickness,” O’Sullivan said.
“It’s different and rare. We signed Dave Morris first. The more we looked, the more we liked. Shawndale’s name kept coming up. He was an All-American DII. Dave got on to him and, for the first year overseas, Shawndale thought it was a no-brainer to go with his mate.”
Naturally this season will be somewhat viewed as a test on the decision by Basketball Ireland to permit two US players on the floor at once. This site is about as biassed as it gets in that regard. Borders became irrelevant with the invention of the catapult and any restriction on the movement of individuals is abhorrent to me. If you disagree, I don’t care.
As for the sporting impact. Yes, there will be fewer minutes for Irish players in the short-term. There is zero doubt of that. In the near medium-term, that impact will be minimal at worst. In any sport, no matter what it is, you get better by playing with better players. A higher standard is a good thing.
The men’s Irish Super League begins this weekend.