The hard work coach Paul James has put in at the Worcester Wolves has finally paid off as his team finished third in the BBL and qualified for the play offs for the first time in their history.
He said: “The team performed really exceptionally well, we set some goals at the start of the season and we actually achieved those goals and more, so we were all really delighted with the performances of the individual players and I think they came together as a team very quickly.”
The Wolves began the season with a brand new starting five in the hope to boost the team up the BBL table.
American Sherrad Prezzie-Blue joined the Wolves to fill the point guard position and along with fellow American Tommy Freeman formed the back line.
Fellow countryman Richie Gordon, Carlos Fernandez from Spain and Arnas Kazlaukas, the 6’10 Lithuanian, completed the Wolves set up that lined up against Coach James’ former team Guilford Heat in the opening game of the season in the BBL trophy.
The Wolves trailed in the game for long periods of the game and it took an intense period of overtime for Worcester to win the game 93-87.
They finally got their championship campaign started with a five point win over the Glasgow Rocks after a long journey over the border, in a game that could have been won by either team but it was the Wolves who got their first two points on the board.
The Wolves had a solid cup run with two wins over Guildford Heat (88-77) and the Mersey Tigers (62-91), but newcomers Durham Wildcats caused them a problem in the league when they visited the university.
It took a three point shot from Tommy Freeman to give Worcester the lead for the first time in the game with the scores at 27-25, but after the Wolves took the lead they did not want to give it up and managed to fend off the Wildcats defeating them by one point (65-64). Worcester had another tight win two weeks later in the BBL this time against the Plymouth Raiders with Sherrad Prezzie Blue sealing a 77-76 victory.
Worcester had their first meeting with the Newcastle Eagles on December 16th in a thrilling game at Sport Central, as the Wolves stunned the Eagles by pulling back a 13 point deficit in the final quarter of the game to defeat the Eagles 86-94. Tommy Freeman showed for the first time against the table topping giants what he could do from the three point line as every shot the American made seemed to find the basket and left the Eagles crowd stunned.
Worcester took another two out of three victories to take them into the Christmas break in a very good position in the table and in their game against Milton Keynes just before New Year, took the two points in an eleven point victory away from home.
Worcester next faced top of the table Newcastle in February, this time at Worcester University and this proved to be coach Paul James’s best performance of the season.
He said: “Funnily enough, I think the best performance was had was a game we actually lost, when we played Newcastle here at the university of Worcester in a game where both teams were certainly on top of their game both offensively and defensively and both teams executed very well, shot the ball exceptionally well and I don’t think that both teams reached those dizzy heights for the rest of the season, but it was a phenomenal game, it went down to the wire and unfortunately Newcastle won with the last shot of the game, but just the quality of basketball played by both sides. They had their runs and we had our runs there was some absolutely fantastic offensive execution from both sides and some good defensive stops from both teams, it was for me the game of the season.”
Worcester bounced back from the defeat from Newcastle with seven straight wins in the BBL championship, during this period they had their first visit to new comers Durham home arena in which a hard fought game saw the Wolves win 70-90 after the game Tommy Freeman said: “It was a rough and hard fought game, it was our first time in Durham but we found a way to get it done, we ground it out and everybody stepped up when they needed to”.
In the approach to the play offs, Paul James’s team saw some results fall his way but others fell to the opposing team as they lost out on doing the double over Newcastle by one point on April 6th.
As the season began to conclude Worcester had already confirmed their playoff spot with a superior points difference over those below them in the table, with the Wolves finishing third in the table they drew the Cheshire Jets in the first round of the playoffs.
After a thrilling 80-80 draw in the first game between the two side and the scores being aggregated it was still all to play for when the teams met the following day and with the Wolves putting in a valiant effort they lost by a ten point deficit 87-77 and were knocked out of the play offs.
Coach Paul James is trying to hang on to the players that were key to the Wolves success last season.
He added: “I think we had some outstanding players, and I think they were outstanding because of the other players around them. So it’s really quite hard for me to say who was the best player was because of the team ethos that I have.
“One person who kept the team together was Sherrad Prezzie Blue, the point guard, he was my on court coach if you like, he is certainly a team leader and he made everybody else around him better and otherwise we had such a lot of talent on the team and they all complemented each other and that’s why we were so successful.
“Certainly we’ve gone a long way down the road already in keeping the players that I want. Obviously Sherrad Prezzie Blue did a fantastic job at point guard and I think there’s still a lot more to come from him, so I’m delighted that he’s already agreed a contract with us next season, as has Carlos Fernandez who did a tremendous job and I feel there’s a lot more to come from him and he’s very excited to return. We’re still in negotiation with Tommy’s team who was detrimental as was Arnas Kazlaukas.
“I think if we can get four out of the five starting players back from last year’s team and build around them, then we’ll have had a good summer.”
He added about their chances next season: “Obviously we’ve raised the bar quite high, it was practically a new team I put together and they came together very well, so I think the key thing is to try and keep the core if those players together and after that we can look and see what we want to do but certainly we set the bar very high, we finished third in the league and certainly one of our goals will be to try and finish in the top four and continue where the good performance and development where the team has come so far this year and to try and improve on that but it’s going to be tough.
“I thought we won some exceptional games and won some games we shouldn’t have won and lost some games we should have won so you no it’s all about keeping team chemistry and having a bit of luck along the way and certainly if we can keep the core of the team together we can build on what we had last season.”