Sheffield Sharks begin the new British Basketball League season tomorrow night at the EIS (7.30pm) against Cheshire Jets.
It has been a busy summer for coach Atiba Lyons as he has maintained a core of his BBL Trophy winning squad from last year, but has also strengthened at key positions with the arrival of highly-rated shooting guard Jeremie Simmons and forward Patrick Horstmann.
However, the best laid plans often come undone and Sharks have been dealt a blow with new point guard Brian Barbour having his contract cancelled by mutual consent because of a family illness in America.
And 6’8” forward Da’Quan Cook only arrived in Sheffield on Wednesday from the United States after his work visa paperwork took longer than expected to complete.
Barbour is expected to be replaced by last season’s point guard BJ Holmes, who has been offered a deal with the club but won’t be available for tomorrow’s match.
Lyons said he has been pleased with what he has seen from his squad during pre-season victories over Manchester Magic, London Lions and Durham Wildcats: “Patrick (Horstmann) and Jeremie (Simmons) have been exactly what I ordered and I’m excited for game time.
“I have a general idea on how I want this team to play. It’s not set in stone, you have to change and adapt with every new team.”
He added: “This early in the season it is difficult to know what to expect entering a game.
“Cheshire will be finding their footing same as us. It is a bit difficult to do an in-depth scouting report.
“I just focus on us and how we will defend different scenarios.”
The Sharks finished in seventh position last season, seven wins ahead of 11th-placed Phoenix.
An improvement over the league season is the main aim for the campaign and should be achieved with several of Sharks’ younger players growing in stature.
Nick Lewis enjoyed a successful summer as part of the Great Britain under 20 squad that was promoted from the European Championship B division alongside other city players Devon van Oostrum and John Stewart.
And Lyons has welcomed an improvement in the play of Colin Sing and Zach Gachette, who are both now in their third seasons with the club. However, much will depend on Sharks’ defensive toughness, which forward Patrick Horstmann says has been the driving force of the summer: “Coach Lyons really emphasises the importance of defence, so I assume that we will transfer that from practice to games. I expect it to be a tough game.
“Everyone will be excited and motivated after a long summer and fighting through pre-season.
“I look forward to playing my college teammate and dear friend Masse Doumbe.”
Phoenix coach John Lavery said Sharks will be an improved side: “Sheffield are a team that is always there or thereabouts.
“We know from the way they have recruited this year that they will be solid.
“It will be a tough first game for our guys because everybody apart from Shawn Myers is new to the BBL.”