Sheffield One Health Sharks are up-for-the Cup on Sunday as they revel in their underdog status ahead of their clash with Mersey Tigers.
As holders of the BBL Cup, Sharks are entitled to feel slightly aggrieved that the Tigers will take top billing at the NIA in Birmingham.
But the Liverpool-based club have the poster boy of British basketball in Andrew Sullivan and currently sit at the top of the BBL Championship.
Tigers also line-up with three former Sharks players – Nate Reinking, Tafari Toney and Perry Lawson – in their team to add even more spice to the occasion.
It’s all background noise to player-coach Atiba Lyons who prefers to concentrate on his own team’s defence of the cup:
“If we’re considered underdogs then so be it. We’ve been to two finals already in two seasons so we’ll focus on us right now. We’ll have had a few days of preparation after our match with Plymouth Raiders (last night). We’re taking it one step at time. We don’t want to have slipped up in that match before the final. But whether we’re underdogs or not is neither good or bad.”
Sharks have had patchy form over the past few matches but it is worth remembering they have cruised to their second consecutive final.
Lyons says it is a different feeling to the 2010 final with a group of players who have taken on the expectations built up by last year’s squad:
“It has been good for the guys; the cup is a good way to get guys gelling together. It’s the first competition of the season and has given our new players confidence and all that goes with that.
“Last year there was less pressure. I was in the second year as coach and couldn’t tell how shape up. This year we’re expected to be in there. We have responded under that pressure. Right or wrong that’s how it goes.”
While Lyons’ cup winners were a relatively care-free set of younger players their playing style was defined by their defence.
This year the team is filled with hardened professionals but they play an offensive style of basketball which is perhaps more associated with a less experienced set of players. When they’re on form it is hugely effective and very entertaining.
“Last year’s team was laid back and focused. This year more mature,” said Lyons.
“This year’s team have set high standards and expectations. They had that in their minds when they joined us because they know the club’s history. And it has showed. There were no expectations last year.”
There are plenty of expectations on the Tigers who have lost just twice in the BBL Championship this year. Lyons says he has done his homework:
“I’ve seen quite bit of film of them. They have guys who can score and role players who all day their job. Defence is their strong point. They’re long and athletic and make people it hard for the opposition.
“We can’t overlook Nate Reinking. He’s one of best scorers in the league this season. But Andrew Thomson is their unsung hero. He’s aggressive and hits threes and probably gets a bit overlooked.
“We’ll stick with what works. Get the ball inside and open it up for the threes. Be aggressive and match their intensity.”