Sheffield Sharks stand just a play-off final match away from their most successful season since 2004, writes Richard Fidler
The Sharks are preaching team-work ahead of Saturday’s Play-off final with Mersey Tigers at the NIA in Birmingham.
It hasn’t been an easy route to the last match of the season for Sheffield, however it has been a thrilling ride.
For the second weekend running the Sharks came back from a large deficit to beat their opponents and book a spot against league champions Mersey. This time it was Newcastle Eagles who felt the full force of a Sheffield comeback.
In the end it was a comfortable 166-154 aggregate score, but Sheffield had trailed by as many as 15 late in the second quarter of the second leg at the EIS on Sunday.
One of those leading the charge was point-guard Ryan Patton. He said it was important to remain patient and play as a team:
“You can’t afford to look at the scoreboard when it’s like that. Some teams would have folded but at half time (against Newcastle) we looked at each other, got focused and were ready to play when we came out. We wanted it bad and that showed in the second half.
“Obviously we don’t do it on purpose. It is a two legged Play-off and in the first game of both rounds we got ourselves in a hole. But as a team all season we believe in each other.
“It’s easy to accept (playing as a team) if you grew up playing basketball the right way and striving for the common goal. You want to win; everyone looks good when you’re winning.
“It can be tough sometimes for the team. It took us a while to get used to it until mid-season when everything was flowing a lot better. We all get along great, everyone is happy for everyone else.”
Patton has formed an excellent partnership with Steve Dagostino in the Sharks backcourt. But the American says it is centre Paul Williams who holds the key to success:
He said: “He is the best big man in the league. It is tough because gets double and triple teamed but he passes the ball so well.
“We couldn’t ask for a better big man on our team. We love having him. He goes through a lot and takes a lot of contact but he stands strong and just gets it done.”
Another who will be vital to Sharks chances of beating a strong Mersey team will be former Tigers and Eagles star Olu Babalola.
Babalola was brilliant against Newcastle Eagles scoring 32 points and 14 rebounds.
He said: “We have everything we need and we have chosen the right time to come together in regards to making the right plays.
“I feel we have the best big man in the league (Paul Williams) and for sure we have the best shooters in the league (Ryan Patton and Steve Dagostino).
“I try and do my job, which is penetrate and drive so we’re comfortable and confident. We feel we can go to the NIA and get the result.”
If the Sharks do prevail on Saturday it will be further proof of player-coach Atiba Lyons’ talent for the job.
The 28-year-old New Yorker plays down the success he has had in his three seasons in charge, but with two BBL Cups already to his name another bauble would mark him down as on of the game’s top young coaches.
He said: “Every season so far I have started off with a lot of new guys. Only a couple of pieces returned from last season. It gives me confidence; I have only been doing this three years so I don’t think I know it all by any means.
“I try and work hard, hopefully the guys I bring in do what I want them to do. I thought I brought in a good bunch of guys so I thought we’d win games. As the season went on I realised how good we were and that we needed to get some things together.
“I think they did that. After the cup final they re-focused and executed stuff better as a team. When I saw that happening I really thought we could do big things this season.
“We had a shot at the league. Now we’re in the finals there’s not a lot more we can ask for.”