Monday, April 22, 2024

The start of things to come


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In this week’s On The Ball, NATION basketball writer Justin Marville previews the men’s and women’s knockout finals this weekend.
It doesn’t quite have the draw – or history – of a Lakers-Cavs title game but local basketball could’ve done a lot worse than pitting Station Hill against St John’s for a knockout cup.
Yes, there’s not much of a rivalry between the two past a lone first-round playoff matchup in 2008, and yet they’ve been among the more consistent teams over the last six seasons since Sonics’ Premier League debut in 2007.
Come to think of it, that Cavs and Sonics haven’t had any other significant meetings is very surprising, considering that Station Hill is a perennial fixture in the postseason (2004-2011, 2013) while St John’s have made four playoff trips in seven seasons.
But that just makes this rare Cup showdown so much more appealing, especially taking into account the huge contrasts between the clubs.
And none is as big as the “haves versus have-nots” theme, as the contest features a Cavs side that has a record six Premier League titles and numerous other knockout cups playing a Sonics club which has previously never appeared in a top flight final of any kind.
Then again, this could be the start of basketball’s next best rivalry, bearing in mind the relatively youthful outlook of both squads doubled with their recent track record of success.
So don’t start regretting this final just yet, even if you were yearning for another epic Lakers-Cavs showdown, because as the Samsung ad goes: the next best thing might already be here.
• I know I just spoke glowingly of St John’s recent track record and even hinted at their bright future, but could anyone be under more pressure to win a title than Sonics head coach Terry Inniss?
Quite frankly the answer has to be a resounding no, because though St John’s have made the last two postseasons, successive first-round exits can only be viewed as let-downs in Gall Hill right now.
It doesn’t help Inniss’ stature any that those playoff pitfalls came directly after Sonics missed two straight postseasons while playing in what could only be described at the time as a weak two-team league.
And it’s not like he didn’t have talent rosters to work with either, as reigning two-time MVP Akeem Marsh has been there for all of Inniss’ tenure while St John’s also fell short with the likes of George Haynes, Ramon Simmons, Rahiim Gibbons and Chiamaka Browne over the course of two seasons.
Now, Sonics enter their first ever final as slight favourites, and considering Inniss’ failure to get them over the hump I can’t see how anything but a victory ensuring he comes back for a fifth year at the helm.
If you ask me, you should cherish his presence on the bench for Saturday’s final, because St John’s first title game could very well be Inniss’ last.
• As we’re on the topic of things to cherish, I’m hoping local basketball fans come out in their numbers this weekend as this might be the last time we get to see one of the local game’s all-time greats in uniform.
Sure Wanda Agard-Belgrave sounded optimistic about returning for another season once her knees hold up, but how much of a certainty could that proposition be following a surprisingly subpar performance in the league finals?
If Saturday is indeed the end, then win or lose it would be the fitting cap to a truly great career that saw the six-foot forward serve as the sport’s best female player for the better part of a decade while leading the lady Cavs to an unprecedented 11 league cups in 13 years.
As if that wasn’t enough, she was also a huge part of Barbados’ title-winning efforts at the 2000 Caribbean Championships.
This may also be the end for the other half of the historic Twin Tower combo, Astrid Alleyne, who failed to log a single minute this season due to a severe back injury.
Here’s to hoping the national centre can don the Cavalier green just one more time on Saturday, even if it is just for a token minute to acknowledge whatever part of the crowd is willing to honour her for service to basketball.
• It’s an area of sport that Barbadian fans and administrators really fall down in – acknowledging the achievements of our great players when they retire – and I must admit I am just as guilty for such shortcomings.
So let me take the opportunity now to finally recognize another Station Hill legend; Andrew Alleyne.
If there’s still a debate over the best Bajan-born basketballer, it certainly doesn’t exist in my mind following his too-long to mention list of accomplishments.
But just to make my point, consider that the only team to have won Third Division then Intermediate and the Premier League in successive years was led by Alleyne.
No one has more than his six Premier League titles, and Alleyne won the league crown as both a rookie (1988) and then as a retiring 22-year veteran (2010). To date, he’s still the only two-time MVP at the Caribbean Basketball Championships and the living legend was also among the first players to ply his trade overseas professionally.
His impact isn’t limited to accolades alone, as Alleyne became the first real stretch-4 in local basketball before there was even a Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett or Rasheed Wallace – before the world was ready for big men to be able to handle and shoot the ball beyond the arc.


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