This season, Basketball Ireland’s top league will adopt a new name, The Basketball Ireland Premier League.
Basketball Ireland Men’s Premier League has expanded from eight teams to ten as Belfast Star return and Templeogue of Dublin join the ranks for the 2013/14 campaign.
Similarly, the Women’s SuperLeague will follow suit and take on the same title, the Basketball Ireland Women’s Premier League.
The 2013-14 season gets underway this weekend with newcomers Belfast Star opening their campaign by welcoming last season’s National Cup Champions, Bord Gais Neptune to Methodist College, Belfast.
Similarly, Templeogue will host their club’s first ever Premier League game in Oblate Hall in Inchicore against last season’s beaten finalists of The Champion Trophy, DCU Saints.
Some of the other highlights include reigning champions’ UL Eagles’ home fixture against Moycullen, while Killester and Dublin Inter battle it out in the IWA, Clontarf.
Newcomers Templeogue are preparing of their club’s first ever Premier League game as they face off with DCU Saints. Entering the league from last year’s Division One, the team is excited about the challenge ahead as the James twins, Conor and Daniel, return to join their younger brother Stephen at Templeogue after a spell in UCD Marian.
Speaking about the game, Templeogue’s head coach Mick Thompson said, “The club as a whole is very excited about our game against DCU Saints this weekend. This game for us is about focusing on the higher quality of basketball that is required at this elite level. We have had a good preseason and our young squad is prepared for this test against an experienced DCU Saints.”
“This is a very special weekend for the club with our first Premier League game and our annual Mick James Memorial Tournament also taking place.”
Dave Donnelly, head coach of DCU Saints commented: “We are really looking forward to the game against Templeogue. We have had a lot of changes in personnel and basically have a new team with lots of young players. Although Templeogue are a new team to the league they have a lot of experience in players such as the James’ brothers and Phil Taylor.”
“I expect there to be a great atmosphere for this local derby and know that we will be up against it.”
Reigning League Champions and runners-up of the National Cup, UL Eagles, look set to start their season strong after they competing in numerous preseason fixtures over the last few weeks. This weekend, they will welcome Moycullen to UL Sports Arena in Limerick.
Eagles coach Mark Keenan said: “We have had plenty of games practice coming into the season off the back of the Stuart Robinson Tournament and other preseason games so we are really looking forward to the season starting.”
Keenan continued: “Our team has changed this season, we still have our core players such as Scott Kinevan and Neil Campbell but we also have some younger guys coming through.
“Our game will change this year without the aid of Jason Killeen inside so as a whole we need to be more aggressive and quick if we want to get winning results. We still have a lot of work to do and are looking forward to coming up against a fresh Moycullen.”
Speaking about the game, Salva Camps, head coach of Moycullen commented: “We are really excited for the starting of the new season. Our team this year is young as nearly 70% did not play last year, but we will try to grow and gain experience as the season progresses. Our aim this weekend is to compete for the full 40 minutes.”
Killester will welcome Dublin rivals Dublin Inter to the IWA in Clontarf.
Jonathan Grennell, former point guard for Killester and now head coach is enthusiastic about the season ahead, saying: "We are looking forward to our first game against Dublin Inter. Our guys have worked hard in pre-season but we are still searching for some consistency. A good performance against Inter is crucial for us to gain the momentum needed".
Likewise, head coach of Dublin Inter Sarunas Cesnakauskas is relishing the challenge this weekend: “This is our second year playing at the top level of basketball in Ireland. We have had a long summer break and our players are ready to go. I think the team will be more prepared this season as we have the experience of playing against the Irish style of basketball compared to the Lithuanian game that the players are more used to.”
“This season we really want to show everyone that we have the talent to compete and win games.”
As mentioned, Belfast Star returns to the top flight this Sunday under the watchful eye of former Barcelona coach, Josep Maria Berrocal.
Berrocal’s trophy cabinet includes a 2003 EuroLeague winner’s medal from his time as assistant coach with Barcelona after which he secured prestigious head coaching positions with Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, two regular EuroLeague and EuroCup challengers.
As they take on Bord Gais Neptune, last season’s National Cup winners, their coach Mark Scannell is up for the challenge: “I know Berrocal well and I know he is an excellent coach, he will have the men at Belfast Star very well prepared for this game and the season ahead.”
Scannell continued: “However, coming into this game off the back of a successful season and being the National Cup Champions gives the team and the club as a whole a new confidence.
“We are down a few players this weekend but our mix of youth and experience will stand to us. We have six U20 players on the team this season so we are looking for a good start but this will be a tough one to take.”
In Basketball Ireland’s Women’s Premier League, last season’s League and National Cup Champions UL Huskies will open their 2013/2014 campaign with a difficult game against DCU Mercy.
Speaking about the game, head coach, James Weldon said: “We have had a strong pre season in training and got great results in Cork during the pre season tournament even though we were missing some of the girls.”
Weldon continued: “This weekend is about getting a good performance under our belts, we know DCU and they know us, it will be a good battle but also a good gauge of how prepared we are going into this season. Although we are without Michelle Fahy this season as she has retired, everyone else on the team is ready to stand up and do what they need to in order to get the results we have worked for.”
Mercy head coach Mark Ingle said: “This is a new season so we are fresh and ready to take on the challenges ahead. We have had a great preseason and the girls are all set. It will be a tough game against UL but I’m confident in the ability of the team.”
Elsewhere, Killester will take on Singleton SuperValu Brunell in the IWA Clontarf. Both sides are evening matched so it will make for a nail biting opening game.
Head coach of Singleton Kieran O’Leary said: “We are level pegging with Killester so this will be a great game to start the season with. We are back to full strength now that Megan O’Leary is back from injury so we are confident and ready to go.”
Mark Grennell of Killester commented: “Our pre season has been good, however a little disjointed with injuries which meant we could not travel to the preseason tournament in Cork.
“Nonetheless, we are delighted to have Ash Sullivan and Alison Maguire back on the team this season which has given us a good boost. The girls are all still learning to gel and come together but we are looking forward to the game this weekend and are hoping to come away with a good result.”
On Sunday, Meteors begin with an away game to Ulster Rockets, while DCU Mercy will face their second game of the weekend when they welcome Liffey Celtics to DCU Sports Complex.
Head coach of Ulster Rockets, Breda Dick said: “After a strong preseason we are excited about taking on Meteors this weekend. Although we are without the height we had last season our new editions of Keri Shields, former caption of Boston College and Brittany Waters have given us an added confidence.
“Only four of our players from last season will be playing this weekend so we need the girls to gel in order to come away with a win.”
Nabil Murad, of Meteors is excited about his first season as head coach of their Premier League team saying: “This game will be a big test for us. Both teams are evenly matched so it will come down to the team that is more mentally prepared on the day. We are looking forward to this challenge and are ready to start the season strong”.