MIKE New has stoked up the fire ahead of Lions’ British Basketball League opener against Leicester Riders on Saturday night, saying ‘they don’t like us, and we don’t like them’.
The Lions coach told his players in no uncertain terms this week that victory over the east Midlands side was a must, with Lions travelling up the M1 on Saturday and Riders visiting the Lions Arena next Friday night in two BBL Trophy ground stage ties.
London Leopards are the third side in the group, but it’s the games between Lions and Riders that will more than likely determine who finishes top and makes it through to the semi-finals.
But as well as making amends for last season – with Lions losing twice to Riders at the same stage of the competition – New says he doesn’t want to beat any one more than the club he himself spent two seasons with during his playing career.
“The guys understand how big a victory is,” he said. “They don’t like us and we don’t like them.
“I still have some friends up there, but the way it works is that if you don’t play for Leicester then you pretty much hate them. I’ve been telling my players all summer how big these games are, so they can’t turn up and say they didn’t understand. The players don’t like each other, the fans don’t like each other – I can’t wait.”
New has been working his squad hard ahead of the new season, with everyone given a 12-week training programme to get them into shape. Most will only have arrived in Milton Keynes in the last couple of weeks and it’s in that time the hard work has really begun as the Lions coach has been putting them through an intense work-out, on the running track, in the gym, and then on the basketball court. New’s philosophy when it comes to training is tough love, and he has ways of knowing who has or hasn’t stuck to their training programmes.
“I’ve seen guys throw up on the running track,” he said. “The guys have really been put through it in the last couple of weeks and now the focus is more on basketball and strategy.
“But the guys will thank me in the long run. This is probably the most athletic team we’ve ever had in Milton Keynes and we have some incredibly skilful players.”
New’s debut season as head coach saw Lions finish 10th in the Championship and make early exits from both the BBL Trophy and Cup. But he’s determined to put that right this season, and believes his side are good enough to finish in the top four and win something.
“People talk about making the play-offs, but I think we can do better than just that,” he said. “If we’re lucky with injuries then we can make the top four. Not only will that be play-offs, but that’s home court advantage.
“We can’t wait to get started. The people can’t wait for their basketball. The fans have been outstanding with me and the support in pre-season games was very good. When you come down once, you always come back.”