The Plymouth Raiders would have been one of the teams happy that the season got called off back in June. Sitting in 10th place with only three wins they were one of the worst teams in the league. A new season means time to turn over a new leaf for the club, and it can only mean up for the Raiders.
It's easy to improve a record of 3-11 but the real question is what are the aspirations of the club are? The Raiders, a powerhouse of the lower divisions, stepped up to the BBL in 2004 and joined as the then Championship's eleventh team. Two years later they found themselves winning the BBL trophy against Newcastle Eagles (74-65). This feat in all respect was triumphant from the relative newcomers of the league.
Fast forward 16 years and what do we have? A team that tinkers around playoffs and once every few seasons finish within the top four of the standings.
A team that’s been turbulent on and off the court and this is apparent with the club hiring six coaches in the last 10 years with Gavin Love having two stints at the job. At that time the highest they finished was 4th in the 2011-12 season.
However, the 2019-20 season proved that seeding was in fact just a number to the Raiders and that the playoff was where the real work started. After breaking a five-year exile from the playoffs the team from Plymouth found themselves just making it by finishing in the eighth seed and making a run all the way to the semi-final where they fell to Leicester.
Paul James looked to have got the best out of his men and it was interesting to see what pieces they would add in order to get over the hump, but after the shaky start and curtailed season, we have more questions than answers. Which Raiders team are we in store for this season?
The Raiders pre-season saw them face off against two NBL division teams back-to-back. Friday, they took on NBL Division One side Team Solent Kestrels who finished second in the league last year, narrowly missing out on the title on point’s difference, but made up for that in winning the NBL National Trophy. They blew out their opponents 85-59.
Saturday saw them face off against Thames Valley Cavaliers who have just been promoted to NBL Division One after having another successful season in the lower divisions. The Raiders won the game 100-76. It was the first time the Raiders scored 100 points this season.
If we were going on transfers and what message they would send to the league, then the side from Plymouth have made it apparent that they mean business. With a mix of new players and returning players, a combination of players who know the culture and those who are to learn it, it seems like a suitable way to move forward from the outside looking in.
Transfers include the likes of Michael Ochereobia, Elvisi Dusha, and Will Neighbour, each players with BBL experience that would be worth its weight in gold for the club. The likes of NBL breakout star Elliott Sentence joins the Raiders as a draftee; last season he averaged 21 ppg from 28 mins of action. The re-signing of Denzel Ubiaro to his fourth campaign with the club solidifies the policy of keeping young, promising players and allowing them to flourish with other pieces brought in.
The signing of two GB internationals is the statement that the Raiders wanted to make. Andrew Lawrence and Ashley Hamilton are sure to be exciting pieces to this Plymouth puzzle, especially Hamilton. This is the same Hamilton that helped London City Royals to the BBL Trophy title in 2018 as MVP in the final and he’s back in the BBL. This a signing that excites not only the fans but also the coach:
“Ashley has been one of the best players in the BBL for the past couple of years and we are extremely excited that we have been able to pen him for the coming season,” coach James added. In a short but straight to the point statement, Hamilton said, “I’m ready for action!”
Raiders' star man
Ashley Hamilton. It's not every day you have a former MVP joins your team, not only bringing his skills and abilities but also his wealth of experience. Hamilton could be the catalyst for the newfound revolution happening in Plymouth. He brings leadership that this team desperately needs and he is what the Raiders have never been, a winner.
Last season, Hamilton averaged 11.8 points per game for Coruna in Spain’s LEB Gold, but it was with London City Royals back in 2018 where he cemented himself as one of the country's best players with his 25-point game in the final. This a signing that lays the foundation that this club has been looking for, aspirations for a title.
Coach James: “Signing GB International Ashley further underlines our intention to be one of the top clubs in the country. He has a wealth of experience having played all over Europe at a high level and we look forward to using his experience and talent to help Plymouth Raiders to succeed. We are extremely excited by this signing and look forward to getting started.“
You never know what you'll get when it comes to the Raiders; it’s a real flip of the coin scenario. Could they be a team and could go far in the playoffs? Or a team that falls back not to make the playoffs? It could be argued the stoppage of the season benefited the Raiders more than anybody since it allowed them to focus on the direction of the club and goals. The hiring of coach Paul James looked like the first step in getting this club on the right track, and the ability to recruit players like Ashley Hamilton and Andrew Lawrence shows that they are on a title challenge.
If I had to predict what's going to happen this season, I'd say the Raiders' exile from playoffs is over and I can see them heading towards the quarterfinal/semifinal in playoffs and having a solid push in the cup heading to the semifinals. If this was to come to fruition it would be considered an excellent finish with many things to build from and maybe the turbulent Raiders would finally have some stability and rise from obscurity.