HEMEL STORM ARE NATIONAL CUP CHAMPIONS

Hemel Storm's AJ Roberts was the cup final MVP award-winner. (File picture by Lin Titmuss)

Triumphant Hemel Storm have earned their first national silverware for six years after they emphatically defeated Manchester Magic 94-77 in yesterday’s (Sunday) National Cup final in East London.

The battling Storm side fought back from a 12-point first-quarter deficit to eventually dismantle the Magic in a 17-point victory to lift the 2018 National Cup title at University of East London’s sold-out Sportsdock stadium.

In the second-half Hemel’s trademark tenacious defence and lightning quick fast-breaks overhauled and dominated the Magic to thrill the delighted 350 ‘Storm-Trooper’ Hemel fans packed into the arena.

Hemel’s American guard AJ Roberts won the vaunted Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for his outstanding individual performance with 33 points, six assists, six steals and four rebounds.

However, Roberts was quick to acknowledge his team-mates’ support, saying afterwards: “It’s a team game and win. This was big. You could just feel the vibe and you want to perform well to make the fans happy.”

The victory was Storm’s first national title success since winning promotion to the National League’s top-flight in 2012. Prior to that, they had also won the National Patrons Cup – a competition that excluded Division One sides - in 2011 and again in 2012.

The teams traded baskets in the first period until, with four minutes left, Storm’s offence suddenly dried up and Manchester went on a 17-point run that included two triples from their captain Stefan Gill and one from Michael Anumba to give them a commanding 31-19 lead.

But Storm head coach Robert Youngblood juggled his line-up and Hemel dug deep to chip away at the deficit throughout the second quarter.

Although outsized under the basket, David Ajumobi’s individual defensive effort and rebounding prowess (eight boards) encapsulated Hemel’s mental toughness as the momentum began to swing back their way.

Back-to-back triples from Walid Mumuni and Jack Burnell coupled with Storm’s improved defensive pressure ignited a 14-6 run and when a Courtney Van-Beest jump-shot at the end of a fast-break swished through the net, Hemel were right back in the game at 45-47 when the half-time buzzer sounded.

A spirited and determined Storm dressing room during the break helped to ignite an impressive and intense defensive shut-down from the re-start that held Manchester to just four baskets from the field in the third-period and four free-throws for a total of just 12 points while Storm hit 25 to a deafening roar from the stands.

Hemel’s dynamic point-guard and captain Bode Adeluola kept the scoreboard ticking over with a triple and a pull-up jump-shot for two points before Roberts ran in the next nine points.

And when Mumuni’s free-throw swished through the net with a couple of seconds left, Storm ended the third-period 70-59 ahead.

Fourth-quarter fireworks from Roberts at both ends of the court ensured Storm would not let Magic back into the game. The Hemel combo-guard stole the ball twice, sank three triples, including a fade-away from the deep corner that brought the crowd to its feet, and dished out two assists as Manchester failed to contain him.

Youngblood’s five-for-five substitutions with a couple of minutes left allowed the fans to acknowledge the players leaving the court and with the final seconds ticking off the clock, celebrations broke out in the stands.

“I’m emotional right now,” said Youngblood after the buzzer sounded. “I wanted to come to Hemel and win some silverware because the club and all the volunteers deserve it. And I feel blessed and happy for this team.”

Dave Titmuss, head of Storm’s basketball programme, added: “We’ve been building towards this since we won promotion to Division One. We’re a great club with fantastic support which was very evident; it was just like a home game!

“But this is just the start; we want to be in the conversation for national honours every season. Coach Youngblood and the guys were on a mission today and got this win for everyone that believes in what we’re about.”

Storm fan and Hemel MP Sir Mike Penning paid tribute to the club’s success, saying: “Huge congratulations to everyone at Hemel Storm on this incredible achievement of winning the National Cup.

“The team were in top form. I pay tribute to the large number of supporters who made the journey to the University of East London. [My wife] Angie and I were proud to attend and both thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great day out and the club’s sponsors provided great support and contributions on the day.”

The National Cup competition has a long history and was originally launched as the ‘National Championship Cup’ way back in 1936 as the first attempt to develop a regular national basketball competition in England.

The cup was initially organised by the Amateur Basket Ball Association of England and Wales (ABBA), a forerunner to the current Basketball England association which is now the governing body in England.

The National Cup trophy will be on display at Storm’s next home game at Sportspace, Hemel, on Saturday, February 3, against Lancashire Spinners (tip-off 7pm). For tickets or further information, visit the website www.stormbasketball.net.

Storm team, scorers and other notable stats v Manchester: AJ Roberts 33, (plus six assists, six steals, four rebounds), Wayne Yeboah 12, (eight rebounds), Bode Adeluola 10 (three assists, four steals), Mike Darlow 7, (five rebounds), Walid Mumuni 7, (four assists), Courtney Van-Beest 6, (four rebounds, three steals), Lee Greenan 5, (four rebounds, one block), Dave Ajumobi 4, (eight rebounds, two assists, two steals), Tom Adorian 4 (two rebounds, one assist), Jack Burnell 3 (two rebounds, one assist), Chuck Duru 3, Rhyce Donegal.

See the Gazette this Wednesday for a full report and picture special on the Storm’s cup-winning exploits.

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