New-look Hemel Storm rounded off their pre-season with an impressive three-point victory over a good Team USA-Select touring side on Saturday night.
In front of a packed crowd at Sportspace and following a hectic summer of rebuilding, Storm showcased six new players and were led out by recently-appointed new head coach Robert Youngblood.
The visitors are part of a three-team touring squad made up of aspiring and talented American players, many of whom will go on to play professionally in Europe.
Storm faced the group’s top side and the result was only decided in the last minute after a thrilling and entertaining clash. Hemel’s Wayne Yeboah connected with a crucial put-back basket and new signing David Ajumobi iced it with cool-headed free-throws to grab the victory.
Youngblood said afterwards: “It was a pleasing win given the talent level and size of our opponents, but it’s just the start.
“We can build on this. Right now our guys have to stay focused and continue to get ready for the season ahead.
“It’ll take us time to gel as a unit but we’ve made good progress in a short time.”
The club are expecting to finalise their roster this week ahead of their first competitive game of the 2017/18 season this Saturday afternoon away to Leicester Warriors for a National Trophy pool game.
Last Saturday saw a fitting return for former Storm star Bode Adeluola, who is back in the side after a year recovering from knee surgery. The dynamic point guard drew a foul driving to the basket and calmly sank the two free throws to record Hemel’s first points of the new campaign.
Tenacious defence and accurate shooting, especially from captain Michael Darlow and Ajumobi, edged Hemel ahead.
A balanced starting five of Adeluola, Yeboah, Darlow, Ajumobi and 7ft centre Lee Greenan posed threats inside and outside the key and some excellent movement and finishing gave Hemel a 25-18 first-quarter lead.
The visitors’ full-court pressure helped them to tie the score at 33-all midway through the second stanza but a Youngblood time-out settled the team and Ajumobi then powered his way to the basket in the final seconds of the half to put Storm ahead at the break 50-41.
Both sides used aggressive man-to-man defence in the third-quarter while USA Select crashed Hemel’s boards to come up with some outstanding offensive rebounds and second-effort scores.
The visitors closed the gap to 72-71 with a second left in the period but Storm’s 21-year-old Jack Burnell then sank a trademark long-range three-pointer to edge Hemel further ahead 75-71 as the crowd erupted.
Carbon-copy threes in the fourth period from Burnell and Darlow kept the hosts’ noses in front and despite intense pressure from the visitors, Storm were able to seal a memorable 92-89 victory.
Storm line-up and points: Michael Darlow 22, Tom Adorian 14, Dave Ajumobi 12, Bode Adeluola 10, Simas Raupys 9, Wayne Yeboah 7, Jack Burnell 6, Chuck Duru 4, Lee Greenan 4, Walid Mumuni 2, Reece Donegal 2, Courtney Van-Beest, Jerrel Layne.
Storm’s first home game is on Saturday, September 23, against London Lituanica (tip-off 7pm).
For tickets or more details, visit the website www.storm basketball.net.