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    September 19

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ON THE BALL: Pine building super team

JUSTIN MARVILLE, justinmarville@nationnews.com

Added 19 February 2014

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In this week’s edition of On The Ball, NATION basketball writer Justin Marville takes a look at the last week of local basketball.

INSIGHTS, OBSERVATIONS, predictions and the odd rumour-mongering ahead of what is supposed to be one of the most anticipated seasons in recent Premier League history.

Biggest storyline: Pinelands’ newest super team. It’s probably the country’s worst kept secret but I guess it’s still worth noting that the men from Princess Royal have tried to take any and everyone who’s ever played for Barbados and stuff them in black and white gear.

As if getting Jeremy Gill and Corey McDonald last season wasn’t enough, Pinelands have seemingly loaded up again by adding big wings Ramon Simmons and Halley Franklyn, along with top rebounder Junior Moore, to the already talented nucleus of a losing finalist. Think Miami staged a coup in 2010? Then consider the Pine has the ability to roll out line-ups with a national player at every single position on the floor a la the stacked Cavs teams of 2009 and 2010.

And we all know how well that paid off for Station Hill. Not that a team which hasn’t won since the Clinton regime needs any more pressure, right? But could you imagine if these super friends didn’t capture the Premier League this season? Well, yes actually, because it wouldn’t be any different from the previous 14.

Most overblown storyline: Pinelands’ newest super team. A ball has yet to bounce and the only thing people can talk about is how star-studded Pinelands are going to be, as if there isn’t any other big news surrounding the league. Okay, so maybe there isn’t anything else worth mentioning and it’s not like this Pine team shouldn’t be regarded as heavy pre-season favourites.

But this isn’t exactly a perennial powerhouse we’re referring to here, unless of course perennial contenders are the words used to describe teams that miss the play-offs three times in the last four years. Underachieving To be fair, this unit is far different from those of the 2010, 2011 and 2012 teams, though I’m not sure if the same holds true of an underachieving culture that has grown to define these modern-day Pinelands.

Then, while the pieces should fit in theory, it’s not like they will certainly shore up a lack of floor spacing that has resulted in Gill and Charles Vanderpool continually operating in less than ideal room. And last I checked these games don’t play on paper, rather the court where a certain defending champion Lakers team and an almost similarly-talented Cougars side will certainly be waiting.

Biggest off-season addition: Pearson Griffith (Warrens). Yeah, this is more of a return than an addition, and Pinelands’ incoming trio should get most of the spotlight due to the Pine’s status as a title contender. But no one player’s addition will match the impact the six-foot-ten behemoth is going to have on both ends of the floor for an unseasoned team that struggled mightily playing defence.

Forget points in the paint, Griffith’s presence alone will automatically deter shot attempts in the paint and transform Warrens into one of the better defensive rebounding sides almost immediately. Their offence should also go up a tick as Griffith gives Warrens another viable post option past Lance Posey, even if his continual presence around the key might take away some driving lanes from Akeem Williams, George Farrell and Manuel Alleng.

One thing they won’t have to worry about though, is relegation, which was a very real possibility in 2013 when the squad had to do without Griffith and fellow veterans Peter Alleyne, Zahir Motara and Kevin Austin.

Biggest off-season loss: Rahiim Gibbons (Sonics) Word on the street is that the young playmaker hasn’t committed to returning to Clapham yet, so this selection may well prove presumptive by the time Sunday’s season opener against the schoolboys rolls around.

There are indeed more high-profile players who may be out for the entire season, too, with overseas-based point guard Andre Lockhart and prolific big man Kelvin Patterson looming as potentially large absences for Lakers and Cavs, respectively.

But the champs have done just fine without “Locky” in the past, and Station Hill didn’t figure to be contenders with Patterson anyway, so their absences won’t be felt as much on a wider scale than Gibbons’ possible transfer. And what a major loss it threatens to be for a Sonics offence that dropped to subpar levels whenever Gibbons had to be replaced in the line-up.

Granted, Ramon Simmons probably won’t be around to hijack the offence with those ghastly contested long jumpers early in the shot-clock, but that now leaves St John’s minus two much-needed perimeter threats. Just in case you think I’m making much ado about nothing, then you probably didn’t realise that Gibbons finished last year third in assists per game (5.3), trailing only Lockhart (5.8) and Gill (5.4), while leading players with far higher usage rates like MVP Adrian Stewart (4.9) and Alwyn Lovell (3.8).

It’s not like he’d be leaving a particularly deep Sonics team either as Old Mother Hubbard would probably blush at what’s left back in the cupboard that is St John’s point guard rotation. Most surprising team: Warrens I’m tempted to go with Warriors here, but should it really surprise anyone again when head coach Frederick Bynoe once more gets the most from little by producing yet another scrappy defensive unit capable of competing against any line-up?

So in the true meaning of the word “surprising”, I’ve chosen Warrens because I suspect a lot of teams are going to sleep on this youthful outfit once Alleyne, Motara and Austin decide against turning up this season again. Overlook Warrens at your own peril, though, as this won’t be the same leaky unit from a year ago for the exact reasons explained just two segments earlier under “biggest off-season addition”.

Griffith’s inclusion aside, talented youngsters such as Williams, Farrell and Alleng should be that much more ready to carry a franchise having spent a whole year out from under the rather large shadow of their more celebrated counterparts.

They’re still a couple of deep threats short, and lack the overall depth to hang with the likes of Lakers, Pinelands and Cougars, but these won’t be the pushovers of 2013, once they fully learn to regularly utilise both Griffith and Posey in the post. The fourth and final play-off spot could actually be within reach considering that they finished just two spots lower last season amidst all that uncertainty and turnover.

Biggest disappointment: Station Hill Sonics seem to be very much in play here given they stand to lose two of their top three players from a 2013 title contender, and are set to go with a Premier League rookie head coach barely a year after winning their first ever top-flight knockout crown.

However, no one knows for sure whether Simmons and Gibbons do intend to bolt out of Gall Hill, and in any case the influx of their Intermediate veterans, coupled with Akeem Marsh’s presence, should keep St John’s in contention for a play-off berth at the very least. That, though, won’t be anywhere close to a possibility for a Cavs team that now has to deal with not only the absence of Patterson, but also the untimely departure of their only true point guard, Steve Grenville. T

The stark reality is this: without Patterson there is simply no one on that roster capable of creating their own offence on a consistent basis, let alone creating for anyone else. Now, that same unit devoid of a true No. 1 option doesn’t even have a guard that can bring it up the floor under pressure. It’s not that Station Hill haven’t grown accustomed to using Jason Smith and Saeed Norville as makeshift ball handlers for lengthy stretches, though, and they do play at the league’s fastest pace in transition so that somewhat negates the need for a true floor general.

But Patterson was their best defensive rebounder as well, so transition opportunities will be that much harder to come by, while Smith and Norville can look forward to an entire season worth of point guard duties instead of mere in-game spells. Yup, this pretty much spells disaster for Cavs, who’ll be lucky to resemble anything close to the team that went unbeaten in the second round and pushed Cougars for the final play-off berth.

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