RIVALRY RENEWED!: League MVP Keefe Birkett (right) and the defending champion Lakers open their season against Kevin Sealy's rival Cavs. (Picture by Kenmore Bynoe)
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WHAT’S BASKETBALL without a Lakers-Cavs showdown?
The rivalry that has redefined local basketball has been renewed, as age-old adversaries Lumber Company Lakers and Station Hill Cavaliers are set to bounce off the Co-operators General Insurance Premier League in tonight’s season opener at the Wildey Gymnasium.
It’s just the latest matchup in a long line of heavyweight bouts featuring the two champion clubs, who contested four knockout title games (2005, 2008, 2012, 2017) and five playoff series between 2007 and 2014 including three league finals (2007, 2008, 2010).
The intrigue surrounding the matchup doesn’t end there either, as the much-awaited season opener pits the defending league champion Lakers against a Cavs team who beat them in last year’s knockout final.
And the perennial powers figure to contend for even more titles this season after returning the nucleus of their championship-winning rosters.
“We love the rivalry because it brings the best out of both teams and I think this is the best way to start the season because the fans love the rivalry too,” said Lakers assistant coach Derek Browne.
Lakers arguably have got even better, with Mark Bridgeman, Kregg Jones and John Jones expected to play most of the season after all three national players missed most of 2017 for varying reasons.
They will add more firepower to a team led by reigning league MVP Keefe Birkett, Defensive Player Of The Year candidate Ricardo Jemmott and seasoned veteran guard Adrian Allman.
Station Hill also brought in backups to bolster their young corps by way of former dominant big man Kelvin Patterson and one time Sonics utility player Dwayne Kellman.
Yet they aren’t the only ones loading up for a potential championship run this season, as Hilton Barbados Warriors have welcomed back former young stars Tremaine Shaw, Nicholai Williams and Daniel Durant to a squad that just missed the playoffs last season.
That trio, and talented guard Shaquan Newton, will join with the league’s leading scorers in Jamar Headley (22.1 points) and Justin Pile to form one of the most potent units this year.
They won’t have to wait long to try out those new weapons either considering Warriors are scheduled to play Pan American International Insurance Warrens tonight at 6 p.m.
Orange 3 Pinelands will be itching to get on the court too, having narrowly lost last season’s heart-breaking league finals to Lakers in extra time of a decisive fifth game.
And they’ve made some big additions of their own by bringing back national players Charles Vanderpool and Ramon Simmons, along with seasoned sharpshooting guard Zahir Motara.
It should make for another star-studded Pine roster featuring prolific combo guard Jeremy Gill, national forward Junior Moore, Most Improved Player Derion Hurley and Ian Alexander.
But while Vanderpool and Simmons’ return has served to strengthen Pinelands it may have dealt a crippling blow to former title contenders Urban Vybz St John’s Sonics.
National forward/centre Akeem Marsh probably will have to shoulder much of the scoring load again, leaving Stefan Clarke, Jamar King and Romaine Lovell to pick up the slack if Sonics are to return to the post-season.
Burger King Clapham Bulls have made some notable moves in acquiring Shaquan Carrington, Sean Parris and Adrian Catlyn as they look to adjust to life without long-time head coach Barry Rock, who has been replaced by former stalwart Ryan Leacock.
Warrens also changed play callers by bringing in Derek Aimey to run a bench that will be vastly improved by the additions of national captain Pearson Griffith, former Lakers forward Jae Harris and Manuel Alleng.
Schoolboys Renico Brewster, Kemar Benn and David Walkes are set to make their Premier League debuts this season with the NexGen Tridents. (JM)