As his side prepare to face Newcastle Eagles twice over the weekend, Guildford Heat coach Creon Raftopoulos is happy with his first season in charge of the Surrey club.
“When I was appointed head coach one of main goals was to make the playoffs which we have achieved so we can now go up against the Eagles with no pressure and give our best.
“Reaching the Trophy final was a bonus but we wish we had given a better account of ourselves in the second half of the final. It’s a tough league with many games and back to back games over the weekends can be a nightmare but we all have to do it so learn to adjust best we can. I’m not a big fan of playing each team three times as most of the time the home team steals the head to head which can come back and haunt you trying to make the playoffs. All in all I’m happy with how the season went and I have learnt a lot I can improve on as coach for next season.”
While they missed out on the regular season title, Raftopoulos is impressed with how Eagles have performed over the last seven months: “With all the Eagles have gone through this season they still finished second in a tough league. Losing Fab [Flournoy],then Joe Chapman and finally Trey [Moore] would be enough to cripple most teams. Fab did an amazing job pushing Tigers to the finish line when not many gave them a chance.
“Charles Smith has had an MVP season so you know you have to work as a team to keep his numbers down, he can score from outside and inside. Reggie Jackson has also stepped up big in the short time his had to adjust to being one of his teams go to guys.”
Raftopoulos has a good idea what his team have to do to spring a surprise in their two-leg tie: “I feel the key to playing against the Eagles is you have to match their defensive intensity and physical approach to the game. They bump you on screens, box out and rebound hard switch on screens and most importantly control the tempo of the game. The last game we played them Reggie [Jackson] got to the rim when he liked and made some threes off the pick and roll something we have to defend better. Charles Smith made the biggest play of the game with a deep three just when we thought we could pull out the win.
The Heat play-caller is happy that his side don’t have to face two games in Newcastle as they look to secure the season’s final piece of silverware: “I think we should have a three game series as it gives the higher seed a bigger advantage or reward for their efforts to finish top four in the season. As seventh seeds we go up to second seeds Newcastle on Friday and play home Saturday which gives us a little edge if we get a good result up north.”
Heat captain Mike Martin is excited about the post-season: “We’re definitely looking forward to it, it extends the season, we’ve been playing moderately well and we want to keep that going.
“The guys are finally realising that if you give 110 percent, more often than not you’ll get the result you deserve. They’re learning that if we go to Julius and me early in the game, they have to pick up the slack when that stops working. Signing Ralph has been huge for us, and we’re definitely a better team now we’ve got him. We got to one final and didn’t do ourselves justice, but any of the teams in the play-offs can win them and we’re at a point where we’ve finally got cohesive.
“We were never worried with who we played in the play-offs, if we win we’ll probably end up playing Mersey in the semi-finals anyway. It’s about getting it right on the night, and not ending up doing a number on ourselves. As long as we can keep it tight in the first leg, we’ll give ourselves a chance.
“Joe Chapman did a number on us early in the season, but he’s gone and so is Trey Moore. Drew Lasker’s a good player, we can’t sleep on him, but it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in. we have to make sure he doesn’t get settled.”
Northumbria University Sport Central