By Jamie Thomas
Repeating the feat of last season, Cheshire Phoenix have
bounced back emphatically from a slow start to the campaign and are now the
form team in the BBL with six wins in their last six outings in all competitions.
Key to that success has been the unselfishness of a very
talented roster, with big contributions coming from different individuals on a
game-by-game basis, and their American floor general Larry Austin Jr. is
confident that further success could lay ahead for the Phoenix.
“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing, staying
positive and working hard individually and collectively to be ready for the
final stretch of the season, which could be really successful for us. Our goal
is just to continue to climb the ladder, but it is going to take a lot of work.
“We’ve got some big games coming up and I love those
occasions, but more so because of what our fans bring to those moments – they
support us so much and give us an extra level – there’s nothing like it, and
they help us have fun out there.
“Winning silverware is realistic for us, for sure. We have
that confidence in ourselves and we can go as far as we want as long as we stay
together and continue to improve our rhythm and consistency on both ends of the
“We’re unselfish on both ends of the floor.”
Going into the international break on the back of two big
wins against the Surrey Scorchers and Plymouth City Patriots, the Phoenix showed
their potential offensively and defensively in each of those games.
Blowing the Scorchers away by 28 points in the first game
and locking down on the defensive end a day later to come from behind in the
fourth quarter and down the in-form Patriots, Cheshire are really rolling at
the moment and the cohesion between the group is at the heart of that success,
as Austin Jr. details.
“We’re in a really positive run right now, playing well
consistently having gelled and come together as a team. We’re locked in at
practice on finding our rhythm, playing hard and executing when it counts – particularly
on the defensive end – which got us the wins on the weekend.
“Coach is always talking about playing together, making
those extra efforts for each other, looking for the extra pass on the offensive
end and helping the helper on the defensive end, which we’ve been doing night
in, night out. We’ve really bought into Coach’s philosophy and it is going well
“Everybody is putting the team first, and if you’re hot
we’re going to feed you. It was Ben Mockford’s game on Saturday and we run a
bunch of plays for him to score three or four threes in a row, and Levi Bradley
on Sunday had the first 11 points for us, so we looked for him, and we’re just
happy to see different guys have those big nights. We’re unselfish on both ends
of the floor and that has been at the heart of everything we’ve done well.”
“We have a lot of work to do to improve.”
With a brief hiatus between fixtures now as the Great
Britain Men’s National Team are in FIBA World Cup Qualifying action, Cheshire’s
momentum – temporarily at least – comes to a bit of a stop as the Phoenix won’t
be in action again until March 2nd.
With that in mind, Austin Jr. is realistic about the work
that still needs to be done by Cheshire to get better and discusses how Coach
Ben Thomas is constantly staying on top of the group to remind them of their
“We have a lot of work to do to improve, and for myself
especially I feel like I can pick up my work on the defensive end and leading
the team better in the halfcourt sets – particularly last weekend, I don’t
think I did too well in those areas in helping the team.
“I’ve settled in well, I was treated like family from the very beginning and my first week felt like a month because we just spent so much time together and gelled so quickly that I felt at home straight away. The sky is the limit for us, we can still get a lot better, and there is a lot of room for us to grow.
“Coach wants us to play hard on every play. If we’re being tough and aggressive on the defensive end then he can live with the offensive side being a bit out of rhythm, but he won’t stand for any team coming in and just beating us up on the defensive end, so we pride ourselves on that, so he was on me for my defensive work after the Plymouth game and I know