Bradford Dragons had a busy start to the 2022-23 basketball season, picking up a home win against Team Newcastle University (62-53) on Saturday evening, but then falling to a heavy 91-66 defeat at Derby Trailblazers, less than twenty-four hours later.
In what has become the traditional start to a basketball season for the National Basketball Leagues topflight teams, both of these games were part of the newly named KitKing Trophy. The initial stage of the competition sees the fourteen Division One sides, along with two invited teams from the second tier, split into four regional groups, with each team playing three games, and the top two from each group progressing to the next round. As per the previous two seasons, the Dragons find themselves grouped with the teams from Newcastle and, last season’s Trophy winners, Derby. The one change to the group sees newly promoted Manchester Magic replacing Myerscough.
The Dragons have a familiar look to their roster for the new season. Rihards Šulcs returns for his fourteenth consecutive season with the club, although he misses the opening games through injury. Jermayne Laing starts his ninth season for his home team, whist Ricky Fetske begins season number eight. David Walsh, Clayfell Harris and Micah Savery-Richards, along with Academy graduate Jabari Edwards, complete the list of returnees.
The big signing of the summer came in the shape of former Manchester Giant Jordan Whelan, who brings his experience as a pro-player in the British Basketball League to the Dragons line-up. He is joined by Jacques Misambu, who makes a big step up from Calderdale Explorers, and Ethan Rose, who joins from local league side Deighton.
Head Coach Chris Mellor has also awarded places on the Division One roster to three current Academy players: Identical twins, Daniels and Emils Knaps and fifteen-year-old Camron Simpson.
Saturday’s fixture against Newcastle had been moved at the eleventh hour from the Dragons’ new home at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre, back to their old haunt at Bradford College. This didn’t prevent a very healthy crowd from attending for their first opportunity to see how their side are shaping up for the new season.
Before the game started the arena fell silent in an immaculate tribute to our late Queen.
In a close game throughout, the Dragons found themselves going into the first scheduled break trailing by two points (14-16).
They turned this around in the second period, heading back to the locker rooms at half-time with a five-point lead (28-23).
In the third quarter the game turned again, with Newcastle taking a four-point lead (40-44) into the final sector of the game.
The Dragons roared back at the start of the fourth taking the first five points of the period. However, Newcastle regained the lead but not for long and with just over four minutes of the game remaining a three pointer from Jordan Whelan put the hosts two points to the good (52-50). Another Whelan three extended the lead and Dragons were in the ascendency.
Another trey, this time from Ricky Fetske, gave the Dragons an eight-point advantage. Newcastle had the chance to close it from the free throw line, but failed to convert from either attempt, following which Fetske went to the line at the other end and flawlessly put the home side ten-points ahead (60-50).
Whelen was then fouled out, with two minutes remaining, but the Dragons were home and dry and saw the game out for the win (62-53).
Despite his five-fouls, Whelan took the Player of the game award, whilst also being the game’s high scorer with 23 points. Ricky Fetske and Micah Savery-Richards each contributed ten points to the winning tally.
The following day the Dragons travelled to Derby for their second pool game, this time against reigning Trophy holders Derby Trailblazers, who had themselves beaten Manchester Magic the previous night.
Bradford got off to a slow start in the game and were already sixteen points behind after the first quarter (30-14).
A closer second period saw Derby increase their advantage by a single point (47-30).
The second half started almost as badly as the first, with the hosts further extending their lead to 25 points (74-49).
Finally, the teams shared the spoils in the final period, with the game ending at 91-66 in Derby’s favour.
Dave Walsh topped the Dragons scorers with 17 points, whilst Jabari Edwards contributed 15 points and Fetske 14 points, the latter also recording a double double with 12 rebounds to his name.
The Dragons now move onto another away fixture at Manchester Magic next weekend, knowing that a win could see them through to the second round.
Photography by Kristelle Templonuevo.