Saturday 21st October - 7.00pm tip off
NBL Division One
This weekend, Hemel Storm welcome the Worthing Thunder, in a repeat of last year’s season-ending playoff final. The sides both achieved tremendous success last year, with Storm repeatedly pipping the Thunder to the trophies but both come into this tie hungry to take the win after failing to reach last season’s heights so far this campaign.
Worthing had a quiet summer, relative to last year’s recruitment levels, and come into the tie after a tricky start, failing to qualify from their KitKing Trophy group phase and losing their first league matchup. However, they have managed to retain some key assets that will make them a challenge for any side to overcome. 6'7” forward and ex-Storm man Hafeez Abdul returns and will be sure to make himself a nuisance with his tenacity and scoring ability, while experienced guard Tom Ward will continue for another year on the South coast. Ward has proved a handful for many years on the D1 scene with his sharp-shooting and high basketball IQ and at the age of 34 seems to just keep getting better and better. Additionally, Worthing have added exciting guard Daniel Johnson-Thompson who has experience at BBL level with Newcastle Eagles, and are sure to provide Storm with a tough, high-intensity battle.
Storm, meanwhile, come off the back of their first league triumph away at Newcastle and look to continue to build their way into the season as new players begin to find their feet in Hemel. Storm looked promising last week with new man Tez Allen contributing heavily, as well as Seth Swalve continuing his impressive start to the campaign. Hakeem Sylla has carried on as he finished off last year, earning himself another inclusion in the NBL Team of the Week and the bench has begun to step up as Mark Clark looks to gain trust in his rotations. There are still questions to be answered for the Storm side, however, who are yet to put together a complete, convincing display on both ends of the floor and they will hope that this weekend is the time when all the pieces finally slot into place for them this year.
In last season’s battle, Storm overcame the Thunder four times, including in two finals but this didn’t tell the full story. In the first league clash in Worthing, the sides tussled hard until the final buzzer, with a late Charles Acquah-Davis block required to get Storm over the line. Then, Storm took their second piece of silverware of the season in Surrey, where they took a tight 7 point victory in the final of the KitKing Trophy. Thunder provided a late fightback to scare the Storm, but the Hemel side managed to fend them off behind 35 Taylor Johnson points. Perhaps most fresh in the memory was the season finale, where Storm picked up their unprecedented fourth title of the season, in an incredibly scrappy tie.
Storm will hope for an easier ride and a comfortable win this Saturday, to kick start their season but history tells us this is unlikely to be the case, with a tight, tense affair expected. Make sure you get down to the StormDome on Saturday at 7pm; tickets are available on the Storm website at www.stormbasketball.net.
Written by Callum Humphrey