Short-handed Thunder go down in the Welsh capital

A short-handed Worthing Thunder were eliminated in the third round of the National Cup, losing 90-88 to NBL Division 3 side Cardiff City Basketball Club at the House of Sport on Saturday night.

Due to travel issues thanks to the adverse weather conditions hitting various parts of the south, Aiman Rezk and Luke Attfield were unable to make the game while Tom Ward and Kadeem Crabbe were both unavailable. It left Thunder with only six players.

After a closely-fought first two quarters, the visitors led for the majority of the second half until a late flurry from Cardiff, mixed with solid defence in what was a scrappy contest, littered with turnovers, earned the Welsh side perhaps the biggest win in their history.

Captain Brendan Okoronkwo led Thunder with 32 points. Zaire Taylor added 24 and  James Grinham amassed 15.

“We let ourselves sink to their level,” Okoronkwo said afterwards. “Having six players meant we had to be careful of foul trouble which allowed a high scoring first half.

“When we were in a position to make a push and be more aggressive, we didn’t take it. They played with nothing to lose and it paid off, well played to Cardiff.”

On a difficult court, equaled by rims not favouring the shooters, Thunder struggled at the start but they still raced out to an 8-2 lead early on as they looked to attack the basket. The short-handed Thunder though couldn’t contain a Cardiff side, who were at full strength and had nothing to lose. The hosts took a 22-20 lead after the first quarter.

The third division side extended their lead to eight points thanks to a 6-0 burst at the beginning of the second quarter, which was snapped with a strong drive to the hoop by Okoronkwo. Cardiff managed to keep the lead until the latter stages of the half when Thunder, thanks to Taylor finished on an 8-0 run with the American grabbing six of those points to leave the game tied at 46-46 at the break.

Worthing began the third quarter the much stronger of the two as Okoronkwo and Tor Freeman attacked the basket to great success as the Division 1 side enjoyed a 57-51 lead and despite pressure from the hosts, Thunder took a 72-65 cushion into the fourth quarter and looked in control.

Baskets by Okoronkwo and Samson Soulis gave Thunder a 77-67 lead early in the final period, with Cardiff’s offence seemingly drying up on their home court. The rims though haunted Worthing as many missed shots, coupled with turnovers allowed the Welsh side back into the game and they managed to hold the lead with a minute left for a famous win.

Worthing head to lower league side Cardiff with league game mentality

Worthing Thunder will travel to the Welsh capital on Saturday when they face NBL Division 3, South side Cardiff City in the National Cup with Coach D adamant that this will be like a league game.

Cardiff City are currently lying in seventh place in a 10-team Division 3 southern division with a 1-2 record but Coach D admits that Saturday’s trip will be slightly into the unknown.

“We are approaching Saturday's game as a league game,” Coach D said. “Although there is limited information and footage on the team we know that they have some size and athleticism.”

Since boosting their squad with the signings of Samson Soulis, Tom Ward and Kadeem Crabbe, Thunder have seen improvements in their performances with a deeper amount of players available. Coach D is hopeful that Saturday’s game will right some wrongs of Saturday’s narrow loss to Solent.

“As a team we are still have a lot of wrongs to make right,” he said. “So hopefully this will be a good opportunity to learn how to execute and play with some discipline, a lot of these lower league teams play with a lot of heart and intensity so we are definitely going to take them seriously.”

Thunder’s game against Cardiff City will tip-off at 7:15 with the Welsh side stating that they will be streaming the game live.

Kadeem Crabb joins Thunder

Worthing Thunder Basketball Club are delighted to announce the signing of Kadeem Crabb for the remainder of the 2017-18 NBL Division 1 season.

Crabb has already made an instant impression on Thunder fans having made his debut on Saturday against Solent Kestrels, where he recorded eight points off the bench.

Crabb comes to the Thunder having had a mini hiatus from basketball. Last season, he was playing American Football. Before his venture out of basketball, he played for the Preston Titans in NBL Division 4 in 2014.

Before that, Crabb had spells at London Westside and Bolton University. Despite the hiatus, he didn’t look out of place in his debut, moving up and down the court well, and attacking the basket with positive results.

Coach D said: “Thankful to be able to fill out our roster with guys who are wanting to commit to the team philosophy and bring in some tough defence. Kadeem is a great competitor and gets after everyone in practice.”

Crabb said: “I am happy to be back playing at such a high level with such a great organisation and I’m looking forward to bringing some more raw offence.

Thunder unlucky in loss to Solent

Worthing Thunder put up a brave fight, but ultimately went down 84-75 to Solent Kestrels in an NBL Division 1 clash at Fleming Park on Saturday night.

In a game that featured a 20-minute delay due to a faulty scoreboard that eventually failed during the third quarter, the match still firmly in the balance heading into the fourth quarter.

But Thunder had players in foul trouble and in the first minute of the final period, Brendan Okoronkwo was ejected for a second unsportsmanlike foul, which was followed by Jasper Chiwuzie, who fouled out. And from there, Solent made their size and depth count, despite a strong fightback from the visitors towards the end.

Zaire Taylor led Worthing with 32 points, with nine points added by Brendan Okoronkwo and James Grinham.

“It’s hard to find positives to be honest but we have come a long way from the first time we came here nearly four weeks ago,” Coach D said afterwards.

“We were in it for the first three quarters and were solid at both ends but we lost our way a little bit in the final quarter and let them dictate the pace of the game. This is a tough place to play and we were competitive but losing Brendan and Jasper hurt us in the fourth.

Chris Scarlett led Solent with 17 points.

A long three-pointer from Taylor broke an opening three minute cold spell for Thunder, but luckily for them, Solent were also struggling to put the ball in the basket to start. A long two from Tom Ward in transition gave Worthing its first lead at 9-8, half-way through the period but heading into the second quarter, the two teams could not be separated at 17-17.

Back to-back baskets from Scarlett gave the hosts a 24-21 lead and as the quarter progressed, Solent enjoyed a 28-22 advantage. This is when Taylor took over as he managed to score at will, including a massive four-point play to give Thunder a 39-34 lead.

The Kestrels though remained patient and despite numerous scoreboard issues, managed to take a 44-42 lead late on thanks to a three from Scarlett. James Grinham answered back though as the visitors enjoyed a narrow 45-44 lead at the break.

The scoreboard issue took a turn for the worse in the third quarter as the game was delayed for 20 minutes until Kestrels volunteers got an electronic scoreboard in order to keep the game going. From there though, Solent went on a 10-0 run to take a 59-51 lead. Taylor broke the run with a three-point play and further scores from Taylor, Aiman Rezk and a triple from Grinham tied the scores at 61-61. However, the hosts retained the lead heading into the final quarter with a pair of free throws from former Thunder forward Josh Brown.

It was still all to play for in the fourth quarter until Okoronkwo’s dismissal, coupled with a 13-2 run by Solent drastically turned the game in favour of the hosts. Grinham and Taylor tried to steady the ship but the damage was done as Thunder go 1-1 in NBL Division 1 play.

Aiman Rezk and Thunder head back to Eastleigh with improved squad

Worthing Thunder’s Aiman Rezk insists that Saturday’s NBL Division 1 clash at Solent Kestrels is not a revenge mission.

Instead, Rezk, who has scooped back-to-back Barkers Tarring MVP awards for the club this season says that since the season opener against Kestrels in the National Trophy, they have boosted their team, are in a much better position and are taking it game-by-game.

“I’m just going out there to play basketball, there’s no revenge not yet we're definitely in a better position,” Rezk says. “I feel much more comfortable as a unit now with the new additions to the team and a few practices together as a team.”

Since the loss to Solent nearly a month ago, Thunder have added Samson Soulis and Tom Ward to the team and there impact was immediate as Worthing eased past Leicester Warriors in last week’s opening NBL Division 1 fixture.

But with the squad bolstered, Rezk continued to impress against the Warriors as he pulled down 11 rebounds and swatted away six shots to add to his eight-point tally. But he is not too concerned with the personal accolades, instead he would rather his team win and hopefully at the end of the season, celebrate something much more valuable.

“Really when I’m in the game I’m not thinking about the "MVP" awards or being the team’s defensive player, I just go out there and do what I can and to help my team win,” Rezk says. “I’m not too bothered about these awards and titles not that I don’t appreciate it from the club but none of them mean anything without a championship at the end of the season.”

Solent come into Saturday’s game having suffered their first loss in all competitions last week going down narrowly 73-71 to reigning league champions Team Northumbria in Newcastle.

Thunder against Solent Kestrels tips-off on Saturday evening at 7:00pm at Fleming Park in Eastleigh.

Soulis impresses in Thunder debut

Worthing Thunder’s newest acquisition Samson Soulis certainly impressed during his debut in the team’s 72-57 win over Leicester Warriors on Saturday, and the native of Athens, Greece is up for the challenge of competing for more minutes in the next few games.

Soulis posted eight points, going for 75 percent from the field in just 13 minutes on the court and the shooting guard is aiming for more minutes, starting with his first game on the road next Saturday against Solent Kestrels.

“Hopefully I can get into the rotation more,” Soulis said. “This is my first game so I didn’t expect to play big minutes. But I’ve only had a few training sessions and I’m learning the new plays so hopefully in the next few games I will be more confident with the system and I will be competing for more minutes.

“But this is a great team with very talented players, so it will be hard, but I live for new challenges.”

Soulis admits to not getting the plays down 100 percent just yet, but having just arrived on the south coast, it’s understandable. However, the 22-year-old was certainly active and did not out of place when he was on court on Saturday. He constantly created his own space for open jump shots, resulting in connecting on his only three-point attempt and attacked the basket in transition with confidence.

The new system that Coach D has implemented is working, and Soulis is getting it, slowly but surely.

“I’m borderline,” Soulis admits. “Like I said, I will need a few games to get totally fluent in the system. But I am still going to be active and play to my strengths and this team as a group compliments my style of play well.

“I’ve just played my first game so I’m being put into the rotation gradually but I will aim to play more minutes, for sure.”

Thunder comfortably despatch of Leicester Warriors in NBL Div 1 season opener

Worthing Thunder began their NBL Division 1 season with an impressive 72-57 win over Leicester Warriors at the Worthing Leisure Centre on Saturday night.

Despite a worrying dip in the fourth quarter, where the visitors got to within 11 points, Thunder were always in control of their league opener with a well balanced scoring attack, complimented by solid defence, led by Aiman Rezk, who pulled down 11 rebounds, swatted away six shots and added eight points, on his way to a second straight Barkers Tarring MVP award.

James Grinham paced Worthing with 16 points, including five three-pointers, going 71 percent from outside. Zaire Taylor and Brendan Okoronkwo both added 14 with the former getting seven rebounds, five assists and the latter dishing out seven assists. There was also an impressive debut from Samson Soulis, who got eight points in limited minutes and the returning Tom Ward, who amassed seven, plus six rebounds and six assists.

Grinham though certainly found his range tonight, saying afterwards that he needed to find his form after last weekend’s games against Reading and Kent.

“Everyone was on me for not shooting enough last week,” Grinham revealed. “So I studied the game tape, and went through a few things and tonight, I gained more confidence with every shot. Having the team-mates around you, and supporting you is a massive booster and right now, I feel like we are nearly there as a team. We’re understanding each other and everyone has a role that they are settling into.”

A statement certainly seconded by Coach D, who starts the new Division 1 campaign with a win and a second straight victory in all competitions.

“I think that was our best performance, we managed to get a few extra guys in and I think that helped reducing the minutes of some of the starters and so we had fresh legs when we were at the start of the quarters,” Coach D explained.

“They are starting to understand their offences, they are starting to understand their roles.”     

Martyn Gayle led the Warriors with 13 points.

After missing their first offences, Okoronkwo got Thunder going in transition, finishing a move that started with an impressive block from Rezk off an attempted lay-up attempt from Carl Pearson. The Thunder captain then hit a step back jumper before Grinham stepped up to hit three triples in a row to give the hosts a 13-6 lead.

And Worthing kept up the pressure on the Warriors, who relied heavily on driving to the basket, with little success. Soulis got his first points as a Thunder player, which was part of a 7-0 burst, leading to a convincing 27-11 lead after one.

Leicester started the second very promisingly, thanks to veteran Pearson, but the spell was short-lived as Worthing resumed their dominance with the highlight being a triple from Grinham off a tip pass from Okoronkwo, whilst on the floor. A three-pointer as Rezk handed the hosts a 40-18 lead, in the end settling for a 47-25 cushion at the half.

Following a quiet nine points in the first half, off seven shots, Zaire Taylor opened the third with a long three-pointer, followed by sublime link-up play between Ward, as his behind-the-back pass was completed by Okoronkwo.

As a team, Worthing looked composed and as a team, the offence came to them easier thanks to solid defence. A basket from Okoronkwo handed the hosts a 58-30 lead with 4:52 left in the third.  However, towards the end of the period, the Warriors began to claw their way back with an 8-0 run, which was broken with a timely triple from Soulis as Thunder had a comfortable 63-39 advantage heading to the fourth.

But despite the cushion, Coach D was forced to call a timeout with 7:46 left in the fourth as Warriors’ Martyn Gayle got hot from outside, draining three consecutive triples from the corner to narrow the double-digit lead and that was then followed by a three from Pearson as Worthing’s lead was 65-54 and all of a sudden, the fans grew nervous.

But the hosts regrouped as scores from Grinham, Okoronkwo and Taylor restored a comfortable 71-56 lead, which they maintained, en route to the win.

Okoronkwo and Thunder ready for league opener against Leicester Warriors

Worthing Thunder team captain Brendan Okoronkwo believes that Sunday’s win over Kent Crusaders has given his side the necessary push needed as they begin their NBL Division 1 campaign on Saturday against Leicester Warriors. 

Thunder trailed for all but 18 seconds of Sunday’s National Trophy clash with the Crusaders but the 77-76 victory was all that mattered. Zaire Taylor hit the game-winner but Okoronkwo played his part as he had a true captain’s innings with 24 points and six rebounds. 

Following the win, Okoronkwo has noticed that morale has shot up and the players are now getting to know the system and the roles that Coach D is giving them. 

“Getting our first win of the season has really helped push us to come out strong to start the league this weekend,” Okoronkwo says. “Feels good to get coach his first win, and show we can grind out wins after being down for the majority of the game against Kent and less than 24 hours after being beat by Reading. 

“Things are slowly starting to click for us, guys are starting to feel comfortable with their roles and understand what’s expected of them. 

After a great week of training, we're ready to put it together on Saturday and fight for that first league win.” 

Thunder will open their league season against the Leicester Warriors in the league opener for the second straight season. Thunder narrowly lost 76-73 to the Warriors when they visited back in October of last year and Worthing will be looking to redeem themselves, almost exactly 12 months later. 

However, both teams have changed their rosters drastically since then but with the visitors, like normal, there is an air of mystery with them as little info is available. 

Thunder’s game with Leicester tips-off at 7:30pm on Saturday night.

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Thunder heading in the right direction following week off ahead of Trophy double-header

Worthing Thunder guard James Grinham says that the team is heading in the right direction ahead of the first two competitive home games of the season this weekend.

Grinham, one of Coach D’s new acquisitions in the summer scored 17 points including five three-pointers in Thunder’s National Trophy opener against Solent Kestrels two weeks, but unfortunately the team were beaten and now with the Eastleigh-based side winning again last week, they have one foot in the next round.

Thunder play Reading Rockets on Saturday followed by Kent Crusaders less than 24 hours later in the National Trophy, and Grinham has said that the week off that the team had was beneficial for extra team chemistry and preparation for this weekend’s double-header.

“We’ve had a good week of practice putting right the wrongs from the Solent game,” said Grinham. “The weekend off gave us more time to practice and we expect another big week in preparation for the weekend's double header.

“The season's very young and we haven't had a lot of time together yet to gel, but we're moving in the right direction.”

Coach D admitted that the team were behind schedule for their game against Solent and that the players had little time to settle into their new surroundings, but is hopeful for change this weekend.

“Being honest were a little behind schedule in where I feel we should be,” Coach D said. “But once it clicks I have no doubt that we will be playing some high level basketball.”

Thunder host Reading Rockets on Saturday, with the game tipping off at 7:30pm and then they play Kent Crusaders on Sunday, with tip at 5pm. Both games are at the Worthing Leisure Centre with Sunday’s game charging kids under 16 £1 for a game ticket. 

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