Rockets Senior Men’s Team produced some memorable performances and moments during an impressive season ending with a club best 17&4 record with just the one game unplayed in the National League Division 3 Midlands Conference.
With Danny Williams stepping down from the Head Coach position at the end of the 2018/19 season it was left to the experienced Rob Palmer to take on duties and lead the team into the new campaign.
Following the summer break a small squad initially started in September with a last second cup defeat against University of Wolverhampton. Only 6 Rockets were available for the contest with the returning Emanuel Bradshaw, Ritvars Lacitits and Janis Steda joined by new signings Gavin Allington and 2 Rocket Alumnis Alex Anderson and Hudaifa Elahi.
The league season tipped off in early October and was perhaps a sign of the promising season ahead. The return of guard Funganayi Chogugudza and forward Stephanos Kontopyrgos was complemented by another Rockets alumni signing in Point Guard Roel Thompson. The new look Rockets took a 78-72 victory in the local derby against Birmingham Mets with a fine team display before a late show saw a 3 point road win at Derbyshire Arrows demonstrated the resilience that would be required across the season.
By the time Stourport Spartans visited Nechells, the confidence of the team had grown on the court whilst work behind the scenes was progressing to give the Rockets squad the depth to maintain a season long challenge. A 93-71 success in a strong team performance against Spartans ended October with Rockets holding a 3&0 win/loss record.
A 5 game November promised many challenges. An 11 point road win in Stoke on Trent on the back of Bradshaw’s second half onslaught from 3 point territory with Rockets again low on personnel was followed by an excellent 94-72 home victory over Warwickshire Hawks.There were consistent contributions across the squad and the signing of Canadian, Nate Samuel, further lifted the morale in the group.
A tough Sunday afternoon trip to Derby saw the first league defeat of the season. Following a sensational first quarter performance Rockets self imploded late in the game and the home team inflicted an 89-86 defeat on the team.
The response was impressive as comprehensive home victories over Mansfield Giants and University of Wolverhampton followed with Steda, Chogugudza and Anderson all finding their rhythm as the season unfolded. Two further signings were made with the additions of Canadian forward Ronald Huletey and Romanian Centre Vas Pirvu. The quality in depth in the squad was evident as the competitive edge within the group grew and momentum was regained in the season.
A tricky December started routinely enough with a late forfeit by Sheffield Sabres meaning a 2 week break without a game. The eagerly awaited trip to league leaders Doncaster Eagles saw Rockets perform well below par as a dominant Doncaster team cruised to a 105-74 win.
The defeat appeared to have wrapped things up for Christmas before the previously postponed visit to Birmingham Mets was reinstated. With several absentees and no practice preparation Rockets fell to a 104-94 defeat entering the festive break with a 10&3 win/loss record.
The new year saw a renewed Rockets quickly out of the blocks with a win at Coventry Flames before a Derbyshire Arrows forfeit was followed by the completion of the double over Stourport Spartans. An outstanding shooting display over Stoke on Trent Knights followed as Rockets were beginning to look like a balanced group.
Steda and Pirvu were a huge presence inside, Bradhsaw, Kontopyrgos and Samuel provided a consistent outside threat, Lacitis and Chogugdza were dazzling in their penetrating drives whilst veteran guards Thompson and Allington ensured the team developed a tough winning mentality.
Rockets had shown an ability to bounce back following the odd off night and once again resilience was called for following a disappointing 67-55 loss to University of Wolverhampton at the NIA at the end of January.
A 4 game February saw a 4 win return with gutsy road wins at Warwickshire Hawks and Mansfield Giants (including a memorable last second Nate Samuel winner) sandwiched between 2 comprehensive home wins over Derby Trailblazers and Coventry Flames.
Youngsters Chris Gkoufas, Hudaifa Elahi and Djoss Balela ensured consistency was maintained during Rockets biggest injury crisis of the season whilst Ronald Huletey produced a run of incredible performances as the team sealed a much deserved play off spot.
Brilliant performances from Janis Steda and Funganayi Chogugudza led the team to victory in Sheffield in early March before the season was brought to a premature end with the emergence of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). An unbeaten home record for the season was achieved but sadly there would be no post season as Basketball England cancelled all activities due to the outbreak.
Head Coach Rob Palmer thanked his team for their buy in during the campaign, “ The season has been one of the most enjoyable I can remember. We managed to build a high quality squad capable of competing at a high level. It took a little time for the group to gel and establish their roles but finding our way to overcome these challenges was all part of the fun. Every time we had a blip we managed to respond positively which says a lot about the character of the players.
The fact that our players came together from as far afield as Canada, Latvia, Romania,Cyprus and Greece and blended so well with our local guys, buying in to the club culture, says a lot about the personalities and ability of the guys.
Having produced some outstanding and memorable performances we felt that we had developed great confidence to move into the play offs and make a post season run but sadly we will never find out just how that would have panned out. I would like to thank the players for their commitment since September – the club were fortunate to be represented by such a talented group who spearheaded our programme with great pride.”