2nd May 1998
Birmingham Evening Mail
By COLIN TATTUM
Uri’s helping hand
BULLETS have called in pyschic Uri Geller (above) to back their Championship bid at Wembley.
The famous spoon-bender will be passing on positive vibes to help Mike Finger’s men in their trophy quest.
“As long as he doesn’t bend the rim we’re shooting at that’s alright,” joked-captain Nigel Lloyd.
WEMBLEY represents the last chance saloon for Peugeot Bullets Birmingham
They clash with Manchester Giants at the Arena tonight (6.45pm) in the Budweiser Play-off Championship, bidding to salvage something, from a season that has promised so much.
Bullets ended the regular campaign on only seven losses. It left them level at the top of the table with the Greater London Leopards.
But, because the Leopards won the head-to-head series 2-1, Bullets agonisingly missed out on their first League crown since 1981.
It didn’t help that they would have won that crunch series decider had not Chris Haslam missed a lay-up in the final 30 seconds.
Then there was the National Cup semi-finals when Bullets blew a 20-point lead to lose out on the buzzer to Thames Valley Tigers.
By virtue of being the only top four seeded side left in the Play-off Championship Leopards were sensationally knocked out by the Giants in the quarter-finals – Bullets are 4/5 favourites to win the trophy they first claimed in 1996.
The pressure is on them to bring home the bounty – and not, fall at the final hurdle once more.
Coach Mike Finger, the 31-year-old American in his rookie professional season, said that Bullets are not feeling the heat as tonight’s semi-final approaches.
“Any pressure there is to feel is inner directed from ourselves as much as from anyone outside,” he declared. “Nothing compares to the desire we have to win the Championship.”
“We stand two games from gaining reward from what has been a great season and anything less than bringing home the trophy will be a disappointment.”
Thames-Valley and holders London Towers follow Bullets-Giants onto court in the other semi. The final is on Sunday (6.30pm).
Bullets have a 3-3 record in League, Trophy and Cup against Thames Valley and swept the Towers 3-0 on their way to runners-up position.
They hold the psychological advantage over the Giants 3-0 as well, and Jim Brandon’s men only just secured a Play-off spot by virtue of other results going their way.
They are essentially a big and physically tough team – eight of their 11 squad members stand over 6ft 5in tall but Finger said most of their offence goes through ex-NBA forward Robert Churchwell and guard Brett Larrick.
“They have already exceeded their expectations, the season was a disaster for them before the Play-offs,” said Finger.
“They will be excited by the fact they are at Wembley and after beating the number one seed, won’t be frightened of us.
“What we have to do, and I’ve told the guys this time and again, is remember that the most important thing in basketball is to play with intensity and focus defensively and everything else then takes care of itself.”
HL Coleman will be one of seven Bullets players making their debut appearance at the showpiece final four and the team’s leading rebounder will be detailed for lengthy spells marking Giants’ dangerman, the former Golden State Warrior Churchwell, who was 13th in the League for scoring with 21 points-per-game.
The forward from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, won’t be flustered by his task. “Manchester are a very big and strong team but their record doesn’t show their talent,” said the 6ft 7in Coleman, the League’s seventh-best rebounder with nine per outing.
“I will know what to expect and I will enjoy the challenge, as will all of the guys
“We won’t take them lightly just because we’ve beaten them three times in the League, it’s about who wants it the most this weekend.”
Bullets do, as Coleman added: “It’s dangerous to be complacent – and we won’t be. We have to keep our heads and play hard from the start.
“When we do that and are not sluggish we are hard to beat.”
Coleman wants to finish his first professional season with a trophy after a successful college career at the University of Wyoming.
“I’ve talked to some of the guys about the Wembley weekend and I’m feeling excited about it” he said. “If I could win the Championship in my first year out of college it would be something I would never forget.”
Nor would Finger, who could emulate his great friend Nick Nurse, another native of Iowa, who coached Bullets to glory in 1996.
“It’s going to be exciting for me because it’s the biggest thing that’s happened in my career.” he said.
“But I’ve deliberately tried not to get caught up in all the hullabaloo because there is a job in hand to be done – winning the darn thing.”
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