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Manchester Mystics Review

  • NQ's Connor Pritchard reviews Manchester's season so far

In the early hours of the morning on June 19th last year, a sleep deprived me running purely on poorly filtered coffee and adrenaline witnessed one of 2016’s stand-out sporting moments.

The past annum conjured up a collection of memorable events: Murray won his second Wimbledon title, England won their 13th Grand Slam in the Six Nations, Team GB finished above China in the Olympic medal table and of course, who could forget, Leicester blooming City won the Premier League – but what if I were to tell you that it was an American sport that is rooted deep into my sporting memory of 2016.

That sport would be basketball and that moment would be when the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first franchise in NBA history to over-turn a 3-1 deficit to win the championship. I know what you’re thinking: “Basketball? What is he on about? Who cares about that?” Granted, it’s not the most prevalent of sports in the UK but it is growing in popularity and what better way to highlight hoops than by introducing you to a local team that epitomises that growth: The Manchester Mystics.

A women’s basketball side that have been flying so far this season, boasting an impressive 14-6 record across all competitions whilst also becoming the winners of the inaugural Women’s British Basketball League Cup.  

The Mystics are one of ten teams that form the W.B.B.L that was founded in 2014 with the aim to create a high quality professional women’s league here in the U.K. During this three-year spell and most notably this season, the side have become one of the league’s emerging teams.

A number of different factors on and off the court have determined their success this year. The Mystics moved to a new base at the National Basketball Performance Centre, whilst retaining their key senior players and also adding Team GB internationals Georgia Jones and Dominique Allen to the roster.

Another big change saw Jeff Jones take the reigns as head-coach, adding invaluable experience gained at previous coaching roles at the Manchester Magic and Giants.

Manchester Mystic head coach
Jeff Jones, Manchester Mystic's head coach
(Photo credit: Lee McLean Photography

Speaking on the Mystics season thus far, Coach Jones stated: “The influx of experienced GB Internationals and national team players has been a major factor to help elevate the programme while being able to keep the core of players from last year along with the coaches has also contributed to the success of the team.

“The ability of the players to accept their roles within the team has also been a big factor. Because for some of them it has meant reduced playing time or a different role within the team.”

With Jones in charge, the Mystics have been playing a pass-first brand of basketball which is highlighted by the team’s league leading assist average of 18 per game and point-guard Georgia Jones’ top three average of 8 assists per game.

Talking about the team’s philosophy, Coach Jones added: “Our style of play is a very player lead style, as coaches we aren’t concerned with X’s and O’s but with a mind-set around how the game should be played i.e. team first concept knowing and accepting roles of each player whose contribution is success on the floor”

“I am not sure we are but we were the top team for assists in the league which mean we share the ball and the right people are shooting the right shots.”

The Mystics don’t just give out helpers on the hardwood however, the club have long been giving a supportive hand to members of the community through coaching sessions at the Ameachi Basketball Centre - looking to assist the development of young girls and women through basketball across all ages.

Coach Jones states that this is the key principle of the Mystics franchise: “The concept behind the Mystics is pretty straight forward we are looking to promote women in sport and more importantly women in team sport. We are looking to grow participation of youth basketball and felt a successful WBBL team could be one of the drivers of that”

“Realistically the development programme will increase the number of young girls that want to play and the added bonus would be to get one or two of them eventually playing for the women’s team.”

The Mystics are a perfect example of a thriving women’s team that spans across a number of age ranges and are also an indication of Sport England’s 2016 findings; which documented that last year the number of women playing sport regularly in England reached an all-time high of 7.21 million.

The brilliant thing about a figure like that, is that it is only going to get bigger and bigger as the years go on and as women’s sports are given further exposure.

Baby steps towards this goal were taken this year when the BBC struck a deal with the W.B.B.L and B.B.L for the 2016-17 season, agreeing to broadcast 32 games from across both leagues via the BBC Sport website. 

Television exposure partnered with the introduction to basketball at a young age is what’s needed for basketball to grow here in the U.K, as Coach Jones explains: “I fully believe the sooner you get people playing the better as far as junior development it is essential for the sustainability of any club. However, retention of and insuring that the kids who participate in the programme become basketball fans, coaches, refs and players which is essential for the game to grow.

“The changes in Sport England strategy looking at Primary School age children and getting them involved in sport earlier is absolutely critical and provided basketball can provide the right programme and coaches to deliver a primary school programme then we can compete with the traditional sports that they play in schools.

“It is about increasing the knowledge base of primary school teachers. I am bias but if the kids experience basketball and it is delivered properly they will want to keep playing.”

That last sentence from the coach sums it up perfectly, because when basketball is taught and played properly it is enthralling. A sport that is packed full of high-tempo action, team-work and brims with creativity.

So why not give it a go? Head down to a Manchester Mystics game at the National Basketball Performance Centre for a taster. But prepare yourself, because once you get the bug for basketball there’s no going back. You’ll be joining me, still awake at 3AM sleepily readying yourself for some NBA action.

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