The Beginning: Edinburgh & Scottish Rocks
Some say that it’s Fat Bottomed Girls that make the Rocking world go round, but after 20 years of playing professional basketball in the British Basketball League (BBL) what Kind of Magic has kept us Rockin’?
Currently the Glasgow Rocks are Scotland’s only professional basketball team, but unlike their predecessors (Glasgow Rangers and Murray Livingstone) they have proven to have the staying power to remain at the top level of the British game.
Formed back in the summer of ’98, the Edinburgh Rocks began their legacy, as the longest serving club to play exclusively in the country’s premiere basketball league.
Meadowbank Arena, in Edinburgh, was where the Rocks called home for the first four seasons of their BBL campaign. The Rocks made their début under the command of American coach Jim Brandon and finished the season ninth in the 13-team competition, with an encouraging 12-24 record. The following year saw the BBL split into two conferences, with the Edinburgh Rocks finishing 3rd in the Northern Conference, qualifying them for the play-offs. The Rocks were successful in defeating Thames Valley Tigers (68-64) in the play-off quarter-finals before they crumbled at the all-conquering hands of Manchester Magic, 88-84 in the semi-finals.
Brandon moved on to be replaced by Greg Lockeridge the following season, but poor performances saw the Rocks finish bottom of the Northern Conference, with veteran Iain McLean taking over as stand-in player-coach.
The 2002/03 season signaled an all change for the Rocks. American coach Kevin Wall led the re-branded Scottish Rocks at the new Braehead Arena in Glasgow. The Rocks first season at Braehead saw them lift their first piece of silverware, winning the BBL play-off finals with a 83-76 victory over the Brighton Bears. The BBL Cup final was reached the following two seasons, with the Sheffield Sharks and Brighton Bears denying the Rocks any chance of silverware.
The departure of Coach Wall saw the arrival of former Bears assistant coach Steve Swanson, who guided the club to three major finals. The 2005/06 campaign saw the Rocks record their highest finishing position, as they took second place in the league behind the Newcastle Eagles. The play-off final saw the Rocks and Eagles meet, with the Rocks defeated 83-68. The two sides met again in the following seasons final, with Newcastle continuing to deny the Rocks any silverware, winning 95-82. The same year Guildford Heat also denied the Rocks from winning the BBL Cup final, with a narrow 81-78 win.
2006/2007 – The Rise of Sterling Davis
Swanson’s departure to college basketball brought the arrival of the first German coach to the league. Thorsten Leibenath stayed with the club only a year before moving back to Germany to become head coach of the Giessen 46ers. This paved the way for Rocks current player/coach Sterling Davis. Davis led the club to a fifth place finish in the 2007/08 season, with an 18-15 record and a place in the BBL cup final. The 2008/09 season saw the Rocks on form, leading the league table at the half way point. But a devastating injury to player Blake Shelton sent the Rocks spiraling into a losing season, where they were ousted in the first round of the play-offs. The 2009/10 season saw Sterling take change for the fourth season leading the club to a third place league finish, with a 23-13 record. The Rocks advanced to the Play-off Final, on the back of some outstanding game performances, only to lose to the Everton Tigers 80-72. The start of the 2010-11 season brought big changes to team personnel. Returning from the team that took them into the BBL Play-off Final were Mike Copeland, Sterling Davis and Scott Russell. With the departure of Michael Crowell, Gareth Murray, Mike MacGregor, Steve Parillon, Jessie Sapp, and Rob Yanders, there was a lot of rebuilding to do. This left little time for the much changed team to prepare properly before playing in competition. However this paved the way for American point guard Brice Fantazia fresh out of Culver Stockton, French star Moses Mubarak,league veteran Ej Harrison and power forward Nick Livas. To add to this Michael Kingma from the Australian pro league and Scottish rookies Jack Burgess and Rory Petrie. The team where knocked out in the first round of the playoffs after a tough home loss to the Sharks after a great initial away win.
The 2011/12 season the beginning of a re-building phase within the franchise. The team was able to bring back veteran Ej Harrison, who has gone on to be somewhat of a Rocks legend, . The team brought in American Mychal Green and DeAundre Cranston. To fill the other spots they signed Andy Wedemire from Canada, Danny Huffor, Jonny Bunyan and obtained the services of Gareth Murray once more. The team ended the season in 6th place losing to the Raiders in the first round of the Playoffs.
2012/2013 – A New Home
The 2012/13 season saw a transformation of sorts for the franchise, as they made the move to the brand new Emirates Arena, situated in the East End of Glasgow. Games were/are played in both the Main Arena and the smaller Sports Hall. Season 2012/13 was a successful season with the team finishing 3rd in the league, but then losing out in the 1st round of the Playoffs to Plymouth after enduring some ill timed injuries during the post-season. The Rocks were hoping to build on the success of the 2012/13 season, however, what followed was quite the opposite.
Season 2013/14 was a horrible season for The Rocks. Former Cheshire guard Chez Marks was among several high profile signings made before the season started along with Daniel Northern and Fran Urli. Marks left midway through the season to be replaced by former GB under 20 player Alex Marcotullio. Antonio Di Maria also left before the season ended to be replaced by Canadian swingman Chris Johnson. The highlight of the season was reaching the BBL Trophy Final, played at the Emirates Arena, where the Rocks eventually lost out to the Worcester Wolves 83-76. The Rocks finished 10th in the league, above only Birmingham and Surrey. At the end of the season it was announced that EJ Harrison was to retire and the hunt for a new point guard began.
The Rocks vowed to never have a season like the 2013/14 season again. The biggest signing the Rocks made over the summer was that of GB Captain and Scottish born player, Kieron Achara. The Rocks also brought in ex NBA guard Jajuan Smith, ex Rock Danny Huffor, England star Tayo Ogedengbe, US players Tommy Freeman and Paul Egwuonwu as well as signing local talents Fraser Glass, Jonny Bunyan, and Dale Grieve. The Rocks also managed to obtain the services of Ali Fraser that season, however, a consistent knee injury prevented Fraser from playing during the 2014/15 season. Jajuan Smith was sent home mid-way through the season due to disciplinary reasons, and the Rocks brought in Reggie Middleton to take over the point guard reigns, The Rocks improved to a 5th place finish, only to fall short in the first round of the playoffs to the Cheshire Phoenix. The Rocks made it to the BBL Cup Final which was played in Birmingham in January, however, old time rivals Newcastle Eagles were too good on the night taking the honors.
The 2015/16 season saw the Rocks overhaul the squad once again, this time going for youth and a hope to be able to bring a core of players back for the 2016/17 season. Achara signed a 2 year deal with the team with Jonny Bunyan coming back for his 5th season. Sterling Davis officially retired from playing and signed on as Head Coach for the 2015/16 season. The Rocks picked up 3 US players including Marcus Ware, Riley Grabau and Warren Gillis. The squad is rounded off with BBL up and comer Will Hall, Croatian sensation Armin Mazic, Austrian Adam Hammerschmidt, rookie Jordan Clarke and Bantu Burroughs.
The 2016/17 season brought with it a new wave of players with our Scottish core of Achara, Bunyan and Murray returning along with rookies Bantu Burroughs and Jordan Clarke. Murray had been playing in France but decided to return to the Rocks. Neil Watson was a major addition to the side, with his previous two successful years competing with Leicester he led the charge along with imports Hayden Lescault (who previously played in Germany’s Pro-B), Anthony Elechi (from Morehead State University) and Aussie/British Big Lewis Thomas. The preseason showed great promise for the squad and the league showed this also. With a strong core the league became a stomping ground where the team racked up a record breaking 12 consecutive wins. We finished third in the league with a 21-12 record. Our winning streak coincided with our charge for the BBL Cup, but unfortunately ended in the final with a tough loss to Newcastle. Our success did not pass over to the other competitions with early exits in the Trophy cup (Vs Leicester) and the Playoffs (Vs London). Over all the season can be taken as a majorly positive one, with great team efforts and a solid performance in the league and BBL Cup.
Our Scottish core in particular were key to our success, with captain Achara average 15.3 PPG, 2.7 APG and 7.8RPG. Murray averaged 12.8PPG, 2 APG and 6 RPG. Bunyan made solid bench contributions with 5 PPG, 1.5 APG and 1 RPG.
2017/2018 – New Additions On and Off the Court
The 2017/18 season saw a great deal of change before it even began; with Tony Garbelotto replacing Sterling Davis as head coach and Duncan Smillie coming in as new owner of the franchise there was an air of optimism as there were hopes that a fresh approach would prove beneficial to the Rocks’ fortunes.
The season ended up being a rocky road filled with ups and downs through numerous roster changes. With a total of 20 players seeing court time for the squad; the team had a mixed year with early exits in the Trophy Cup, BBL Cup, and elimination in the play-off semi-finals.
This season’s most prominent new recruits were regular BBL competitor Earl Brown and Team GB prospect Kofi Josephs. Both brought different skill sets to back up the Scots as they fought through the tough season. Brown led the team in scoring for the season with 15 PPG alongside 7.9 RPG. Josephs brought some much-needed sharpshooting to the Rocks squad, averaging 12.8 PPG for the season. Another notable signing throughout the season was Nate Britt, an NCAA winning guard who brought some much needed craftiness at the point guard position. He averaged 11.8 points, 3.5 assists and 1.7 steals for the season. A coaching change also impacted the season, with Tony Garbelotto stepping down only a few months into his position, thankfully his assistant coach Darryl Wood took the reigns for the remainder of the season and did so admirably.
The BBL season was not the only priority for Scottish basketball during the year. With the Commonwealth Games coming ever closer, the Rocks squad saw top Scottish talent coming to train and play with the team as the season moved forward. The fruits were amazingly sweet for the home-grown players with the national team reaching the semi-finals, something that had never been achieved by a Scottish team before. Murray and Achara led the way for the Scots, with the youth backing them up heavily as they narrowly missed out on a medal against some of the world’s largest powerhouses.
During this period, the Rocks needed support and help came in the form of some familiar faces. William Hall, Warren Gillis and Jordan Clarke all returned to Glasgow to help the team push through the Scot-free weeks and continue getting victories in their absence. When the local heroes returned, the Rocks were determined to fight and finish the season with a bang!
Unfortunately, the season did not go as the team hoped, with no silverware and a fourth place finish in the league. Much can be learned from the year but with our top talents of Gareth Murray, Kieron Achara and Ali Fraser already signed for the next season alongside coach Darryl Wood at the helm; the foundations were in place. Now it is time to build and push forward into our 20th year!