Manchester Magic Senior men’s pre-season schedule is complete. On the surface, a 0-4 record doesn’t read well. Let’s take a closer look at what positives there have been and what lessons can be learned heading into the first game of the season on Saturday, where the Magic take on Team Newcastle in the National Trophy at the Manchester Basketball Centre at 6:30pm.
Magic’s opening game was against USA Select, a 63-69 loss. The home side were missing their imports who at the time were awaiting their VISAs. The Magic were also without Ali Sbai who has missed all the pre-season games through injury.
The Magic line-up against the USA Select included four 16 year olds in Luke Gordos, Jason Ani, Daniel Gargan and Noah Tchifounga, combined they played 46 of the 200 minutes available (23% of the total team’s minutes, or nearly a quarter of basketball, 50 minutes).
Kaphel Ulett-Waul led the way with 21 points, scoring 4 from 6 three pointers. Kayin Darbey has 12 points, scoring 6 from 9 from the field. Josh Houghton had 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Luke Gordos had 8 points and was voted by fans on twitter as the team’s MVP.
An area of concern would be the team’s three-point percentage of 25.7% making 9 from 35 attempts, perhaps this can be put down to shaking off the rust. The team were out rebounded 51 to 39. The Magic had 5 shot attempts blocked. The turnover count was 18 for the Magic to 21 for the visitors.
Next the Magic faced a trip to Liverpool, where they lost a close game 97-93 to the Division two side, who turned down the opportunity to play in Division one after Team Northumbria withdrew from the league. That place was afforded to Essex Leopards as the next highest ranked team in Division two from last season.
Both of Magic’s Americans, Jonathan Barnes and Joshua Davenport, arrived in the days prior to the game. Barnes played and showed glimpses of what he will bring to the team. Davenport’s impact was restricted by an injured quad restricting his movement, playing limited minutes before sitting out the remainder of the contest and didn’t get a real opportunity to show what he can do; his sat out both games of the battle of Manchester.
The game saw Magic play three 16 year olds, debuts for Malachi Boakye-Yiadom, who joined the club over the summer from London Thunder and Saul May, who was a team mate of Malachi’s for Great Britain at the U16 European Championships this summer, while Luke Gordos played his second senior game.
The very next day saw the battle of Manchester game one with the Magic against what looks like a much-improved Giants side in their previous pre-season games. The Giants had five former Magic players on their roster, James Jones, Callum Jones, Ryan Lewis, Adam Oldham and Bailey Goodall.
The Magic stayed in the contest until late on the game where the Giants open up an unassailable lead, the game ended 86-60 to the Giants.
The Magic were led by Kaphel Ulett-Waul who scored 14 points, Daniel Pilkington had 13 points, Andre Gayle had 9 points, Jonathan Barnes and Saul May both had 6 points, Richard Bell had 5 points, Kayin Darbey 3 points, Josh Houghton who picked up a knock during the game had 2 points and Malachi Boakye-Yiadom had 2 points.
Game two at the Manchester Basketball Centre was another close contest throughout the first three and a bit quarters with the Giants opening up another sizeable lead in the latter stages to take a 97-80 victory and win the battle of Manchester series 2-0.
Magic were led again by Kaphel Ulett-Waul who had 18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Andre Gayle had 12 points, 7 rebounds an assist and 2 steals. Josh Houghton had 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Richard Bell had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Daniel Pilkington has 8 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. Jonathan Barnes has 8 points, 6 rebounds, an assist and a block. Malachi Boakw-Yiadom had 6 points and an assist and Luke Gordos had 4 points, 4 rebounds and an assist.
Both games served as a stellar test for the Magic team, flagging up a couple of areas for improvement, as the Magic were out rebounded 47 to 43, committed four more turnover 20 to 16 and were blocked 8 times to blocking on one Giants’ shot.
A pleasing stat for the coaches will be points off the bench, 32 to 22 in Magic’s favour, showing strength in depth especially considering the four 16 years olds on the bench for the game (Luke Gordos, Saul May, Malachi Boakye-Yiadom and Daniel Gargan). Another pleasing stat for the coaches will be the scoring runs, the Giants biggest scoring run was 8 points, the Magic’s was 7 points.
Coach Verbukas will make a decision on the 16 year olds involved as to whether they have shown enough promise to earn a spot on the roster for the NBL season ahead. Their availability will depend on what is deemed best for the development, as they will play for the Magic’s under 18 side this season alongside the senior team duties.
It’s been a tough start for Coach Verbukas’ side, playing in four games that provided stern tests for a Magic team full of new faces getting to know each other. It will take some time for the team to gel and with the first National Trophy game on Saturday they haven’t got long to find a winning formula to start the competitive campaign off with that desired victory.