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About

Niall is the Co-Founder of the Courtside Collective and www.BasketballDirect.com . He was one of the founding members of North Star in 2002. He has coached at a variety of levels from kids to senior men's teams. He is currently coach of the LYIT National League team and women's college team.

Return of the Mike. . .

In the Lay of the Land feature I wrote about the Down Tropics;

“However the Tropics have suffered a massive blow for the second half of the season as Will Maloney has returned to the States. Maloney was a key player on both ends of the floor for Tropics and it remains to be seen how they will cope with his departure. “

As usual, coach Dave Cullen was thinking ahead of the game, signing Mike Calo for the remainder of the season. The American is well-known among basketball circles in NI and is a big addition for the Tropics.

I “discovered” Mike Calo in the Queens PEC at a rec session one Sunday morning a number of years back. He had just moved to Ireland and although a little rusty you could tell that there was some potential there so I persuaded him to speak to Mary Matthews and sign up with Queens for his first year of competitive basketball in Northern Ireland. He would go on to play for Queen’s and Lisburn in the National league and also had a stint as assistant coach to the Belfast Star superleague squad.

Mike (right) is set to make a comeback

Mike was player/coach on the Lisburn side that won the BNI title in 2008 after an epic championship game with LYIT where he went basket-for-basket with Donegal side’s Lithuanian star player in the fourth quarter. There is no doubt that Tropics have signed a player that has the ability and experience that will help them in their Championship quest. On most teams in the Premier League Mike would be the primary scorer, but this isn’t the case on the Tropics as they already have Dejuan Flowers carrying the offensive load and giving teams all sorts of match up problems with his size and guard skills. It remains to be seen how the Tropics will run their offense in the second half of the season but with Girt Celms having both Flowers and Calo to defer to the Tropics should have no problem scoring the ball.

Mike has been dogged by injury problems the past two seasons and hasn’t played consistent competitive basketball. He has played at various tournaments and exhibitions games and displayed that he still has the game, but does he have the fitness? Will his ankles hold up for the remaining nine league games and playoffs? If they do then the Tropics now have to be considered potential favourites for the championship.

Interview

TCC caught up with Mike in a recent phone interview and asked about his signing for Tropics and questioned whether or not his ankles will hold up for the remainder of the season. Calo highlights some (but not all) of the skills and qualities he knows he will bring to the team. Listen below:

[audio:http://thecourtsidecollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/mike-calo-interview.mp3|titles=Mike Calo speaks with TCC about signing with Down Tropics]

The Lay of the Land. . .

With the leagues just starting up again after the Christmas break we thought now would be a good time to look at the lay of the land in the BNI Premier League. The league is extremely tight this year with only three games separating second and last place in the table. Queens are at the summit with only UU Elks having the ability to match their 7-2 record with their games in hand. Blackstone, Andytown and LYIT look in trouble near the bottom but with a league this close it will only take a run of 2 or 3 good results to climb into the playoff spots.

Action from North Star vs Tigers

Action from North Star vs Andytown Tigers

Slight disclaimer before we get into this – there is no BNI League Pass! (How great would that be?!) We might only have seen each team a very limited number of times and have to base our opinions on those select viewings. It’s very possible that these games don’t give the best impression or overall view of the squad and that’s what the comments below are for. Have we missed something or someone?? Let us know in the comments!

Queens Hornets

Queens are flying high at the top of the table with a record of 7-2. They have a deep and well balanced squad and make good use of their size with their 2-3 zone defense and healthy dose of pick and rolls in their offense. It’s interesting that their 7-2 record mirrors their home/away stats as they have had 7 games in the PEC and only two away. The question for them in the second half of the season is  can they maintain their good form with 7 away games to be played? I don’t expect them to go 7-2 in their last 9 games but with a deep squad they should travel well enough to have a winning record in the second half of the season and will be right up there challenging for a league title.

Kilkeel Knights

The Knights are the surprise package in this season’s premier league but fully deserving of their 6-3 record and second place in the league table picking up some notable wins including a very impressive away win over the Belfast Tropics and a high scoring 96-92 victory away at Blackstone. The Knights have been around for a while but this is their first season in the top division. Their squad was strengthened by picking up the Kisielius twins and Remigijus Danys from last season’s Armagh Magic team and Tomas Banys has to be in the discussion for any league MVP at this stage. They are the top scorers in the league but the issue for the Kinights going forward is now that every team is familiar with them will they be as effective in the second half of the season?

Down Tropics

The Down Tropics have had an unsettled first half of the season with key personnel leaving and joining the squad right up until the Christmas Break. They have a record of 5-4 which includes an early season forfeited game vs the Andytown Tigers. Since Dejuan Flowers joined up with the squad they have a 5-2 record and the American forward is another player in the league MVP conversation and is undoubtedly the most versatile player in the league. However the Tropics have a massive blow for the second half of the season as Will Maloney has returned to the states. Maloney was a key player on both ends of the floor for Tropics and it remains to be seen how they will cope with his departure. **Update – Tropics have signed BNI Mercenery Mike Calo for the second half of the season to replace the departed Will Maloney. If Calo can stay injury free the Tropics now have to be considered as one of the favourites for the title.**

Dungannon  Cavillers

Last season’s champions the Cavillers have again had a strong start to this season with a 5-3 winning record. A talented squad with a good mix of size and outside shooting the Cavs have the ability to put up big numbers on offense however the lack of a proper coach means that they are also susceptible to going through streaky patches in games and some scrappy play.  In Simon Bastakys they have the league’s most dominant big man. He is a force at both ends of the court protecting the rim on defense and an excellent offensive rebounder with a soft touch around the rim. The Cavs will be looking to repeat last year’s championship run but it will be a tall order to go all the way two years in a row unless they can get a coach in place.

North Star

The youngest team in the league so it’s perhaps not a surprise that North Star have struggled to put a consistent run of results together. The starting 5 has an average age of just 19 and finished the first half of the season with a 4-5 record failing to pick up back to back victories all year. Age and a lack of size have meant North Star struggled against some of the leagues larger front courts but they have guard play that is up there with the best in the league. Another positive for the Derry side is that they are currently undefeated at home and have 6 of their remaining 9 games at home in the second half of the season.

Ulster Elks

The Elks have only played 7 games thus far and have a record of 5-2 so have the potential to match Queens’s record at the top. The heavy pre-season favourites the Elks have Scholarship player and Bucknell alumni Darryl Shazier along with a host of players with superleague experience. Shazier is another MVP candidate and has the ability to take over a game with his penetration and shooting ability. The Elks have shown their potential with 30 point victories over league leaders Queens and away to LYIT along with an astonishing 107-56 victory over the Andytown Tigers. Losses to North Star and Tropics show that the Elks can be beat but with the talent in the squad they still have to be considered one of the favourites for the championship.

Belfast Star

Star sits at .500 with a 4-4 record going into the second half of the season. The problem for coach McGrattan is the lack of a settled squad and sometimes having too many players in the rotation. Star have a lack of genuine size and strength in the post but have a squad full of talented players and players with superleague experience which means on their day can beat anyone in the division. Michael Dougherty has been in form at the point guard position and one of Star’s best players so far. Come playoff time Star will be a dangerous opponent for whoever they play and easily capable of putting a three game championship run together.

LYIT

IT has had a disappointing first half of the season. The 2009 champions would have expected to be in the mix at the top half of the table but have struggled so far and have a 3-6 record. It’s difficult to pinpoint why IT have struggled as on paper their starting five looks strong with good balance. The loss of Guillaume Detraz appears to have been a blow as the Frenchman was a key player for the past three seasons for the Donegal side. IT have some good young talent coming through the ranks and they will be hoping that the first few months has given these young players enough experience and confidence to be effective role players coming off the bench in the second half of the year as they try and secure a playoff spot.

Ballymena's Marty McDonald and Adam Murray defending North Star's Mate Bencze

Ballymena Blackstone

No doubt the biggest shock of the season has been the form of Blackstone. Perennial title challengers Ballymena have struggled to a 2-7 record at the midpoint of the season. Blackstone can take comfort from the fact that they defeated the league leaders Queens and have had a number of close losses. Hindered by the loss of Peter McNicholl (GAA Duties) and Adam Hillis (Injury) during the first part of the season can Blackstone bounce back in 2012? In a word, yes. Don’t expect a squad with this amount of talent and experience to go 2-7 again. If they get McNicholl and Hillis back and stay healthy home advantage may be a step too far but a playoff spot is a realistic possibility.

Andytown  Tigers

Their first season in the top division has been a struggle for the Tigers. They share a 2-7 record with Blackstone and have struggled against some of the better teams in the league. The focus now has to be able to get enough wins to avoid the automatic relegation spot. The first season in Premier was always going to be tough as it takes players time to adjust to the step up in quality. Tigers will be hoping that some of their more inexperienced players have learned and benefited from the first 9 games of the season and that they have the ability to get some more wins on the board. Influence (and perhaps increased minutes) from some of the premier leagues most experienced players Kevin Craig and Gerard Ryan will be critical in the second half of the season.

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