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Lloyd counts time on enduring career


Mark Woods

Enjoy that grandiose grin and those passes through the eye of a needle while you can, folks.

Because Milton Keynes Lions aren't just on a play-off hunt this season. They're playing out Nigel Lloyd's farewell tour around the BBL, a spree without the fanfare of another Rolling Stones' walk with dinosaurs but with equal volume expected from one of the league's most enduring statesman.

British basketball's favourite son of Barbados may have reached the grand old age of 40 with his faculties on the parquet still largely intact. But the decision has been made. No more dreadlocks racing down the Bletchley floor, no more pushing that body day after day to drive the Lions forward.

Time over, and out. 

Lloyd's career has now spanned 16 seasons in Britain, an odyssey which commenced back in 1984 when he jumped ship across the Atlantic to join Hemel Hempstead. 

Apart from a brief stint in the CBA, here he has remained, spells in Manchester, Leicester, Thames Valley and Birmingham keeping him in gainful employment until the circle turned a full 360 degrees with his enlistment as player-coach at the Lions a year and a bit ago. 

This will however be the final chapter in that splendid era, Lloyd insists. Although a record-breaking tenth appearance in the All-Star Game may yet come his way in January, the remarkable intelligence which has kept him on top is no longer matched by his body's durability, and it is a signal to which he intends to listen.

"I am thinking this is it," he stresses with genuine effect. "I am thinking I am not changing my mind.

"The way this league is progressing, I will not be able to keep up with the guys any way. I promised the guys on this team last year that I would come back. I have made no promises this year. They'll have to find a way to do it again next year without me.

"It's time. I really believe there is a new era, of basketball players coming through and you have to teach and coach them differently to when I played. And they're phasing out the kind of players who I played with. So within that, those younger newcomers need to be on court together."

Lloyd admits he is not satisfied with own performances during the initial six weeks of campaign number 17. His scoring average of 11 points per night is nine removed from his career average, his assist tally likewise a notch below the previous term.

"I think I could give a little more," he explains, "but it seems like I'm teaching a lot more this year which I didn't want to do. But that comes with the job. I'm sure my own performance will pick up though."

At least his playcalling duties leave him better prepared than most for life away from the hardwood. Guiding the Lions last term to only their second play-off birth since dinosaurs (not the Rolling Stones) roamed the earth provided an optimistic initiation onto life on the bench, the assistance of Martin Ford at his side aiding a long-planned transition.

Early teething troubles in the current campaign have nonetheless served to dent his confidence, he reveals. 

"If you'd asked me last month, I'd have told you I was the worst coach in the world. I thought we had lost focus, we had lost direction as individuals. And some other coaches, some of my closest  friends were honest enough to tell me that candidly . So we've addressed that and I feel better about my coaching and hopefully I'll feel even better next week."

With a sequence of hard-won victories under their collective belt, Milton Keynes do appear to have found their groove in what is likely to be a keenly fought battle to progress out of the South and into the post-season. Has the magic wand cast the right spell? 

"I am hoping so," Lloyd responds in his languid Caribbean tones.

"We had a few heart to heart conversations with the guys to try and get them back focused," he adds. "It seems like we are going in the right direction now but we have to take it one step at a time because we're such a fragile team that we have to progress."

Focus remains a concern for Lloyd. Despite the maturation of bench player Dru Spinks and the sure touch of Lions fixture Leon Noel, his side remains heavily reliant on the exertions of his starting quintet. 

The early season dip coincided with an injury to towering pivot Jason Siemon, a period during
which confidence wilted from his under-manned colleagues.

"We beat London Towers without Jason," Lloyd outlines. "I thought that might have propelled us forward but the things which Jason brings to the team were things which we couldn't match up with against every single opponent. And that was the key - we could do it for a full game, maybe, sometimes just a quarter. Which is why we are so glad to have him back to give us stability in our centre position."

The stability which Lloyd thrives upon is reflected in his personnel. The Lions were the only side to retain four starters from last term. The fresh face, to replace outgoing guard Merrill Brunson, was Reggie Kirk, a man with whom Lloyd shares a memorable history.

The two formed a magnetic backcourt with the Bullets in 1997-98, driving Birmingham towards a Wembley championship. Four years on, each a step slower, Lloyd is happy with Kirk's contribution to date but admits that his integration with his returning posse has taken longer to achieve.

"He's doing what we want him to do. He's another excellent ball-handler, he's a great dribbler, he shoots the ball well."

On reflection though, he adds: "I thought he would have gelled earlier to be honest. I had no problem adjusting because I knew his game. For others, because of the nature of how he plays, it's been a lot different to what we had last year with Merrill. I'm happy with where he's going and I believe we have a better team than last year but it is a better league this year too."

Amid the southern heat, Lloyd still believes he possesses a squad which could finish in the top four places in the Conference and make a respectable push in the BBL Trophy. After edging out Thames Valley and Brighton last year, he is realistic enough to concede that there will be no easy ride this time around

"I spoke to Nick (Nurse) last week and he told me he thinks his starting five at Brighton is probably better than the starting five he had last year at Towers," he relates. "That's a big step. 

"Some teams are deeper this year. I believe we're better too but we can't just talk about it. We have to prove it."

Something which Nigel Lloyd, the player, has no need to do.

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