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.
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
"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
"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,
"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
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
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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