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Wall strengthens spirit for Rocks revival


Mark Woods

Kevin Wall is lining up the basketballs in the gym as his players shuffle in for the day's training. It's only 8am but with just days until Edinburgh Rocks embark on their latest campaign in the BBL, every moment is precious as their new head coach prepares for the challenge of lifting Scotland's only professional side away from the last place into which they plummeted last season and back to a position of respectability.

Arriving in the summer at Meadowbank, the Missouri native is facing a race against the clock to mould and shape a coherent team which has suffered the cruel misfortune to open up next weekend with a double header away from home against London Towers and Sheffield Sharks, the reigning champions in the BBL's Southern and Northern divisions. 

While some of his rivals have been together for weeks, criss-crossing both the UK and mainland Europe in preparatory fervour, the Rocks have suffered by comparison, several of their American-based stars arriving late due to the transport logjam caused by the tragic events back home.

Wall though cannot dwell on such excuses. And with only six hours sleep to their credit since arriving back from the previous evening's excursion down the A1 for a friendly meeting with Newcastle Eagles, neither do his newly assembled charges. The repetitive drills embarked upon at this ungodly hour by his short-handed collection of two Yanks, one Canadian, two Scots and an Englishman are, Wall insists, adequate to catalyse his planned renaissance.

"You hear that a lot of teams are in the same boat," he sighs in a weary Southern drawl. "Well if you look at them, they have the same team back so it's not near as critical. Sheffield could start tomorrow because they have the same seven guys and the same coach. We don't have that luxury but we have to forget that."

Like Iain MacLean and Greg Lockridge, his immediate predecessors at the Rocks helm, Wall was no stranger to the frustrations of under-achievement during his single, unremarkable year in charge of Derby Storm. Jumping one unsteady ship for another could be a folly for a seasoned playcaller whose resume includes a lengthy stint on the American college circuit. Yet he refutes the suggestion that recent failures in Edinburgh will provide any justification for ongoing ineptitude.

"We've got our work cut out for us because to shake off last season is going to be difficult to do. It's not so much in the players' minds but in those of our followers, the media, even the referees. Our opponents will come in here with confidence to face us so have a season like that is still damaging.

"Saying that, if it had been two or three years on the trot at the bottom, it would be different. But it's still only last year that the Rocks were one of the top four sides in the BBL. It hasn't reached a
stage yet where improving a little but will be enough. We still need to aim for a play-off spot."

Among the newcomers are experienced American duo Ryan Huntley and Damon Johnson while All-Star Ted Berry has elected to return for a fourth year in residence. The squad will be further strengthened in the days to come after Berry's application for residency in the UK was finally approved on Friday. 

"That will allow us to bring in an extra American who we have lined up to come over," Wall outlines. "He's 30 and can play both guard and forward which will give us more flexibility."

Likewise, Lachlan Teasdale, a recent graduate of an American university who is Scottish by parentage but Australian by decree, is on stand-by to join up if his passport entitlement is recognised post-haste. "He's been waiting patiently," Wall adds. "His dad has been trying to sort things out but understandably, he isn't keen to come train with us until he is covered."

New blood, Wall concedes, is necessary to re-invigorate matters at Meadowbank. Berry and Scottish international Keith Bunyan and Campbell Flockhart are the sole returnees from the sorry bunch whose victories tallied just five last term, a deliberate strategy designed to erase the cancer of defeat.

"I was only really sure about Ted," he explains. "I wasn't sure at all about anyone else, even the Scottish players. I did a lot of emailing and talking to people about them. But I feel especially good about Keith. He's at that time in his career where he needs to make a step and be a legitimate BBL player... if not, he's in the wrong league. I think he's ready to make the jump."

Likewise his colleagues. By common consensus, the talent pool with the BBL has evened out this summer and the opportunity beckons for the Scots to challenge for honours. "It's not going to be easy but I take heart from what Leicester and Chester did last year," Wall offers. "They had done nothing for years and suddenly, they start winning titles. Money wasn't the issue. It was getting it right on the floor."

Reverting back to business, his attention turns to a shooting drill in which every player must rotate in precisely timed formation. At the first attempt, the performers miss their cue but Wall stays patient.

"Remember where you're going," he instructs. The Rocks are counting that the answer can only be up.

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