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Legendary BBL coach targets Europe after claiming sixth title with Leicester Riders

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EXCLUSIVE: Leicester Riders coach Rob Paternostro on winning a sixth BBL title, targeting Europe, and the defensive philosophy he swears by ahead of his testimonial

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When the final buzzer blew to secure a 77-60 victory over the Plymouth City Patriots, the Leicester Riders and head coach Rob Paternostro claimed a remarkable sixth British Basketball League title.

During his unparalleled career, Paternostro has won 16 trophies since assuming his position at the Riders in 2008, winning six Coach of the Year awards to become Leicester’s most decorated coach in franchise history. The Riders announced they are to stage an All-Star Testimonial Game to celebrate Paternostro’s achievements of him at the helm, a fitting tribute to such a colossal figure.

With the sun shining through his window, the Connecticut-born coach was in jovial spirits as he looked back over his career amid a fitting upturn in weather. Paternostro played for the Riders during the 2006-07 season, and the area left such a lasting impression on him that it shaped the next decade of the franchise.

“I realized what great support the team had,” Paternostro exclusively told The Mirror . “They weren’t the most successful club, let’s be honest – but the year I played, I realized they were a top-of-the-table team in terms of fan support.

“Coupled with what a great sporting city Leicester is, I think that’s the combination there. We had such great support for Riders, but I felt like that this city would really get behind a winner because the passion and commitment to sports here is awesome.”

The 48-year-old – a charismatic former point guard who enjoyed a solid career in the BBL from 2000 to 2008 – believes his experiences on the court allow him to be someone the players can relate to. In fact, he believes his ability to understand what his players are going through both on and off the court is one of his greatest assets.







Rob Paternostro secured a sixth BBL title with the Leicester Riders following a win over Plymouth earlier this month
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Image:

Peter Simmons)

Paternostro leans on a defensive philosophy, and is the mastermind behind Leicester’s aggressive juggernaut that has frustrated the BBL for the last six years. He revealed: “When you play the game for as long as I played, you know how important that end of the floor is – you’re not going anywhere if you can’t defend.

“I really wanted to have a team that made it difficult for the other team to get in any type of rhythm. When the opponents walk into our arena, they aren’t looking forward to playing basketball.”

Defense certainly wins championship, although Paternostro – who admitted he has been insanely competitive since he started playing sports at around six years of age – picks out the ‘gifted’ Geno Crandall as one of the best players he has come across during his long career within basketball. The point guard is the reigning BBL MVP after 15.9 points and 8.0 assists per game, and is a competitor on both ends of the floor.

When the American coach looks back on his career since taking the reins at Leicester, one memory stands out more than most – when the Riders defeated the Newcastle Eagles in the 2012/13 BBL Cup Final. The match was hosted in Birmingham, near to where Paternostro lived while playing in the city.

It was the first trophy won by the Riders under Paternostro, and kickstarted a high-level rivalry between Leicester and Newcastle that he believes forced other BBL teams to improve. Paternostro added: “I have wonderful memories of competing against Newcastle; there’s nothing better in basketball, or in sports, than a rivalry – and that was wonderful for our game.”

His first piece of silverware did not turn out to be a one-off as Paternostro certainly knows how to build a winning culture. He is the architect behind the BBL’s next dynasty, as the Riders have won five of the last six league titles – and the burden of expectation that comes with success is not lost on the charismatic coach.

“Let’s be honest, when you’re putting up 30-win seasons and you’re winning titles every year, people expect,” he admitted. “You just have to stay focused and this group, this year’s team, they can’t think about the past or the future. They just need to think about this year and take it one week at a time.







Rob Paternostro has transformed Leicester into a defensive juggernaut, with silverware-laden seasons becoming the norm for the franchise
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Image:

Peter Simmons)

“The first time I really mentioned the league title was when we had a chance to win it. I don’t ever want my team to need to use an opportunity for silverware as motivation; the motivation is we’re coming to practice on Tuesday and if you don’t play well, the guy on the other team is gonna kick your ass.”

The BBL has certainly become more visible and prominent within the crowded landscape of British sports over the last few years. Paternostro credits much of the growth to Sky Sports’ expanded coverage, which means plenty of teams are showcased on national stage each week.

However, he doesn’t kid anyone. Paternostro knows the greatest recipes include the nicest ingredients, so the best teams and coaches need the best players if they hope to truly be competitive.

“We want to continue to bring great players into the league – that’s part of my job,” Paternostro continued. “With the new investment that’s come into the league, it’s exciting. I think you’re going to see some really talented teams come forward.

“There are plenty of players around the world who would love to come to England and play basketball. I think the reputation of the league is definitely on the rise. This is a sleeping giant this league, I believe.”







Rob Palernostro hopes the recent investment within the BBL will help teams like his Riders push on in Europe by attracting players
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Image:

Peter Simmons)

Will the Leicester Riders win the BBL Play-Off finals next month? Let us know in the comments section.

So, what next for Paternostro and his triumphant Riders? The BBL Playoffs are undoubtedly the next target, but he wants to go into next season with several goals in mind – including a competitive front more enticing than the BBL.

“We just have to continue to do what we’re doing and be a part of the community of Leicester,” Paternostro concluded. “I think the obvious next step would be to compete in Europe – but it’s a challenge.

“With Europe, you have to be ready – not just on the court, but off it as well. It puts real pressure on your season in the BBL, as well. I can see that with the [London] Lions this year; they’ve played 50 games, maybe even 60.

“We’ve won five out of the last six titles, and the year we didn’t win was the year we went to Europe. You’re playing games in Europe on Wednesday, play in Leicester on Friday and maybe in Bristol on Saturday.

“We want to make sure we are able to handle it. It certainly is a challenge and I will be ready.”

Tickets for the British Basketball League (BBL) Play-Off finals are available to purchase via both bbl.org.uk and axs.com/uk

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