By Jamie Thomas
In case you missed it – although we’re not sure how you could! – After 14 epic years with the Leicester Riders and surely many more to come, Rob Paternostro has been awarded a testimonial by the club this weekend (Saturday, 6pm) at the Morningside Arena.
One of the most successful Head Coaches in BBL history, Paternostro has guided the Riders to a whopping 16 titles during his time with the club and are in a historic run of Championship success, having won five of the last six titles. We caught up with the legendary play-caller ahead of this weekend’s spectacle.
“I can’t wait for it for so many reasons. It will be an awesome night to spend some time with the fans who have been so loyal over the years and it’ll be fantastic to see the friends and talent that we have in what is sure to be a really good game.
“This weekend is truly going to be special, because this job is all about the relationships you make and in a game like this you really get to celebrate and reflect on those relationships and enjoy them.
“To have been told all those years ago when I started here that I’d be given a night like this, it would have been a surprise to me. I never thought I’d have anything like this happen to me and it is still a bit surreal to see all these names coming back from all over the world to be a part of it and I’m so fortunate to have this experience coming this weekend.”
“Saturday offers the opportunity to celebrate all of that.”
Paternostro has certainly had his fair share of highlights whilst in the hotseat for the Riders, and the eve of his testimonial offered the perfect opportunity to reflect on those memories and moments.
“That first year, being around all our fans on and off the court, that is when I realized how special this adventure could be if we got the train moving in the right direction as we have done since, and there have been so many incredible memories and moments since then.
“Moving into our own arena was a hugely emotional night for so many people as we all had so much pride to be able to bring that type of facility to the British basketball community, but the first title we won in 2013 in Birmingham was the day where it was probably most emotionally overwhelming.
“That was an opportunity for us to make people look at us and realize we’re here and we’re a threat and we’ve tried so hard to do everything we can to stay here. There’s been so many wonderful times but the camaraderie with our team over the years is the favorite part of my job, and Saturday offers the opportunity to celebrate all of that.”
“There could be a couple of surprises coming.”
Star-studded rosters have been announced for both the Riders Legends side, which will be coached by Paternostro – who says he is 99.9% sure he won’t be lacing up himself! – and the BBL All-Stars, who will be coached by B. Braun Sheffield Sharks boss Atiba Lyons.
Whilst many testimonials are understandably perceived as friendly, exhibition-type fixtures – given the lack of points or titles to play for – Paternostro is adamant that this game will be a very competitive one between two talent-laden sides.
“It will be great to see so many friendly faces from years gone by here at the Riders and some of our greatest opponents as well! I’ve stayed in touch with all of our former players, they’re all friends and I’m excited to see them coming back and to soak up everything about the experience.
“I wanted to have a great game, though, and with the opposition we’ve got lined up it is sure to be a game that everybody wants to see. It’ll be great for the nostalgia to see the Riders, but to be able to add some spice to the game with the current players I think it is going to be a great game to watch!
“I’m sure the guys will bring it, there’s going to be a great crowd here and everybody will be pumped up by that. It’ll be a great basketball game that the fans can get into and there could be a couple of surprises coming before tomorrow!”
“Going to Europe would be very special.”
Looking beyond the weekend, Paternostro and the Riders are always looking to evolve and we quizzed the Head Coach on his aspirations for next season after winning three titles in the 2021/22 campaign, particularly whether or not Leicester would be making another foray into European competition .
“We’re still in the planning stages but it is certainly looking positive, no question. We’re waiting to see how things develop but Russell Levenston and Kevin Routledge are doing a great job behind the scenes to see if we can get it done and look to compete in Europe next season.
“In terms of evolving the club, of course, going to Europe would be very special but my main focus is making sure that we continue to put the best possible product on the floor, whether we’re playing domestically or in Europe and bringing in players that people want to come and watch.
“We want people to want to come and watch Leicester Riders basketball and that is our number one focus every summer, to do our best to put together a team that can give the fans what they want.”