The Under-16 Boys come into this season without having tasted the post-season in the 2015/16 season, unburdened by outside expectation, and hungry to prove themselves.
With a bumper turn-out on trials day, Head Coach Arron MacDonald and Assistant Kevin Manning could only cut the squad down to eighteen players – twelve of whom are coming up from the under-14s age group.
“It was tough” said MacDonald, “Kevin and I are looking at this as a two-year project with this group, and we know some of the younger guys may not be able to contribute to the levels they’d like to this year – but we want to keep these guys together, and the more time we spend with this team, the more we love their togetherness, their work ethic, and their desire to improve.”
Coach Manning has the unenviable task of replacing Rob Schatten as MacDonald’s right-hand man this season, with Schatten promoted to the men’s staff. “There’s no getting away from it, it’s going to feel strange the first time I look down the bench on game day and Rob isn’t there” said MacDonald, “but I’ve known Kevin for more than half my life, he’s a great friend, and he’s another very strong personality. What’s great is the apprenticeship he’s already served with the younger guys these past couple of years with Coach Lambert means that we’ve got great continuity with those guys, and that combined with my working with most of these guys for Suffolk this year, and a thirst from the players for a long pre-season has really helped us to build some familiarity with this team.” MacDonald also welcomes back Team Manager Liz Winter, and will have to get used to coaching several of his former player’s younger brothers.
The younger age group are no strangers to success, as Veron Eze, Ethan Price, Troy Huggins and Rhakeem Edwards-Channer led the team to an unbeaten regular season only two years ago, before falling in heartbreaking fashion in a pair of overtime losses in the final fours. Veron was selected as a member of the England under-15 development squad this season, having stepped-up as a member of the under-16 Boys for the year, but was unable to compete through injury, while he’s also become the youngest club member (at just 14) to make one of the senior matchday squads at the club.
However, the Suffolk side are no one-man show, with another four of the squad being selected for East region trials, and Ben Winter & Price hopeful of progressing beyond that stage. Throw in the aggressive and developing Ahmed Yusoof, long-range shooting of Lewis Tebbit, the savvy and basketball IQ of Tom Payne and Matt Spurling, the creativity of Joe Hindley and the fearlessness of guards Troy and Rhakeem, and the squad has every reason to look ahead to the season.
“These guys gave a great account of themselves in the inter-county tournament, and frankly, I was surprised that only five of our guys were asked along to East try-outs. There’s no pressure of outside expectations on this team – everyone’s looking at our division and talking about NASSA, Oaklands, Southwark Pride, Brentwood Fire and others – so we’ve got nothing to lose, and we’re hopeful we’re going to have a really good season.”
Ipswich open with a pair of away games, starting at Oaklands on 24th September, with their first home league game coming against Brentwood Fire on 15th October at 3pm.