With 18 games played and 13 remaining in the 2019-20 BBL Championship season, we took the opportunity during the current four week hiatus to catch-up with Head Coach Danny Byrne as he gave his thoughts on the campaign so far. This coincides with the launch of our ‘Final Six Tickets’, where you can get the last six home games for the price of four.

After winning 19 games last season and reaching the semi-finals of both the BBL Cup and the BBL Trophy – the most successful season since the club returned to the BBL in 2012 – the start of the 2019-20 campaign has been disappointing, with nothing yet in the win column.

But in offering his reflections there is one thing, above all, that Coach Byrne has taken heart from over the last four months:

“Undoubtedly the best thing about this season so far has been the loyalty and support of the Giants fans, who I believe without hesitation are the best in the league. I don’t say that as a cliché, as they’ve supported the club through so much in recent years and stick with us throughout. It’s amazing that our crowds are up game-by-game at the moment, despite the fact that the wins still aren’t coming.

“The players are definitely spurred on by the fans to play hard at home, and that shows with our defensive intensity in those games. We are actually 13 points per game better off at the defensive end in home games when compared with away games, and 10 points per game better off in terms of the overall margins. Our defence at home would put us in the middle of the BBL pack on points against per game. I really do think that is about the atmosphere that our fans create.

“It was a real source of personal and professional pride for me that last season we could give our fans so much excitement, after they had stuck with the club through so many difficult years.”

“We are not in a position to replicate that at the moment, but I can assure you that the team are working extremely hard to try and improve and give you those performances to be proud of.”

Performances have improved in recent outings, with Giants running title-chasing Newcastle Eagles close at home, and left to rue mistakes in three games over Christmas and New Year that Coach Byrne felt we should have won:

“We should have beaten Worcester and Worthing at home, and Surrey away. We can’t make excuses for the fact that we didn’t. We should have had three wins on the bounce there.”

“With our form, we’ve ended up in a situation where we have lost the mentality required to win games, and get them over the line in close situations. The psychology of that is something that we will be working on so that we can see out those tight games in the manner that we did last season.”

Giants led by as many 18 in the second half at Surrey, by 13 early on against Worcester, and won three of the four quarters against Worthing after a slow start.

“Overall we are making progress,” Byrne added, “albeit slower than we might like. Over the New Year period we actually got our defensive metrics to a point that has been as good as almost any other stage in the last two and half seasons. We couldn’t see out any of those games, but improvement in the process, if not the outcome, is encouraging. If that continues then the wins will follow.”

“In the three games that we should have won, we played well for 30-35 minutes, but reverted to type when it really mattered. Turnovers had been a big problem, much-improved against Worcester and Surrey until the fourth quarter when we turned over our final two possessions in both games, almost literally throwing away winning positions.”

“I think that is all habitual. If you’re struggling, those bad habits come to the fore when the pressure is really on and at the crucial moments. We’ll go forward with those lessons learnt.”

Coach Byrne agreed a new three-year deal part way through last season, and despite the current travails has the long-term future of the team very much on his mind:

“We had a very uncertain start to the season with deals falling through, visa problems, players arriving late, and it all basically wiped out our pre-season preparation.”

“We made some early changes to personnel, but when it became clear that we wouldn’t be getting any more Americans in, we decided to take a long-term strategic view and to build for the future instead as part of my vision for the team.”

“Jack Hudson and David Ulph have been great for us so far, stepping back up to BBL level for the first time really as senior players. I had wanted these guys for a long time but couldn’t find the budget to do it, and so it was the right decision to invest in them while we had the budget space to do so, with the intention of building around them in future.”

 

“It’s been such a shame that Jack and Zack Powell – another great talent with a big BBL future – have spent so much of this season injured.”

Injuries have been a hindrance so far, with Hudson, Powell, Callum Jones, Del’vin Dickerson, Edu Arques, Ingus Bankevics and Benson Arogbo all experiencing spells on the side-lines. Callum Jones actually missed his first games for six years, having played in 209 straight BBL games that he was eligible for.

Now, with four weeks without any games, players have had time to recuperate; and, thankfully, the club has had good news on Hudson. An initial MRI scan had appeared to be concerning, but follow-up consultations with an expert showed that the prognosis was not as bad as initially feared and Hudson has returned to training this week.

“I felt like I started well against Cheshire and London Lions, and really enjoyed playing in front of our home crowd in those games” said Hudson, “but I initially feared that my season was over after the injury. Thankfully I got the green light to start training last week and I just can’t wait to get back in the trenches with the team to try and improve our form.”

“I know that these next few months are big for me now. First I have to focus on getting back up to full fitness and contributing however I can; and then after that I’m ready to prove that I’m a BBL-level player.”

Talking about personnel, Byrne added:

“We’ve been coming together as a team and demonstrating much greater chemistry in recent games.”

“Within that, we are really starting to see much more from the individual talent that we have on the team as we have gelled and players have settled in the league. Jack Hudson was giving us so much prior to his injury, and David Ulph has given us that rebounding presence that we missed with the departure of Willie Clayton.”

“Edu [Arques] has really come to the fore and is demonstrating the talent that we knew we were acquiring, and he is now the sixth leading scorer and sixth leading rebounder in the league at 17 points and 8 rebounds per game, which is an even better 22 points and 9 rebounds in the last three games.”

“Likewise, we know there is far more to come from Del’vin [Dickerson]. He has had a litany of injuries since the Cheshire tournament in pre-season, and the extended break will hopefully see him refreshed and ready for a big second half of the campaign. He’s been great for us at the defensive end the entire season, and we know that he’s a high volume scorer when it clicks.”

“We have a lot to look forward to over the next few months. In particular, Callum can become the all-time leading points scorer in the history of Manchester Giants. I’m sure he’d trade that accolade for wins, but either way there’s records to be broken and memories to be made before we’re done this year.”

Giants return to action with a Roses Derby against B. Braun Sheffield Sharks just two days after Valentine’s Day, on Sunday 16th February 2020. As we head into our final six games, you can buy a Final Six Ticket covering all of these for the price of four!