National League Division One basketball will come to St Albans for the first time next season as Oaklands College and Leopards have announced an exciting new partnership.
While the Big Cats will continue to play some home games at the Brentwood Centre, all other club activities will be based at the St Albans college, including at least eight games at Oaklands.
The two organisations previously worked together between 2015-2018 but a strengthened link will now see Oaklands' employee Thomas Baker coaching Leopards and some games taking place at the college.
"We are delighted to partner with Leopards for the 2019/20 season" said Oaklands College Director of Basketball Michael Ball.
"We worked closely with Leopards in the past and players like Evan Walshe, Dom Scott-Robinson and Jose Morais have developed better by being stretched outside of their Oaklands College academy environment.
"The two keys for us were the confirmation of Thomas Baker at the helm for the upcoming season as head coach and the agreement of all training sessions taking place at Oaklands College.
"This now means that some of our Oaklands College academy players will have the opportunity to be part of a positively coached Division One men’s programme where they are going to have to compete and train even harder, which can only help them grow further as young men.
"This now means that, just like with our women’s programme, male players from six years upwards can come through our community Elevate sessions into our under-12 and then junior national league premier teams into the EABL academy and now D1 men with Leopards.
"That’s really exciting for our local community and club players as well as our current academy student athletes and could also, like our WBBL team, give senior professional players the opportunity to give back and coach within our academy and community to help with their career development."
Coach Baker is excited about the new link-up: "This partnership marks exciting times for the club moving forward. We are 100 percent committed to building from last season's success and working with Oaklands is going to help us do that.
"It is going to be great to work with an academy that has a proven track record of developing elite level players and I am confident that the outstanding facilities at Oaklands will help us continue to develop that talent.
"From our early conversations it is clear that all involved are aligned in thinking when it comes to how we approach training, player development and coaching philosophies and I look forward to see how our journey continues with our new partnership."
Leopards' general manager Dave Ryan was also enthusiastic about the new partnership: "I've spent the last year at Oaklands as my daughter plays there, it's a fantastic programme with a great club atmosphere. Having the chance to become part of that is an absolute no-brainer. I hope everyone involved with Wolves will come along and support us.
"It's genuinely exciting to work with a great programme. When we won the treble in 2012 we had a great blend of senior players and youngsters who gave us some fantastic energy,
"We're not going to replicate that instantly, but we have the chance to build something that can be a real success. Playing in front of big crowds at the Brentwood Centre is an important part of Leopards, but I believe we can create something special at Oaklands.
"It's been great to see players from the other teams watching the Wolves' sides play and I hope that everyone involved with Oaklands and anyone in the St Albans area interested in basketball will adopt and support us as we become part of the local sporting community."