Left to right: Ken Walton, Trevor Denny, Karl Tatham, Marvin Johnson, Southampton FC Manager Lawrie McMenemy, TJ Robinson, Paul Philp, Jimmie Guymon
Solent Stars entered the second division of the National League for the first time in the 1980/81 season.
The club had been formed at the end of the previous season from two Southern League teams - Portsmouth Pirates and Southampton Sharks. Harry Smith then took over the backing for the team-making development and submitted an entry to the National Basketball League in April 1980. Shortly after this the club was accepted into the league.
The original directors of the club were taken from prominent local basketball personnel. The owner, Harry Smith, had played in the local basketball league for many seasons as a player with the Royal Army Pay Corps, Winchester. Jim Rumsey had been secretary of the local Area Association for a number of years. Ken Butcher had a prominent role in the English Schools Basketball Association and had provided a number of very successful players through his involvement at Redbridge School, Southampton. Mick Byrne was the Area Chairman and had contacts with the English Basketball Association. Don House held a prominent role in the Southampton Basketball Association. Chris Campbell and Steve Fitzsimons completed the list of directors representing the Portsmouth connection in the newly formed club.
At an early meeting to decide club formation, Jim Rumsey had suggested to Harry Smith that a coach called Tom Wisman had been involved in the English scene until two years before when, after a fall-out with the National Association, he had returned to America. Harry Smith quickly traced Tom Wisman to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and got on a plane to go and talk with him! Not only did Tom agree return to the English game, but he was able to persuade two other Albuquerque residents to accompany him - Jimmie Guymon and Mark Saiers! Tom Wisman was soon joined by Steve Fitzsimons, as assistant coach.
Mark Saiers (10) and Paul Philp
As a new team, Solent Stars picked up some experienced players to aid in the development of the younger players in the area. Two of the experienced players were Paul Philp and Ken Walton, both having played for Great Britain and England. Joining them were the two Americans, 'Golden Arm' Jimmie Guymon who had thrilled crowds at Crystal Palace in the seventies and Mark Saiers, who had already played four seasons in English basketball. In 1976, these four players had played together and reached the quarter-final of the European Cup Winners Cup and won both league and cup titles.
Another player recruited by coach Wisman was Karl Tatham. Karl had played in the previous season for Jacksonville University, Florida. Having been born in London, Karl came with an English passport and an American basketball pedigree.
The height for the club was initially supplied by Fred Petty (7' 2") and Nic Burns (7' 1"). Nic joined Solent Stars from local rivals, Brighton. However, Fred Petty, despite 17 international caps, found that he could not settle in the area and did not play in any league matches.
Completing the team for that first season were some exceptional local players in Trevor Denny, John Day, Steve Bowden, Peter Lovett, David Wilson and Steve Mathias, all of whom had shown great promise in pre-season training.
Programme notes from the Wolverhampton game on 12 October 1980
A Solent Stars office was established at Charles House, Winchester Road, Chandler's Ford. Harry Smith injected money into the local Area Association and an office was made available in Charles House for the administration of the Area business. A new kit was commissioned and bought in the USA - blue with yellow stars.
On Sunday, September 21st Solent Stars won the Southern Open Tournament at Gillingham by beating Kelly Girl, Kingston (111 - 93) and Ovaltine, Hemel Hempstead (95 - 92). Those results meant an invitation to the Philips World Club Tournament (Jan 1st - 4th 1981) at Crystal Palace Sports Centre along with Doncaster and Murray International.
The first ever National League game for Solent Stars took place at Fleming Park Leisure Centre on Sunday, September 28th 1980 at 4.00pm. The Solent squad was 4 Steve Mathias, 6 Paul Philp, 7 Ken Walton (Capt), 9 Jimmie Guymon, 10 Mark Saiers, 11 Nic Burns, 12 Karl Tatham, 13 John Day, 14 Dave Wilson, 15 Trevor Denny. The opponents were Camden and one of their squad was Roy Lewis, who in time became a firm favourite with the Fleming Park following when he later played for Solent Stars. Solent Stars won the game 90 - 71.
The Fleming Park Leisure Centre had no raked seating of its own and it was the Solent Stars club that bought the initial bleacher seating for the Centre. Unlike today's east-west setting, the court ran north-south with just one row of free standing seats set against the wall and the raked seating - for about 300 people - on the other side of the court.
Solent Stars then went to Cork to play the Blue Demons in the British and Irish Federation Cup. After leading by just one point at halftime (51 - 50), Solent went on to win the first leg of this first round game 114 - 98.
It was a return to league action at Fleming Park for Solent on Sunday, October 12th. Although Wolverhampton Wolves, according to the Solent programme for the day, had strengthened their team considerably since the previous season, it was obviously not enough! Solent Stars went into the season's record books for the highest margin of victory - 73 points - in winning 156 - 83. This also equalled the highest points scored by a team in Division Two that season (Brighton scored the same number of points, also against Wolves, later in the season).
It was Brighton who were the next visitors to Solent, on Sunday October 19th. Like Solent, Brighton were early season pace-setters and had a key player in Jerry Jenkins (later to score 51 points in the match against Wolves). This was Solent's first big league test and they came through it comfortably, winning 129 - 99.
The next weekend was a busy time for the Solent Stars. On the Saturday evening they entertained Blue Demons, Cork, for the return leg of the British and Irish Federation Cup. Already leading by 16 points from the first away leg, Solent were in the driving seat throughout the game and won it 96 - 76 to give a passage into the next round. On the following day, Solent had to travel to Brighton to play in an ASDA National Cup game. Once again, Solent were able to triumph over the local rivals (129 - 105), despite the difficult league game the week before.
Solent Stars sternest test came the following week, when they met Team Fiat in the quarter-final of the National Cup - just seven days after beating Brighton in the previous round. Unbeaten Division One leaders at the time (they subsequently won Division One), Team Fiat had just moved from Coventry to the Aston Villa Sports Centre. Among their squad was Steve Assinder (1978 Player of the Year) and Kevin Penny, who were to be well-known players in the decade. In what is remembered as an excellent game of basketball, the Division One team just gained the edge on the day to win 98 - 101. Team Fiat went out in the semi-final to Crystal Palace.
It was back to league action the following week at Fleming Park when Solent entertained Colchester Moels. Struggling Colchester were no match for Solent Stars who won 114 - 47.
Standing (left to right): Ken Wilde, Tom Wisman, Karl Tatham, Ken Pemberton, Nic Burns, Mark Saiers, Marvin Johnson, Steve Fitzsimons, Mick Byrne Sitting: Steve Mathias, Dave Wilson, Ken Walton, Paul Philp, Peter Lovett
Team Talbot (Guildford) from Division One were Solent's next visitors to Fleming Park for the second round of the British and Irish Federation Cup. Team Talbot had made an indifferent start to the league season, having lost an important American player. Another future Solent Star player, Ken Nottage, was in their ranks. Solent were able to progress to the semi-final of this competition after disposing of Team Talbot (107 - 90).
Following this match Solent's fortunes varied over the coming months. A trip to Brunel Ducks following on from the Team Talbot game gave Solent a comfortable win 122 - 50.
Then came the Modern Hotels Classic in Jersey. A whole weekend of basketball competing against First Division teams - Ovaltine Hemel Hempstead, Kelly Girl Kingston, Team Fiat Birmingham, Sunderland and A. B. C. Nantes (France). Although the only Second Division team in the competition, Solent's chances were rated very highly.
In the Pool matches, Solent gained revenge for the earlier cup defeat by Team Fiat (94 - 85) and overcame Sunderland (110 - 77). The play-off final against Ovaltine Hemel Hempstead resulted in a win (81 - 71). Solent had performed a giant-killing act!
Having beaten second placed Brighton earlier in the season, Solent faced away matches on consecutive days to third placed Liverpool and fourth placed Leeds. Solent won both games with ease. On Saturday they overcame Leeds (106 - 88) and on Sunday Liverpool succumbed (110 - 95).
Back in league action, Solent travelled to Nottingham to beat the home team 115 - 101.
The next event for Solent was the Philips World Club Invitation Tournament at Crystal Palace held at the beginning of the new year. In the qualifying game against UBSC Vienna, Mark Saiers broke his finger. Solent lost the game 87 - 89. Further disaster struck in the following game against Murray International when Paul Philp sprained his ankle and Solent lost again 69 - 82. This left just one game against Windsor (Canada) which Solent won 116 - 96 to finish in 11th position in the tournament. Jimmie Guymon was second leading scorer with 103 points from the three games.
Solent bounced back to winning ways when they resumed their league programme beating Camden 122 - 74, but found the handicap of missing Mark Saiers too much when they met in the rematch with Brighton and suffered their only league defeat of the season 85 - 91.
Solent then had to play the first leg of the British and Irish Federation Cup against Sunderland at Fleming Park. It was to be a successful season for the young Sunderland team, under coach Tom Becker. After finishing fourth in Division One, Sunderland won the Championship Play-Offs and they also won the British and Irish Federation Cup, beating Team Fiat in the two-legged final after ousting Solent Stars on the way. TJ Robinson, who had been flown in from America to deputise for injured Mark Saiers made his home debut in this match which Solent lost 80 - 103.
The next visitors to Solent, on Sunday, February 1st 1981 were Liverpool. The league defeat suffered at Brighton's hands two weeks earlier meant that the three teams below Solent had now lost three matches. Liverpool put up a tremendous struggle on the night and only lost in overtime (108 - 104). Next, Brunel Ducks were sent flying with a 116 - 62 win to Solent Stars and Mark Saiers was now back in the squad.
A friendly match against Crystal Palace filled the week before the National Trophy semi-final against Camden. Solent Stars moved into the final to play Liverpool, who had surprisingly beaten Brighton, to whom they had previously lost twice in the league programme.
Division Two Champions
Solent completed their league programme with a 102 - 74 win over fourth placed Leeds. Solent Stars were now league champions with a 15 - 1 record. A visit to Liverpool at the end of March saw Solent also capture the National Trophy 119 - 86.
The final match of the season was a friendly match against England, held at Fleming Park on Thursday, April 2nd 1981. Karl Tatham and Nic Burns were both included in the England squad.