Solent Stars 2003/04 Season

Following the disappointment of the previous season, the Solent Stars directors met with the coaching staff over the summer and determined that two American players were required and should be present for the pre-season training. Neither coach, Mark Scott nor his assistant, Steve Fitzsimons, had any particular players under review and it was left to the club to negotiate with an American agent regarding players.

Matt Story, a 6' 4" forward, was the first signing. He came from Florida and was eventually joined by another player fresh from Florida, 6' 10" Matt Crawford. Crawford had not been the first choice of the agent, and it was nearly a month after Story's arrival before Crawford set foot in England.

Meanwhile, the Conference League had changed its name to English League Division One. Gone from the previous season were Oxford Devils and relegated clubs, Hackney White Heat and Coventry Crusaders. In their place came London United, Team Bath Romans and Sheffield Arrows.

Paul Mundy-Castle

Another feature for Solent for the coming season was the resurgence of a women's team for the first time since the 1998/99 season.

On the men's playing front, David Butterworth had moved along the coast to Worthing Thunder, whilst Jon Neale had returned to Nottingham University for a further course. Steve Davison was returning from a year in France. Also trying out for Solent was Nick O'Harabe who had spent the previous season with Worthing Thunder.

A pre-season friendly was arranged against the full Royal Navy team who were having a training weekend at Portsmouth. All twelve of the Solent trial players had their name on the scoresheet by halftime in a game where Solent demonstrated that they were far too good for their opponents. American Matt Story immediately made an impact with a series of long three pointers. Solent won 140 - 61 (Story 25, Jackson 23, O'Harabe 23).

A Southern Challenge Cup was inaugurated for back-to-back games against Reading Rockets. The home game was noticeable for the fact that only Mark Jackson could find the basket in the first three minutes for Solent to take a 2 - 0 lead! Solent led at the end of the first quarter, thanks to some good work on the boards by Nick O'Harabe. The game turned Reading's way in the second quarter as they began to score with some regularity. Matt Story only found his first points at the end of the half, but he also picked up a back injury in the process. Five successive turnovers by Solent in the second half effectively gave the game to Reading as Solent trailed in 93 - 103 (Jackson 24, O'Harabe 22).

Without Matt Story for the return leg, the following day, Solent were hard pressed to find any scoring rhythm. Duane Laight hit several three pointers, but Solent were disappointingly out-gunned 54 - 85 to lose the Cup on aggregate (147 - 188).

Solent's first National Trophy game was away to Worthing Thunder. Joining the Solent team after the pre-season games were Tom Parker (an Army player) and Rob De'Ath (from the local league). Also present was Matt Crawford, who had only trained once with the team. It was Laight who stole the early honours with a couple of steals and three pointers. Worthing recovered to lead 26 - 31 at the quarter but by halftime Solent had taken a 52 - 40 lead aided by Crawford's rebounding and shot blocking. Man marking by Worthing upset the Solent play and the visitors lost their discipline before coach Mark Scott called a timeout. Worthing's new American player scored with a three pointer eight seconds from the end of the final quarter that had begun all-square at 65 all. The teams had traded baskets until the final three pointer which gave Worthing a win, 79 - 82 (Story 31).

Matt Story

The following week the two teams met again at Fleming Park. Worthing had decided to man mark Matt Story and it was left to Matt Crawford, making his home debut, to score Solent's opening five points. Although the game was even in the scoring for the first half, Solent were soon in foul trouble. Crawford had to be used sparingly having picked up his third foul in the first quarter. When he and Nick O'Harabe fouled out in the third quarter, Solent had no height to counter the Worthing attack and fell away to lose 84 - 105 (Story 28).

Less than 24 hours later, Stars were eliminated from the National Trophy competition when they lost to London United, in London. Matt Story gave Solent an early lead, but a series of three pointers edged the first quarter for London (19 - 22). A leg injury forced Mark Jackson out of the game in the second quarter and although Solent closed to 35 - 37 at one point, London still held a ten-point advantage at halftime. Looking a good deal more animated than usual, coach Mark Scott urged his side forward and 18 points from American duo Story and Crawford helped Stars shade the third quarter. Four minutes from time, the scores were level (87 - 87). London scored the next seven points to force Solent to play catch-up. Defeat was confirmed when Solent gave the ball away from their own put-in to gift London two more easy points. The final score was another loss for Solent, 95 - 100 (Story 38, Crawford 28).

With a National Cup match approaching, followed by the start of the league season, Solent Stars moved to strengthen their squad by signing ex-Solent player, Paul Mundy-Castle. He was included in the team for Solent's visit to Loughborough Students for the first round game in the National Cup.

Loughborough, two divisions below Solent, started well in their home game, scoring an early three pointer. Solent could find no rhythm and had to look to Matt Crawford's inside game to keep up a steady rate of scoring. A Solent timeout with the score at 19 all immediately made a difference when afterwards all five on-court players scored for Solent to take a 32 - 22 lead at the end of the first quarter. Mundy-Castle joined the fray at the beginning of the second quarter, but found it difficult to keep up with the pace after nearly a year out of the game. Nick O'Harabe fouled out at the start of the final quarter, but Solent finished the game in showboat style with Crawford dunking the ball nine times overall in the game. Solent moved to the second round with a 102 - 73 (Crawford 34, Story 24) win.

For their final home National Trophy game, Solent started with their best six minutes of the season when the starting five - Matt Story, Matt Crawford, Nick O'Harabe, Duane Laight and Mark Jackson - quickly went into a 20 - 2 lead against visitors London United. However, as the game progressed, Solent seemed to lose confidence and a series of unforced errors and fouls allowed London to take a 57 - 60 lead by midway in the third quarter. From there it was nip and tuck, but Solent ended a second winless season in the National Trophy competition by going down 92 - 96 (Crawford 32, Story 27).

Nick O'Harabe

Kingston Wildcats were the visitors for the second round of the National Cup competition. Solent began the final quarter 76 - 85 behind with Paul Mundy-Castle, on his home debut, already fouled out and both Matt Crawford and Duane Laight on four fouls. Mark Jackson chased and harried the Kingston players and forced errors and his seven successive points brought Solent to 88 - 91 with three minutes remaining. Matt Story stole the ball and scored to take Solent to a 94 - 93 lead. In six minutes of high pressure, Solent had outscored Kingston 18 - 2 and deservedly won 101 - 98 (Story 28, Jackson 26, Crawford 24).

The league season commenced with a visit from newly promoted Team Bath Romans, who included Panji Grainger in their squad. Accurate shooting from Mark Jackson had helped Solent to a 32 - 22 first quarter lead. With Paul Mundy-Castle missing through being stranded on a broken down train from London, Solent had no penetrating defender to vary their attack. Slowly Bath came back into the game, taking 25 second half rebounds to Solent's 2, and with 30 seconds remaining led by one point. With everyone expecting Solent's final shot to come from Matt Story, the ball fell into the hands of Alan McDonald whose unopposed shot had no conviction and rebounded off the ring to leave Solent defeated in their first league game, 88 - 89 (Story 27, O'Harabe 23).

A third round National Cup home tie against Reading Rockets followed. Reading had already beaten Solent twice in pre-season games and had also visited Bath to win by 25 points two weeks earlier. The visitors found plenty of holes in the Solent defence to build up a 6 - 19 lead after six minutes. Reading were then hit when their leading scorer, Jermaine Williams, took no further part in the game after twisting his ankle on a drive for the basket. Ted Smith, Reading's other American player, then took control and Reading increased their lead to 27 - 42 before Solent hit back to trail 40 - 53 at halftime. After the third quarter Solent still trailed by 12 points. In a remarkable start to the final quarter, Solent scored 13 unanswered points to take the lead for the first time. With Solent leading 96 - 92, thanks in part to technical foul against the Reading bench, the influential Ted Smith fouled out, although the Reading team protested that it was only his fourth foul. Solent held on to win 106 - 95 (Story 39, Crawford 23).

A depleted squad travelled north to play Sheffield Arrows. Without Chris Glover and Anthony Rutter (injured) and Duane Laight and Ollie Marsh (work) Solent only had seven players on the bench, one of whom - Paul Mundy-Castle - had a heavily strapped ankle! Although Solent made the early running, with two three pointers from Matt Story, by the third minute of the second half the team trailed by 19 points (49 - 68). Urged on by coaches Mark Scott and Steve Fitzsimons, Solent then staged a magnificent rally to reduce the deficit to just one point by the ninth minute of the third quarter (72 - 73). However, Solent then ran out of steam as the final quarter proved an anticlimax as they slipped to an 83 - 105 (Story 34) defeat.

Duane Laight

The unavailability of Fleming Park meant that Solent's next home fixture - against Ware Rebels - was played at the Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth. With 36 seconds remaining of what had been a close match throughout, Ware levelled the scores at 97 all. Fifteen seconds later Matt Crawford moved along the baseline to add two more points to the Solent score. Then Ware's 44 point Mike Williamson, despite close marking, put up a three point attempt that hit the ring and Matt Story rebounded the ball. As he was close to stepping out of court as he rebounded the ball, Story instinctively scooped the ball back into play. To the horror of the Solent fans he provided the perfect pass for Williamson to have another three point attempt. Once again the ball hit the ring and this time Story rebounded the ball and held on. A foul on him with two seconds remaining gave a chance to add to the score and Solent won 100 - 97 (Story 36, Jackson 21).

The next day Solent travelled to London United for what proved yet another close game. Nick O'Harabe fouled out after only 12 seconds of the second half. With his defensive strength gone, Solent looked a beaten team as they trailed 56 - 67 at the start of the final quarter. Once again Solent staged a thrilling fight back that saw points from Matt Story, Matt Crawford, Paul Mundy-Castle and Mark Jackson to take an 81 - 75 lead with two minutes left. Mark Jackson then fouled out as London hit back with nine unanswered points. Despite having possession twice at the end of the game, Solent could not score and lost 84 - 86 (Story 32).

For the fifth time in six matches, the result of Solent's next home game was by a margin of four points or less. This time the visitors were Sutton Pumas. Solent led 92 - 85 entering the last five minutes, but then Matt Crawford racked up two quick fouls to join Nick O'Harabe on the bench, having suffered the same fate earlier. This weakened the Solent defence and Sutton took full advantage and despite two late big three pointers from Mark Jackson, Solent lost 103 - 104 (Jackson 29, Story 29).

On the following day, Solent travelled over 300 miles north to play Teesside Mohawks in the semi-final of the National Cup. As might have been expected, Teesside started the fresher but five points from the free scoring Matt Story meant Solent were only 18 - 21 behind at the end of the first quarter, and when Alan McDonald levelled moments later, hopes were raised. But a quiet spell enabled Teesside to build again and Solent were left to rue missed opportunities as they trailed 38 - 49 at halftime. A disjointed game included 48 fouls and Solent were to lose Matt Crawford and Nick O'Harabe in the third minute of the last quarter. Four three pointers from Mark Jackson briefly closed the gap but Solent couldn't get any closer as they suffered their first ever National Cup semi-final defeat, 87 - 102 (Story 32).

Tom Parker

Solent's last home game of the calendar year was against Worthing Thunder. In front of a crowd of over 400, both teams played at a flat-out pace. The result was a game full of incidents and mistakes. Matt Crawford scored his first three pointer of the season, whilst valuable assists from Paul Mundy-Castle gave scoring opportunities to his colleagues when it looked as if Worthing were gaining the upper hand. After the lead changing hands ten times in the first five minutes of the third quarter, Worthing did forge ahead by 11 points (74 - 85) at the start of the final quarter. Inspirational captain, Mark Jackson, brought Solent right back into the game with eight consecutive points to leave Solent trailing by three points with two minutes remaining. Ex-Solent Star David Butterworth then added a three pointer to Worthing's total, which was cancelled out by another Jackson three pointer. Matt Crawford added two more points. Solent were given a controversial out-of-bounds possession with nine seconds remaining, but in that time they could not get off a shot and lost 93 - 94 (Crawford 26, Jackson 23, Story 22).

A trip to Teesside Mohawks followed. Solent led throughout most of the game, only going behind when turnovers at the start of the third quarter allowed Teesside to briefly take advantage. Eventually the game hinged on a controversial referees' decision at the beginning of the final minute of the game. One referee called a jump ball situation (which with the alternate possession rule would have given Solent possession), but he was overruled by the second official who called a foul on Paul Mundy-Castle. This gave Teesside two free throws to level the scores. Solent then committed hara-kiri by turning the ball over in the last minute to allow Teesside to score two more points to win 88 - 90 (Story 30, Crawford 24).

After so many close games against table-topping teams, the final game of the year at Manchester Magic proved an anti-climax. Matt Crawford was too ill to travel and the onus of defence fell on Tom Parker. Parker was disadvantaged in having forgotten to pack his basketball boots and having to play in trainers! He was then given a baptism of fire as Manchester blitzed 33 points in the first quarter. Matt Story gamely kept on scoring to help Solent put up a respectable fight. However, their cause was not helped when Nick O'Harabe picked up three fouls in one incident for him to leave the game with five fouls. Solent were no match for Manchester on the night and lost 99 - 117 (Story 47).

Over the Christmas break, Solent secured the signing of ex-England international and Solent player, Drew Sewell. The numerically weak Solent squad had suffered another blow when Anthony Rutter decided to concentrate on his studies and left the team.

Matt Crawford

Next up for Solent was a visit from Plymouth Raiders who had only one defeat to their name. Solent started badly and Plymouth went 3 - 10 up early on. Drew Sewell showed some nice touches, but it was a spell by Matt Story just after halftime that brought Solent back into the game at 66 all, having outscored their opponents 13 - 0 in two minutes. However, Duane Laight and Drew Sewell found the pace hard to sustain and Solent's limited resources could not prevent Plymouth from recording a 98 - 106 (Story 37, Jackson 22, Crawford 20) win.

Solent travelled to Kingston Wildcats with a much reduced squad. Out were Alan McDonald (ill), Duane Laight and Drew Sewell (work) and Matt Crawford played with a heavy cold. Chris Glover left the game early on with a bloodied nose, but it had been Solent that made the early impact, leading 29 - 24 at the first quarter. Nick O'Harabe was called for a technical foul in the first minute of the second half after he missed an easy lay-up and fouled a three point shooter to increase his frustration. As he left the court he kicked a chair. The referee charged a further foul against the team coach, which O'Harabe thought had been directed at him, making him reach five fouls. Without a word he left the arena, despite the fact that he was on four fouls. This whole incident helped Kingston back into the game. A second more disputed technical foul was charged against the coach when he protested that an out-of-bounds call had been wrongly awarded against Matt Story with seconds remaining and the scores level. Kingston scored the two free throws and took possession of the ball to sink a final basket and condemn Solent to a 100 - 105 (Story 37, Crawford 32) defeat.

Solent were now at the foot of the league table, halfway through the season yet - ironically - were the league's top scorers. They also had the worst defensive record, conceding 150 points more than any other team!

Sheffield Arrows were the next visitors to Fleming Park. Matt Story left the game toward halftime with a severely bruised finger. In an error strewn game with neither side able to dominate or score regularly, the action came down to the last few seconds. In that time Solent turned the ball over three times, forcing them to foul the opposition to try to regain possession. Sheffield scored regularly from the free throw line and despite Solent having the final put-in with nine seconds to go and trailing by two points, the home team managed to turn the ball over one more time to allow Sheffield the opportunity to run the clock down and win 69 - 71 (Crawford 23, Jackson 20).

Reading Rockets - a top four team - were Solent's next home opponents. A close game ensued with fit-again Matt Story playing his full part. With the sides level at 99 all in the last minute, Story fouled out. With him gone and once again a weak Solent bench numerically, Solent were unable to add to their total whilst Reading benefited from two Solent turnovers to add two more scores and leave Solent stranded 99 - 105 (Crawford 26, Story 26).

A third consecutive home game for Solent, this time against Kingston Wildcats, proved to be an exhilarating one for the home fans. Matt Crawford scored several early inside baskets and was complemented by Matt Story's outside shooting. With Crawford also taking the honours on the defensive rebounds - aided by Nick O'Harabe - Solent had amassed 64 points by halftime to the visitor's 50. For once there was no last minute drama for Solent as they romped away with the game, 134 - 116 (Story 42, Crawford 37, Jackson 23, O'Harabe 22).

Back on the road, Solent survived a nightmare journey to Team Bath Romans. After arriving late, the team took a little while to adjust to the pace of the game. Bath were playing a successful inside game that forced coach for the night, Steve Fitzsimons, to call a timeout to change the Solent tactics. So involved was Fitzsimons with the action that, unusually, he picked up a third quarter technical foul. Bath could not take advantage of that and Solent ended the third quarter two points ahead (75 - 73). The final quarter belonged to Matt Story who scored 11 of Solent's opening 15 points. Despite Matt Crawford sitting out most of the last quarter Solent were good enough to hold on to their lead and win 110 - 96 (Story 52, Jackson 22).

Solent's next visitors were London United, who Solent had lost to three times already in the season by margins of five, four and two points respectively. This game was to be as close as any of the others with neither side able to establish any superiority over the other. Solent looked as if they had worn down their opponents when they snatched a 71 - 64 lead in the final quarter. However, at full time the scores were level at 77 all - Solent ruing their 15 missed free throws! In overtime, Solent summoned up a fine team effort to deny London scoring opportunities whilst scoring themselves to finally run out winners, 89 - 83 (Story 34).

Mark Jackson

The fixture list offered Solent few favours as on the next day they travelled to second-placed Reading Rockets. The effort expended in overcoming London the previous evening was evident from the start. They began to lose touch in the second quarter and trailed 33 - 56 at one stage. Ollie Marsh and Tom Parker scored some early baskets after halftime, but Stars could never make up the difference and fell to an 82 - 107 (Story 33) defeat.

It was a similar story when Solent travelled to table-topping Plymouth the following week, in this case without injured players Alan McDonald and Nick O'Harabe. Solent were leading 24 - 23 and the end of the first quarter and only trailed by 41 - 46 at halftime. Once Plymouth started applying the pressure, however, Solent were unable to match them and fell away badly to lose 79 - 110 (Jackson 22, Story 20).

Another road trip, this time to face Ware Rebels at the University of Hertfordshire, followed. Solent needed to win to stand any chance of making the Play-Offs. Ware man-marked Solent's Matt Story so successfully that it was the ninth minute before Story scored, to take his total past 800 points for the season. The first half only brought forth a miserable performance from Solent in an atmosphere-less venue as they reached halftime 26 - 40 in arrears. Story and Matt Crawford did their best at the start of the third quarter to get Solent back into the game. A run of Solent points brought them to within 7 points of Ware. This proved to be Solent's final effort as, when they could only muster two points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, defeat was inevitable. The final score of 67 - 96 (Story 24) virtually ended Solent's Play-Off aspirations.

An exhibition game the following day at Fleming Park against USAF Lakenheath Eagles gave coach Mark Scott an opportunity to prepare his team for one last push to move up the league table. Solent won 99 - 80 (Story 36, Jackson 22) in what was hoped to be a morale boosting game.

For a while at Sutton Pumas, it looked as if Solent had gained from the Lakenheath experience, as they went into a 17 - 6 early lead, during which Mark Jackson scored the first of his three pointers in the quarter. Sutton scored seven points in the last two minutes of the second quarter to come to within two points of Solent at halftime (42 - 40). It was ex-Solent Star, Marlin Capers, who proved their undoing as the game went on. With 21 personal points in the third quarter, he was instrumental in sealing Solent's fate as they sank to another defeat, 77 - 90 (Jackson 24).

Solent travelled to the Worthing Leisure Centre without Matt Crawford and Alan McDonald who were both nursing injuries. Crawford's height was missed as Worthing attacked the Solent board and picked up the majority of rebounds leading to several second chance baskets. Forced to play a lone central role, Nick O'Harabe rose to the occasion against his club of the previous season. At the end of the first quarter Solent trailed 21 - 28. Worthing continued to pile on the pressure and Solent, because of their lack of strength in depth, were never able to get into the game and lost 91 - 115 (O'Harabe 34, Story 22, Jackson 21).

Teesside Mohawks were Solent's penultimate visitors. Solent, for only the seventh time in the league season, were able to field a full bench for the game. The home team started brightly and led 30 - 21 at the end of the first period thanks in part to Matt Crawford tipping in several offensive rebounds. Solent's defence came under huge pressure in the second quarter and the visitors were able to go in at halftime leading by just one point (51 - 52). Worse still, another ankle injury to Crawford meant that Solent had to play the whole of the second half without him. This proved an obstacle too great and despite briefly taking the lead after halftime, Solent fell away to an 88 - 99 (Jackson 23, Story 22) defeat.

Solent Stars' final game in their twenty-fourth season in the National League, marking over 550 league matches in all, was at home to Manchester Magic. A win would ensure that they would not finish in the bottom two and face the prospect of relegation. Without Matt Crawford, Solent were always going to be struggling against a much bigger Manchester squad that included John Amaechi fresh from his 294 games in the NBA. So overawed were Solent by his presence that in no time at all they trailed 2 - 20. A brief flurry of points from Matt Story, Ollie Marsh, Nick O'Harabe and then Alan McDonald trimmed the Manchester lead to 11 - 20, but that was as close as Solent got. Mark Jackson, a victim of over-fussy refereeing, left the game in the third minute of the second half. With O'Harabe, Marsh and Story all on four fouls for the latter part of the game, Solent were no match for their rivals and lost their last home fixture 86 - 113 (Story 31). Other results on the night meant that Solent finished in tenth position in the league, above Kingston Wildcats and Team Bath Romans.

The Player of the Year Awards for the season were presented by John Amaechi after the final league game. Mark Jackson won both the Player of the Year and the Players' Player of the Year. Runner up in the fans' vote for Player of the Year was Matt Story. A new award, donated by club director Peter Axon, saw Ollie Marsh carry off the Newcomer of the Year award.

(Division 1)
Played Won Lost For Against Difference Points
1 Plymouth Raiders 22 20 2 1989 1547 +442 40
2 Reading Rockets 22 17 5 2054 1745 +309 34
3 Teesside Mohawks 22 16 6 1924 1763 +161 32
4 Manchester Magic 22 16 6 1934 1783 +151 32
5 Worthing Thunder 22 15 7 2066 1866 +200 30
6 London United 22 11 11 1858 1780 +78 22
7 Sheffield Arrows 22 10 12 1709 1745 -36 20
8 Ware Rebels 22 9 13 1882 2002 -120 18
9 Sutton Pumas 22 7 15 1736 1945 -209 14
10 Solent Stars 22 4 18 1999 2193 -194 8
11 Kingston Wildcats 22 4 18 1866 2278 -412 8
12 Team Bath Romans 22 3 19 1675 2045 -370 6

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