Solent Stars 2004/05 Season

Back row: Larry Parker, Mike Akemon, Alan Cunningham, Steve Chant, Phil Long, Marlin Capers
Front row: Mike McGregor, Paul Silcox, Mark Jackson, Ollie Marsh, Chris St. Omer, Mike Peel

After several seasons of limited success and the last season only supplying four league wins, the directors decided to dispense with the services of coach, Mark Scott. Overtures were made to several basketball coaches, including flying in a Spanish candidate over the summer months.

Meanwhile the club's strong basketball programme was acknowledged by England Basketball, the parent body, with the granting of a Four Star status and ClubMark accreditation. This success was further augmented when a Basketball Academy title was conferred on the club through its connection with Southampton Institute (soon to become Southampton Solent University).

Recognising that many of the Solent Stars youth programme was creating a pool of local talented players, the club decided - for the first time in its history - to run a second men's team. The appointed coach was Mick Byrne, who was returning to the club for yet another period. The team gained admission to Division Three (East) of the National League.

After a summer of searching, the club coaching set-up was confirmed with Alan Cunningham taking the chief coach role, to be assisted by Steve Chant, who had moved up from coaching in the youth programme. In turn, Cunningham also brought in a second assistant (Mike Akemon) to help out with practice drills.

This coaching team was present as Solent opened their season with the home leg of the Southern Invitation Challenge Trophy game against Reading Rockets. Of the players on display, Marlin Capers had only recently arrived from America to begin his second stint with Solent. Nick O'Harabe was back and he and Capers were Solent's only scorers in the first half! Newcomers Phil Long, Melvin Ojadi, Paul Silcox and Karl Mroch could only muster nine points between them. With older hands Mark Jackson, Chris St. Omer and Ollie Marsh also unable to make much of a scoring impression, it was no surprise that Solent lost 60 - 82 (Capers 25, O'Harabe 20).

The newcomers were able to make more of an impact in the season's second home game, a friendly against USAF Mildenhall. It took two quick three pointers from Ollie Marsh just before halftime, as he came off the bench, to level the scores at 38 all at halftime. Three more of the same from Mark Jackson at the start of the second half sealed the visitors' fate, which might have been more accentuated had Solent not missed nineteen free throws in their 83 - 68 victory.

Ryan Payne, having come through the youth programme, made a first team debut for the return away leg of the Southern Invitation Challenge at Reading. The Rockets were a strongly fancied team for the upcoming season and must have had their pride dented as Solent romped to a ten point win 82 - 72 (O'Harabe 23, Jackson 20). Reading, by way of their earlier 22-point win at Solent, lifted the trophy.

Solent Stars had played 14 National Trophy matches over the recent seasons without a win. The first visitors for this season's tournament were Coventry Crusaders. At halftime it looked as if the losing streak would continue as Solent failed to make any impression against the bigger Coventry team in a dour struggle. Early Chris St. Omer points had given Solent a bright start and an eight point uninterrupted flow in the second half made it look as if Solent might pull away, but with 90 seconds remaining Solent led by just one point (71 - 70). The cool head of Mark Jackson added two more points just as the 24 second buzzer was sounding and resolute defence took Solent to a 76 - 70 victory (Capers 25).

A National Cup game against Taunton Tigers followed. The home Solent fans were dismayed by the slow start made by Solent as three consecutive 24-second plays were used. Third Division Taunton took an early 2 - 9 lead as Solent struggled to make any impact. However, once Marlin Capers had found his scoring touch, Solent moved quickly ahead and ten players got on the scoring chart in their 95 - 57 (Capers 29) win. Encouragingly for coach Alan Cunningham, newcomers John Salmon and Dave McKay both figured in the scoring.

Solent then travelled to Worcester Wolves for another National Trophy fixture. Coach Cunningham arrived as the match began and watched in horror as his players gave away the ball on repeated occasions to a grateful Worcester team. The result was that by halftime Solent trailed by seventeen points! The halftime talk proved valuable as Solent won the third quarter 31 - 16 with a dazzling display of attacking basketball combined with effective defence. In the end, Worcester just held out to snatch a 78 - 84 win (Capers 27) potentially setting up an exciting prospect for the return leg.

To start their 25th league season, Solent had to travel to Teesside Mohawks to play their 557th league game. The team left at its usual time for the Sunday afternoon game (4pm) at Teesside. Unfortunately an accident closed the M1 and the journey, normally five and a half hours, took seven hours, with the team only arriving five minutes before tip-off! Second team players Andy Aung and Ryan Payne stepped into the team to replace Nick O'Harabe (injured) and Chris St. Omer (work). Solent played some good early defence to restrict the home team to just 14 first quarter points, but they found scoring themselves difficult, with only Paul Silcox having any early success. Phil Long picked up his fourth foul quite early, which left debutante Aung with much to do trying to hold the middle of defence. In the end, Solent lost 71 - 84 (Capers 29).

Two new players were on display for the Solent Stars in their next home game, a National League game against Coventry Crusaders. Both players came through Solent's link with the Academy partner, Southampton Solent University. Graham Hunter had previous experience in playing for his country, Scotland, at junior level, whilst fellow countryman, Mike McGregor, also made his debut. Having played their opponents a couple of weeks before, Solent were hoping to make it a double triumph in short time. A lack of physical presence meant that Coventry were able to dominate the boards at both ends and that proved the difference between the teams as Coventry denied Solent second chance opportunities whilst picking up several themselves. Mark Jackson stepped up the level of Solent's game to bring them within three points with just 90 seconds remaining (57 - 60) but poor shooting meant that they were unable to add any more points and finally lost 57 - 64 (Capers 24).

A day later, Solent took the home court for a second time, this time a National Cup game against Reading Rockets. Once again Solent's new players were on show. However, neither player could prevent Solent from a second round exit, despite Hunter's last minute three point shot in the first half that gave them a 34 - 32 lead at the interval. Six minutes without scoring in the third quarter proved Solent's undoing, along with no player other than Marlin Capers able to reach double figures in scoring. Solent's cup interest ended with their 64 - 73 defeat (Capers 26) to complete a miserable home weekend.

A two week break followed and by the time the team took the court again, for a home league game with Kingston Wildcats, they had another American player in the form of 6' 4" Chris Bevin. Bevin had been playing in the Irish league prior to his arrival at Solent. Birthday boy Marlin Capers - who with 166 points was Solent's leading scorer, followed by Mark Jackson on 79 points - again led the way with early points. Bevin became the 17th player to be tried by coach Alan Cunningham. He made a quiet start, scoring just two points. With Nick O'Harabe again in the points, Solent opened up an eleven point first half lead. Anxious not to disappoint the home fans again, Solent kept up the momentum and eventually ran out winners, 77 - 62 (O'Harabe 27, Capers 24).

The next visitors were Essex and Herts Leopards. After previous existence in the Basketball League, the Essex team were in a rebuilding phase and had begun the season with five defeats and were propping up the league. Whether it was complacency or lack of confidence, the Stars soon found themselves trailing the numerically small Essex team. Mike McGregor briefly put Solent ahead at the start of the second quarter, but Solent were then left chasing the game as a series of three point successes for the visitors took the wind out of Solent's sails. After an encouraging home debut against Kingston, Chris Bevin's performance fell far short of what Solent expected from an overseas player. Solent lost 65 - 88 (Capers 24).

Having faced a team without a win, Solent's next game was a visit to an unbeaten London United. Paul Silcox joined the starting five for the first time for this game and rewarded his coach with a couple of well-taken baskets early on. However, once London had launched a successful series of three point shots, their extra height meant that Solent had little possession of the ball. The final quarter saw Solent shaded 32 - 33 in an extremely high scoring affair as both teams forsook defence. Solent were outplayed by the league leaders and went down 88 - 110 (Capers 27, Jackson 26).

Visitors PAWS London Capitals found the home supporters in strong voice as Solent opened with Phil Long and Nick O'Harabe playing enterprising basketball to overcome the fact that leading scorers Marlin Capers and Mark Jackson were unable to hit the mark in the first quarter. Despite leading throughout most of the game, Solent suddenly stopped playing and allowed London to get back in. "We had London where we wanted them," said coach Cunningham, "they'd had to play to our game for the whole match, until then." 'Mind-melt' was how Cunningham described Solent's loss of a healthy nine-point lead nearing the end. Solent's turnovers proved costly as London won 72 - 82 (Capers 24).

The defeat proved too much for Nick O'Harabe whose subsequent outburst in the changing room resulted in coach Alan Cunningham suspending him indefinitely.

Ironically, O'Harabe's departure came just before a match against one of his former clubs, Worthing Thunder. This south coast derby game played at the Worthing Leisure Centre was from Solent's point of view, 'a game of two halves'. Solent produced a tremendous second half performance, but it wasn't quite enough to avoid a fourth successive league defeat. That's because the first half was as bad as it gets as Solent were overwhelmed as errors, mistakes and poor play left them trailing by as many as 31 - 57. After being out rebounded on first, second and sometimes third occasions, Solent badly needed to step up their game, and to their credit, they did. Solent closed to within four points as the match entered its final minute. Despite a huge effort to try and set up a basket, Solent were unable to score again as Worthing held on to inflict a 94 - 100 (Capers 37, Silcox 26) defeat on Solent.

With a third of the season gone and Solent lying in eleventh (out of twelve) place in the league, the club moved to bring in a second American to play alongside Marlin Capers. Discussions with ex-Solent Star and England international, Karl Tatham, resulted in the signing of 6' 7" Larry Parker.

Larry Parker

Parker, however, only arrived on the morning of Solent's next home game - against third-placed Manchester Magic. Unsurprisingly, Parker was not able to make much impact in his opening game, despite showing some deft touches early on. He scored twelve points in the game. Solent kept in close touch with the Magic team but when the visitors outscored Solent 12 - 23 in the third quarter the game was as good as over. Solent eventually lost 69 - 85 (Capers 27). Coach Alan Cunningham expressed concern at the lack of fitness of his team members against a team that trained four times a week.

Having played against the third-placed team in the league, Larry Parker then travelled to Sheffield Arrows, who were heading the league table. After a week practising with his new team-mates, and not suffering from jet lag, Parker was able to make a full contribution to the game. Marlin Capers, travelling separately from the team, arrived with minutes to spare and never seemed to gain any composure. Solent were further hampered in the first half when Mark Jackson was forced out of the game with a pulled calf muscle. Despite these setbacks, a three pointer from Ollie Marsh helped Solent draw level at 57 all in the third quarter. Unfortunately, Stars couldn't sustain the level of scoring needed against an experienced Sheffield team and lost 76 - 85 (Parker 27).

A double header weekend of National Trophy action followed for Solent who would need to win both of their games if they wanted to progress in the tournament. First up was a trip to Coventry Crusaders. Solent were without the team captain, Mark Jackson, who was still recovering from a pulled muscle injury. After scoring from the first move of the game, Solent quickly surrendered a lead that they were never to retake. Three point shots from Larry Parker and Ollie Marsh in the third quarter brought Solent to within a point, but then three consecutive turnovers allowed Coventry to increase their lead. Coach Alan Cunningham was so incensed with his team that he substituted all five players immediately. Later, Marlin Capers picked up his fifth foul, but by then the game was already lost and Solent's cup progress ended with a 72 - 99 (Capers 20) defeat.

Fleming Park's unavailability meant that the following day's game against Worcester Wolves took place at the Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth. Solent started off in sparkling form, despite their previous night's humiliation. This was thanks to some good shooting from Paul Silcox and Marlin Capers and successful rebounding by Phil Long and Larry Parker. Solent led 29 - 17 at the end of the first quarter. Occasional lapses in defence allowed Worcester some easy scoring opportunities to stay in touch with Solent. Foul trouble for Long and Parker reduced their impact on court and Worcester came through to take a three-point lead with eight seconds remaining and Solent to put the ball in. Coach Alan Cunningham may have regretted leaving the on-court responsibility to inexperienced Mike Peel - playing more court time because of Jackson's injury. Peel fumbled the inbound ball and possession was lost to Worcester who played out the remaining time by keeping possession to win 91 - 94 (Capers 31, Parker 21, Silcox 21).

Having exited the National Trophy in the last weekend before Christmas, coach Alan Cunningham opened the Christmas edition of the Hampshire Chronicle to see he had been quoted in an article entitled 'Come on Chaps….Say What you Really Mean'. In Cunningham's case the quote used was said to be 'after watching his team fall to their umpteenth defeat' - "This was possibly our best team performance of the season so far".

Worcester Wolves were, by chance, Solent's first opponents for a league game in 2005, this time at Fleming Park. Solent were boosted by the return of Mark Jackson for this game. As if to justify their coach's comments, which had been picked up by the Hampshire Chronicle, Solent destroyed the opposition in the first quarter to take a 34 - 19 lead. Notable contributions came from Paul Silcox (rebounding), Marlin Capers (fast break scoring) and Ollie Marsh (steals). Worcester, having twice beaten Solent, had the confidence to fight back and the last minute began with Solent leading by just two points courtesy of a naïve Larry Parker foul that had gifted three free throws to the visitors. Parker then missed two free throws of his own, but all was forgiven when he gained a vital rebound and scored the final two points himself. Worcester were unable to overcome the deficit and Solent started the calendar year with a second league victory, 103 - 101 (Parker 35, Silcox 23).

Teesside Mohawks were the next visitors to Fleming Park. This was proving a transitional season for the Mohawks who had carried all before them in the previous seasons. Frequent substitutions by the Teesside coach, Tony Hanson, kept relentless pressure on the in-form Solent team, so much so that with two minutes remaining of the first half, Solent found themselves 16 points adrift (33 - 49). Last minute points from Marlin Capers (29 in the first half) and Larry Parker helped Solent reduce the deficit to eight points by the interval. A stormy third quarter followed with unsportsmanlike fouls by both teams, but Solent eventually drew level at 61 all. Teesside pulled away to an eight-point lead in the final quarter, but Solent clawed the points back and a Larry Parker score saw them take the lead for the first time with five minutes remaining. A crucial three point shot took Solent ahead 16 seconds from time. The tension was too much for the Teesside coach who was charged with a technical foul. A further foul on Mark Jackson gave Solent two more free throws just three seconds from time and the home team celebrated a second consecutive league win, 86 - 81 (Capers 39, Parker 27).

An away trip to Coventry Crusaders was the next fixture for Solent. Coventry were lying in eleventh place in the table, just below Solent. The confident American pair of Solent players, having scored a combined total of 66 points in the previous game, were responsible for all the first quarter Solent points (21) as they took a four point lead into the first interval. Chris St. Omer broke the American monopoly of scoring, but it was a good team performance in the quarter that allowed Solent to increase their lead by halftime (53 - 39). Coach Alan Cunningham gave some of his bench players extended playing time in the final quarter. When Coventry went on a 14 - 2 run, however, the re-introduction of the senior players brought back parity in the scoring to allow Solent to record a third league win in succession, 98 - 89 (Capers 45, Parker 29).

With three straight wins and having moved into the play-off group for the first time, confidence was high for the home game against fifth-placed Reading Rockets. Reading, equally, were full of confidence having just won the National Cup for the first time. After a poor start, Solent recovered with a 14 - 2 spell to level the scores at halftime at 36 all. But in that period coach Alan Cunningham had picked up a technical foul after expressing discontent at the refereeing. The fact that Reading picked up only one foul, at that late in the half, before halftime had been the root cause of Cunningham's discontent. Things came to a head when Solent disappointingly gave the ball away too often at the end of the third quarter to allow Reading to take command in the game. Finally, a second technical foul was called on Cunningham, who therefore was not present to see his team go down 70 - 89 (Parker 32, Capers 29).

The Solent Stars arranged a friendly match, prior to their next important league game, in aid of the Tsunami Appeal. The visitors were USAF Mildenhall. Alan Cunningham - having just passed his 50th birthday - turned out for the home team and also gave playing time to the squad members who had less court time experience than the starting five. In the event, Solent lost 63 - 66 but the main cause of the evening was to raise funds.

The next day, Solent travelled to Essex and Herts Leopards to try and get back to their winning ways. Chris Bevin had suddenly left the club. Despite being an American player, he had an Irish passport, which allowed him to play alongside Marlin Capers and Larry Parker. Bevin had only contributed 20 points in his thirteen matches for the club, and had been a huge disappointment to coach Cunningham who had signed him. Having also axed Nick O'Harabe for disciplinary reasons, it meant the team was short of players for the run-in of the season. This became apparent in the game at Essex. Larry Parker was unable to score in the first quarter having been given close attention by the home defence. It took a late rally in the quarter by Paul Silcox, Phil Long and Marlin Capers to bring Solent back into the game. The second quarter was all Solent as they outscored the home team 30 - 17 with Parker in full flow. Solent entered the final quarter three points ahead (54 - 51) but once they lost Long, who had an outstanding game, the lack of a replacement was instrumental in Solent's final close defeat, 74 - 77 (Parker 28).

A visit to bottom of the table Kingston Wildcats was the next test for Solent. A convincing first quarter display saw Solent establish a 25 - 17 lead. The visitors then increased their lead by two points in the second quarter. Inexplicably the points from the American players in Solent's squad then dried up as they managed only six between them in the third quarter. When Chris St. Omer fouled out, Solent were actually behind. Ollie Marsh responded with a vital three pointer and steal to help Solent to a five-point advantage at the beginning of the final quarter. Kingston rallied but the trio of Marsh, Paul Silcox and Mark Jackson worked tirelessly to give Solent a 92 - 83 (Parker 25) win.

Alan Cunningham was forced to sit out the next game as punishment for his earlier outburst in the home Reading Rockets match. This gave assistant coach, Steve Chant, his first start as a coach in senior men's basketball. Ironically, the opponents were Reading Rockets! The game was played on a Thursday night at the Rivermead Leisure Centre. Reading had moved to third in the table. In the game, it was only a poor fourth period, when Solent had Marlin Capers and Paul Silcox fouled out and committed a series of elementary errors, that denied them an upset win. At one point in the second quarter Solent had led by 16 points as they tore into the opposition. Mike McGregor played an instrumental part in helping the Solent players find good shooting positions. Reading came back in the second half to reduce the lead to three points before another run of ten points by Solent (five of them from Mark Jackson) took them into another seemingly comfortable lead. Capers, who had been rested for most of the third quarter on four fouls, only lasted a couple of minutes on his return at the start of the final session. Paul Silcox quickly followed and Solent turned the ball over four times in succession to see the game conceded to the opponents, 83 - 87 (Capers 28, Parker 24).

High-riding London United were the next visitors for Solent. This was Solent's third game in a week and the strain showed as the team failed to come to terms with the polished London team. Larry Parker was strangely kept on the bench for most of the second half by coach Alan Cunningham, but he did pass the 300-point mark for the season during the game which Solent lost 93 - 124 (Capers 28, Parker 24).

The new London City Academy was the venue for Solent's next trip to play PAWS London Capitals. With both teams in contention for a play-off place, Solent needed to win by at least ten points if they were to keep their hopes alive. In the event, the fact that it took eight minutes before either of Solent's American players could register a point meant that they were always chasing the game. With just under four minutes remaining, Graham Hunter sank a three pointer that brought Solent to within nine points. Then calamity struck as, in a scramble for possession under the London basket, Marlin Capers fell and hit his head on the ground, which necessitated a visit to the local hospital. Forced to foul to gain possession, Solent were further punished as London scored from all ten visits to the line in the last few minutes. Solent lost this vital game, 82 - 95 (Parker 29).

Just four hours after the Solent Stars Under-18 team beat Doncaster in the national Sureshot Cup Final, the senior men stepped out on the same court at Manchester, to play Manchester Magic. A disastrous opening five minutes, when Solent failed to score, meant that when Paul Silcox scored with his free throw, Solent were already trailing 0 - 17. Coach Alan Cunningham said, "It was a game of two halves. First half we failed to turn up, but when I brought on Graham Hunter, we briefly looked like a team capable of coming back." Solent equalled the Manchester tally of point scoring in the third quarter, but the game had already got away from them and they lost 71 - 95.

With the play-offs almost out of the question for Solent, the next visitors were Sheffield Arrows. Because of a result earlier in the day, when Worthing Thunder beat London United by one point, Sheffield knew that they were league champions as they came on to the court at Fleming Park. Any hope that this may have diverted some of their purpose for the game in hand was quickly dispelled. In the first half they took a 30-point lead, this despite that Solent had led 11 - 2 early on through Paul Silcox netting quick points. Whilst Solent went to the changing room at halftime for an earnest talk, Sheffield remained on court practising their shooting. Solent were unable to make any headway against the league champions who ran out easy winners, 82 - 106 (Parker 31, Capers 27).

Now the headlines had changed from the possibility of reaching the play-offs (finishing in the top eight of the twelve team league) to the possibility of relegation. Kingston Wildcats were the only team that could overhaul Solent. That would not have been possible if Solent could win either of their two final games. The first was a visit to Worcester Wolves. Illness had forced coach for the game, Steve Chant, to reshuffle the team. Luckily Phil Long was on form on the evening as Solent set about their difficult task. Solent took a slender halftime lead, but the third quarter saw them only score nine points (their lowest quarter score of the season). Apart from a couple of Graham Hunter three point successes, Solent could do nothing but look down the barrel of a gun as they slipped to a 74 - 94 (Parker 20) loss.

Solent Stars, however, were reprieved from the indignity of relegation in their twenty-fifth season thanks to a huge win by champions, Sheffield Arrows, at Kingston.

This led the way clear to a more relaxed approach to the season's final game at home to Worthing Thunder. The relaxation seemed to affect Larry Parker more than the rest as he struggled to make any impression in the game. With Solent having relied heavily all season on scoring performances from Parker and Marlin Capers, if one was not on-song, no one seemed capable of taking up the task. Although there were notable performances from Chris St. Omer, Ollie Marsh and Phil Long, the whole did not add up to too much. Trailing 36 - 54 at halftime, Solent's whole-hearted approach began to pay dividends in the second half and with four minutes left they trailed by eight points. They were not able to press home their advantage, however, and eventually went down 81 - 91 (Capers 28) to end a miserable playing season.

Mark Jackson with owner Bob Paulley

Marlin Capers

After the game Marlin Capers received the Player of the Year award and for the third successive season Mark Jackson picked up the Players' Player Award. Paul Silcox was presented with the Most Improved Player award.

(Division 1)
Played Won Lost For Against Difference Points
1 Sheffield Arrows 22 21 1 2076 1637 +439 42
2 London United 22 18 4 2030 1747 +283 36
3 Reading Rockets 22 16 6 1943 1770 +173 32
4 Worcester Wolves 22 13 9 1904 1766 +138 26
5 Worthing Thunder 22 13 9 2123 2070 +53 26
6 Manchester Magic 22 12 10 1810 1743 +67 24
7 Teesside Mohawks 22 10 12 1746 1821 -75 20
8 Essex & Herts Leopards 22 9 13 1689 1787 -98 18
9 London Capitals 22 7 15 1685 1806 -121 14
10 Solent Stars 22 5 17 1758 1972 -214 10
11 Kingston Wildcats 22 5 17 1721 2045 -324 10
12 Coventry Crusaders 22 3 19 1600 1921 -321 6

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