Bears making big strides in little time

IT IS amazing to think that this time last year Sussex Bears Basketball Club did not exist but today they sit top of the National League South East Division 4 table.

Sussex Bears Chairman and boss Gary Smith

The Bears have won nine of their 11 league matches so far and top the table by two points from Crawley United.

The Bears also have teams from the under-nine age category all the way through to their men’s squad and play home games at The Sir Robert Woodard Academy in Lancing.

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Gary Smith, a former player with Worthing Bears and Worthing Thunder and also a former head coach of Thunder, is chairman and first-team coach of the club.

On how the club was formed, he said: “I had been at Worthing Thunder for 11 years and decided I wanted to take a long break away from the game.

“While away from the coaching side, I was thinking how I could possibly make a difference to the area through basketball and one day I got a call about the Bears.

“It was something that I had thought long and hard about, before finally deciding to take up the role.

“I have to thank the volunteers, parents and the staff at Sir Richard Woodard Academy, who kindly allow us use of their facilities.

“But for us to have started out less than a year ago and to be in the league position we are, with the amount of younger age group teams that we have as well, is absolutely fantastic.”

Smith is an experienced basketball coach and coached Thunder when they played in the British Basketball League.

A number of former Thunder players, including Bud Johnston, James Brame and Lewis Mitchell, all play for the club and Smith has been delighted with his side’s start to the year.

He added: “When the club was first formed, I identified a group of players that I wanted to play for me.

“I looked at what was available in the local area and saw that a number of really experienced players who could do a really good job in the National League were not playing.

“I also identified a number of younger players, who had dropped out of the game in their later teens and were also not playing.

“Now, we have managed to blend together a group of 16 players in the first team who have vast experience, while we also have a number of younger talents, who can learn from them.

“For us to be top of the table after being formed just this year is a great credit to the squad that I have.”

However, Smith knows there is still a long way to go before his side are to even consider clinching the league title.

He said: “We are only midway through what is a very long and hard season.

“To be top of the table is a great effort but we know that the second half of the year will be a lot tougher.

“What is good about the side, though, is that we have a few players who have played at higher levels and won things at that level, so that will help those with lesser experience.

“The aim is to try to clinch the title this year and, if that is possible, it will be a fantastic achievement.

“In the long-term, I am hopeful that the club can rise through the leagues and keep pushing for a place at higher levels of the sport.

“Another aim of the club is to make sure that we can produce a number of talented youngsters from across Sussex and help them to further their careers in the sport, whether that be with us or another side.”

In their most recent match on Saturday, Bears beat Twickenham Tigers 101-53 at home.