WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club are leaving the BBL after three seasons in the top flight of British basketball to return to the English Basketball League for next season.
Thunder have applied to return to EBL Division 1 after a difficult 12 months for the club off the court when they were unable to attract sufficient income to sustain their place in the BBL.
Thunder chairman Frank Gainsbury believes this is the sensible way for the club to go and said: “This has been an extremely difficult decision, but given the circumstances we are confident that this move will be in the best long-term interests of the organisation
“It’s the sensible way to go. There’s no sense in chasing the dream if it’s unsustainable.
“Some clubs have gone bust and re-formed the following day but that’s not the way we wanted to go. We started planning for the BBL a year before we came in but, four years on, no doubt it’s become very difficult.
“We gave it a go but couldn’t quite make it work, but I don’t apologise for having a go.
“We had a funding deal in place, which was worth £45,000 over two years, but that was withdrawn after the new government was elected and that made things very difficult for us.”
Gainsbury added: “We are extremely grateful for the level of support and encouragement we have had from the BBL during our time in the league and particularly during our difficulties this season. We leave the BBL on good terms, with a solid reputation as a well-organised and friendly club, and our aim is to one day be in a position to rejoin the BBL again.
“I would also like to go on record to thank everybody connected to the club during the last few seasons for their fantastic help and support.”
Thunder joined the BBL for the 2008-09 season, following a sustained successful spell in EBL Division 1. They enjoyed their most successful season in 2009-10 when they reached the end-of-season play-offs and recorded regular season wins over both Newcastle Eagles and Sheffield Sharks.
Thunder coach Gary Smith and club captain James Brame agreed the return to the EBL was best for the club, with Smith saying: “You have to think about it, the pluses and minuses and weigh it up.
“The plus side is we still have a club playing at a decent level. EBL Division 1 is a decent level and we’re lucky enough to be in there, rather than starting from scratch in Division 4.
“The minus is we’re not in the BBL any more but, financially, it wasn’t an option.
“We were struggling and had no sponsors. If you don’t have any sponsors in the BBL, there’s no way that you’re going to finish in the top eight and reach the play-offs.
“I think it’s a good thing we’re returning to the EBL. You have to look at the bigger picture. It’s not about us as a basketball team, it’s about the whole town and we want to keep competitive basketball in Worthing.
“The EBL is more competitive now than when we were in it before. It’s pretty wide open but we’ll look to go and win as many games as we can.
“It’s going to be a rebuilding year next season and some of our junior players will get a chance to show what they can do.”
Brame is hoping to still be involved with the club next season and said: “It’s the right decision to make as a club to go back to the EBL.
“We’ll miss playing at the top level and the last few games in the BBL were great.
“The fans came to support us in their numbers and the atmosphere was great, but we’ll look forward to being competitive again next season.
“It’s been three years since we last played in the EBL, so we’ll be going in a bit blind, but it will be a good challenge and we’ll hope to be successful.”
On his favourite BBL moments, Brame said: “To be playing against the the top talent in England and in the top venues and the professionalism of it all. But number one has to be winning against MK Lions on Sky television and looking good on the TV.”
Thunder are selling sponsorship packages between £150 and £250 for next season to local businesses. Anyone interested can contact Paul Shackman on 07860 888318.