COACH Daniel Hildreth believes a bright future lies ahead for Worthing Thunder Basketball Club after their fairytale season ended in heartbreak in the EBL Division 1 play-off final on Sunday.
Thunder were comfortably beaten 88-57 by league champions Reading Rockets in the final at the Amaechi Centre in Manchester after they had progressed past Team Northumbria 54-53 in controversial fashion in the semi-final on Saturday.
Worthing won their last 10 league games of the season to reach the play-offs and then won at Bristol Academy Flyers, who finished second, to reach the Final Fours.
Saturday’s win over Northumbria made it 12 successive wins and set up a final with Reading Rockets, who beat Essex Leopards 75-70 after over-time in their semi-final.
Confidence was high in the Thunder camp heading into the final but, despite defeat in the final, Thunder took only positives from what has been a remarkable second half of their season.
Hildreth could not hide his pride for his team after the game and said: “I’m so proud of the guys. They’ve worked so hard all year in practice and they’ve never taken their foot off the pedal and to win 12 games in a row was fantastic.”
Hildreth, his players, the club and the supporters will look back on the season fondly as no one could have predicted they would be in a final when they sat bottom of the league table at Christmas without a win.
Hildreth said: “At the start of the season, it was always going to be a development for the club. There was even talk of relegation being an option before we’d even started because of the way we’d decided to run the programme this year.
“At Christmas, that was still a possibility but the development during the first half of the season gave these guys an opportunity to believe in themselves that they can play at this level and a confidence that I hope they take into next season.
“If we are then in a position to have some veteran players alongside that, I believe that there’s every possibility that we can be here again next year.
“This club and these guys have a bright future. As demoralising as something like this is, we have to be very proud and I’m telling the guys to hold their heads up high because they do deserve to be here but, unfortunately, on the day, we didn’t perform.”
Hildreth also thanked Kadiri Richard for coming back to the club and playing a massive part in their success in the second half of the season. He said: “I can’t thank Kadiri enough for coming over here and helping us out and for bringing the club alive again.
“I genuinely mean that, he really has and as a favour to me and I’m humbled by that.”