Dublin Lions will bring what coach Rob White is calling their “best group ever” into the men’s basketball Under-20 National Cup final in Tallaght on Saturday afternoon (2pm).
The Clondalkin club will be wary, though, of a powerful Neptune side who blitzed by the challenge of Templeogue in the semi-final earlier this month.
The Lions, like Neptune, are missing two or three players, with their strength having seen the squad trimmed by American scholarships. Aiden Harris Igiehon, who was inundated with American college offers, is their stand out graduate, taking up a scholarship with University of Louisville.
“This is the best group we’ve ever had,” White told the Dublin Gazette of his current under-20 crop, made up of mostly under-18s players.
“Aiden was the stand out, and unfortunately he’ll probably never play for us again.
“Though actually, I don’t really think it is unfortunate, really,” he continues. “We’d love him here, of course, but if he came back, that wouldn’t be a good sign for him.
“He’s got a very good chance of making the NBA. He’s certainly going to make a lot of money as a pro basketball player, as are a couple of others, playing in either America or Europe.
“We’ll be playing without some of our best players from this age group but that’s a sign of their success.”
Neptune are in a similar scenario, a sign of the strength of Ireland’s developing status, with the Under-20 tournament a particularly odd offering, set against a backdrop of no league competition at that age level.
“There used to be an Under-20 league,” White said, “though it only had five or six teams. I don’t think there’s really a demand for it.
“Our different Lions teams train together anyway so this isn’t that unusual for them, even if they aren’t playing as quite the same team they might compete as in the Northern National League.”
The team is experienced at this level, then, though White nods to the strength of their opponents, and views his team as underdogs.
The club’s broader aim, however, is very much Irish top-tier basketball, something that is almost tantalisingly within reach, only four or five years after the club came together in its current guise.
“We’re second in the Northern tier of the National League right now,” White explains.
“We might struggle later in the season as this is an inexperienced team but the long term aim of the club is definitely Super League status.”