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Basketball: Nigel sights on return to glory days.

Byline: By MAT KENDRICK

BIRMINGHAM Panthers have set themselves a five-year plan to restore the city's professional basketball scene to its former glories.

The newly-formed Panthers will play their first home game at a venue still to be decided next Saturday evening.

They will host Leicester Riders in the British Basketball League (BBL) after taking over Brum's basketball franchise.

And it will be something of a revenge mission after Panthers lost their first BBL 101-79 at Riders last weekend.

But head coach Nigel Lloyd admits it could be half a decade before they emulate Birmingham Bullets' glory days.

Lloyd was captain and assistant coach during the successful Harry Wrublewski era when Bullets won the BBL Championship play-offs in 1996 and 1998.

And he hopes that the return of himself as coach and Birmingham basketball legend Clive Allen as operations manager will give Panthers the necessary experience to go forward.

Lloyd left the Bullets to take up a coaching post in Milton Keynes in 2000 long before the rot that finally destroyed the club last year set in.

But, having played an important part in putting Birmingham on the basketball map in the first place, he is ready for the challenge again.

"I think within five years we'd want to have the team and everything in place so that we're one of the top teams in the league again," said Lloyd.

"It won't happen instantly but we will be playing to win and putting on an exciting product right away.

"In five years we'd want to be competing for the Championship every year. I wouldn't put it past us to have European ambitions after that but we've got to win locally first."

Lloyd remembers when he and Allen were part of the Bullets team pulling in more than 8,000 fans at the NIA.

But a potential hitch over their 500- capacity new home, Nechells Sports and Community Centre, means there is still uncertainty over where they will be based this season.

Desire

Lloyd is confident that, although the budget is tight, it is only a matter of time before the behind-the-scenes teething troubles are ironed out.

And he believes chief executive Herman Wilson, assistant coach Paul Douglas and he and Allen have the desire and know-how to inspire Panthers.

"It's still early days for the Panthers and we're trying to attract the right sponsorship to help us with the money side of things," he added.

"But a lot of the top players I know would love to play for Birmingham because of the vibe about the place.

"If we can build back up gradually we will be able to attract top players and that will get us to the level we all want to be."

Panthers hope Americans LaTaryl Williams and Craig Walls will be on board by the time they face Riders next Saturday.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 30, 2007
Words:479
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