By Jamie Thomas
Thinking of some of the highlights that will have taken place in the Plymouth Pavilions last season, Denzel Ubiaro’s exploits are sure to come to mind.
His oft-unbelievable athleticism was a highlight at venues across the BBL last season, and for this new chapter of Plymouth basketball with the formation of the Plymouth City Patriots, fans in the city can be assured they’ll see plenty of highlights with the young Brit on board.
We caught up with Denzel recently to discuss his breakout season in 2020/21, his hopes for this brand-new franchise and more.
“Last season was an amazing experience all-round, in terms of the guys who came in and their calibre, how competitive we were as a team, and my own personal growth improving every day by competing against such great guys in practice – it was an incredible year.
“I did feel like it was a breakout season for me in some ways, to showcase what I can do and my potential as a player, but I definitely feel like there is a lot more growth to come. I’ve just finished my studies at university, so my focus can turn solely to hooping now and I can promise you there’s a lot more to come this year.
“My shooting has definitely improved over the summer, and once I get to that point where I can’t be stepped away from on defence, I’m going to be able to open up many more avenues for myself to contribute whether that’s points or assists or anything like that, so I’m very excited.”
“Plymouth absolutely deserves a major basketball team to support.”
Quite how the Plymouth fans will react to Ubiaro’s performances if they’re going to be even better than last season’s efforts is unclear, but what is certain is that there will be a vociferous fanbase in attendance at Patriots games, such is the love the city has proven it has for the game.
Being the first signing for a new franchise is quite the honour, as well, and a fitting one for Ubiaro who was one of the brightest sparks of last season, as he detailed his reasoning for signing.
“There’s been a theme in my life where I’m the first player to join a new situation, which is crazy to think about. When I was younger I was the first player in my old basketball academy, and the same in BUCS, and now with the Patriots, and I’m just so excited for everything that is to come here.
“I can’t imagine moving away from Plymouth and from all these amazing fans who just live for basketball and give so much for the game here, so for me it was a no-brainer to take this opportunity and help give this city something to shout about.
“Plymouth absolutely deserves a major basketball team to support. Whether we were a BBL team as we are now or a National League team, these fans would give everything for their team, so they deserve it and I’m proud to be a part of that and hopefully we can give them something to shout about this season.”
“It is important we keep that culture and level of support for each other.”
Whilst the stands will be full again with supporters this season, last term Ubiaro was part of a roster that was fantastically supportive of each other, as could be seen in footage of many of the young guard’s highlights where the bench went crazy for their explosive star’s talents.
The 24-year-old confesses he doesn’t know how he’s going to respond to having fans back, but also that he feels it is vital the support within the team for each other continues to be as strong as ever.
“I don’t know how I’m going to act to be honest, I can’t imagine how it is going to be with fans after over a year without them. It’ll be crazy to have the Pavilions filled again and hopefully we can put on a show for them.
“Our bench energy was so important last year too, though, and although we do have the fans back now it is important that we keep that culture and that level of support for each other within the team.
“The 12 of us on the roster are the stronghold and the foundation for everything, so if we show how much we want to compete, how passionate we are for each other’s success, that is only going to feed the fans and everybody involved in the organisation, and I think it’ll make a huge difference.”
“To be successful in our first year would be huge.”
At the time of our conversation with Ubiaro, Coach Paul James had already been confirmed to lead the Patriots in their inaugural season, and Kingsley Okoroh recruited thus far, who will have a chance to show what he can do as he approaches his prime years.
The 24-year-old dynamo has high expectations for the Patriots’ debut season, as he speaks about the need for the right culture to enable success.
“Coach’s experience is going to be priceless for us in this new adventure and will be much-needed. We’re still bringing our roster together, without having had any team meetings or anything like that at this stage I can say quite confidently that the playoffs are our aim, as a minimum.
“On a personal level, my aims for us will be higher than that for sure. I’ve been to the playoffs before, I’ve reached different stages of different competitions, but as I keep developing I want to go further so if we can get to any finals, then I’d love for us to do that, and we’ll certainly have the right culture in place to be successful.
“For us to be successful in our first year would be so huge, and set us up for a bright future. As a new organisation, maybe expectations from outside won’t be that high of us, but we’ll have our goals and expectations as a group and if we achieve them then it’ll set us up nicely for an exciting future for Plymouth basketball.”