THE basketball season is back and the Bradford Dragons got off to a winning start, beating Team Newcastle University 87-80 in their first group game of this season’s KitKing Trophy.

There are many familiar faces in the Dragons’ Den this season, most notably Rihard Šulcs, who is now incredibly into his 15th season with the club.

He is joined by Ricky Fetske, Jordan Whelan, Justin Williams, Jabari Edwards, Micah Savery-Richards, Jacques Misambu and Camron Simpson from last season’s roster.

Returning from long-term injuries, Andreas Lycoudis and Albert Margai are back on the roster list, with both hoping to be available for selection by the end of October.

Former junior Dragon Zion Tordoff, who has spent the past five years advancing his game in the USA, returns home to add some grit at both ends of the court.

Meanwhile, Great Britain Under 18s and U20s international, Joe Buchanan, whom Dragons’ fans may remember as Manchester Magic’s top scorer against them last season, makes the move across the Pennines.

In preparation for Saturday’s first competitive fixture, Bradford played a pre-season friendly in front of a packed Dragons’ Den, which is at Calderdale College’s Inspire Centre.

They were up against professional British Basketball League side, Manchester Giants and did themselves proud before losing 95-84.

Moving on to the KitKing Trophy, and Bradford are in a group with Team Newcastle University, Derby Trailblazers and Manchester Magic.

With each team playing each other once during this initial group stage, the top two teams will progress to the quarter finals of the competition.

Bradford set their stall out against Team Newcastle on Saturday from the tip-off, with Šulcs first to the loose ball and rocketing down the offensive end to sink the first two points of the game.

Williams then doubled the lead, which was quickly followed by a dunk by Tordoff to give the home side an early six-point lead.

But an unanswered 11-point run by the visitors put Newcastle in the ascendency as they took an 11-6 lead.

The lead swung from side to side throughout the remainder of the opening quarter, but a three-pointer from Williams in the final seconds saw the Dragons into the first scheduled break with a 23-19 advantage.

From the restart, Whelan sank a three to increase the Dragons advantage to seven, but again, Newcastle fought back, taking the next 10 points to put themselves back ahead.

With four minutes of the second quarter gone, Williams levelled the scores at 34-34 but Newcastle pulled away again and with less than two minutes to play in the half, they led 47-41.

Successful sets of free throws from both Šulcs and Tordoff reduced the deficit to just two points going into the half-time interval.

After the break, an early foul on Tordoff sent him to the line to shoot two. Having missed the first shot he converted the second to leave the Dragons just one behind.

Tordoff then brought the crowd to their feet with a trey, to finally restore Bradford’s advantage.

He then followed that with another dunk to put his side further ahead, and after another trey from Williams the Dragons were firmly back in control at 54-47 in front.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Justin Williams picked up where he left off last season, and was in scintillating form once again.Justin Williams picked up where he left off last season, and was in scintillating form once again. (Image: Alex Daniel.)

With just three minutes of the period gone, the scores were once again tied though, this time at 56-56.

The home team kept edging ahead, only for their visitors to pull back level, however they did just enough to see the penultimate period out with a three-point lead at 67-64.

Into the final quarter, Newcastle quickly reduced the Dragons’ advantage to one but then Tordoff restored the gap and added an extra from the line to make it 70-66.

Savery-Richards further extended the lead to six points, only to eliminated from the game, for a fifth foul, shortly afterwards. 

Following the pattern of the game, Newcastle came back to level the game at 72 apiece, but another Williams two-pointer restored the home side's lead.

With less than two minutes remaining on the clock, the Dragons’ lead was up to seven points at 79-72.

Newcastle continued to work hard, but in the end they could not stop the Dragons from taking an 87-80 win.

Player of the Game, Justin Williams, top scored for Bradford with 27 points, followed by Zion Tordoff, who picked up a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Also in double figures was Jordan Whelan on 17 points, while Rihards Šulcs recorded a double-double too with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Newcastle played their second game of the tournament on Sunday, beating Manchester Magic by five points (85-80) at Newcastle University on Sunday afternoon.

This was also Manchester’s second game of the tournament, having also been beaten 81-57, at Derby Trailblazers on Saturday.

The Dragons now travel to the Manchester Basketball Centre this Saturday evening for a 7pm tip-off against Manchester Magic, while Newcastle host Derby Trailblazers the same day.

The final game of the group stage then occurs the following day, at the Clarance Wiggins Sports Centre when the Trailblazers host Bradford in a 5:30pm tip-off.