Cheshire Phoenix general manager James Brice has hailed the impact of Orlan Jackman and believes his influence will be key heading into a vital fortnight in the club's season, writes Matilda Buss.
Captain Jackman, who joined from BBL Championship leaders Newcastle Eagles during the summer, has been impressive in what Brice regards as Cheshire's best start to a campaign in years.
Phoenix face a Championship double-header against Leeds Force before their two-legged BBL Cup semi-final with London Lions.
And Brice said: "Orlan is bringing a winning mentality, which is really good for everyone in the team.
"He is the captain, he's a leader. He is the most experienced guy in the team, and he comes from Newcastle, the best club in the country.
"It's not just his influence during games. He does a lot with the team away from the court, too. It's good for team spirit. He's been a great addition and hopefully there is more to come."
The form of top scorers Malcolm Riley and CJ Gettys also earned the praise of Brice.
He said: "CJ is really young, he has come from college playing in front of 20,000 people, he has had a really, really good start, I’m really happy with him. He's 7ft tall, and is probably one of the best centres in the league so we hope he can continue.
"Malcolm is proven in this league he played for Sheffield, so we knew what we were getting."
The Nix are currently seventh with games in hand on the teams around them.
Brice admits they have one eye on the Cup semi-final against London but he is confident they can head into the huge clashes in buoyant mood by beating Leeds, who visit the Cheshire Oaks Arena at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village this Sunday (November 26, 5.30pm).
"We've worked hard through the summer to recruit differently and we've had some really good results so far," he said.
"We've qualified for the semi-finals and our league form is okay. It's our best start in quite a few years now but there are some games we think we should've won that we've lost.
"The Leeds game is a potential banana skin because they are near the bottom of the league but we've beaten them already and we've got to make sure we aren't complacent.
"They've got a new coach and signed some new players, so it'll be tough, but we want to make sure we perform and have good momentum heading into the cup games.”
Cheshire were BBL Cup finalists in 2010 and Brice would love to emulate that this year.
He remains cautious about making any bold claims but accepts that winning the Cup for the first time in the club's history would go some way toward boosting their future targets.
Brice added: "Our long-term goal is to be winning trophies, but it doesn't happen overnight. It's a mix of keeping a core group of players together – that's really important – and having success with them for three, four, five years in a row so we have to build and try retain as many players as we can from this year going into next year."