DURHAM WILDCATS have opted for a mixture of youth and experience as their British Basketball League debut draws closer.
Wildcats head coach Dave Elderkin this week signed swingman Mike Capocci and guardsman Ralph Bucci, with the first game of the BBL season against Newcastle Eagles three weeks away.
Capocci has graduated from Northwestern University, while fellow American Bucci is well-known to North- East basketball fans after spending six years at Tees Valley Mohawks.
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Rookie Capocci, 23, can’t wait to get started for the BBL’s latest team.
He said: “I like coach Elderkin’s system, he’s a great coach and I’m just happy to be part of the program. I know (former Wildcats player) Kevin Bulger and he recommended it to me. It’s a similar system to what I’m used to at home and I’m sure I’ll make the transition.
“I just hope we can come together as a time, learn from each other and make the right progress.”
Capocci will be taking part in the Wildcats’ scholarship programme, completing a postgraduate degree in finance and international banking, and admits that he is impressed by his new surroundings.
“I like it a lot – Durham’s a beautiful city, it’s a lot different from the USA, but I’m enjoying it so far.
“I’m trying to keep my expectations moderate and concentrate on the game the coach wants us to play and try to take it from there.
“The guys have been great so far, friendly, outgoing, they’ve helped me move in and I’m very happy. Team spirit is very important.”
While Capocci gets used to his new home, Bucci’s move to the Wildcats is something of a homecoming.
After he left the Mohawks, Bucci played professionally in Greece for seven years, returning to the UK mid-season last year to be closer to his wife, who he met in his first spell on Teesside.
For the 35-year-old, it is his first chance to play in the BBL – and it is an opportunity he is relishing.
He said: “I’m looking forward to see how I do. Whenever I’ve played in the UK it’s always been in Division One so I’m curious to see how I get on. I have a lot of friends in the BBL so it’ll be good to play against them.
“I was out of the loop with regards English basketball when I was in Greece, but I’ve taken in a few games now, I went to a few Newcastle games last year so I am getting to know the game again in the UK.
Bucci feels that his influence can be a positive influence on the young Wildcats players.
“They wanted an experienced guy to come in and hopefully I can help them.
This is my 15th season so hopefully some of that experience can rub off on them.”
With the Wildcats tipping off against local rivals Newcastle Eagles on October 1, Bucci believes that it will be a good test of how far the team, who will play at Newton Aycliffe Leisure Centre, have come.
He said: “Their goals are always to win the league, it’s good that they’re near us – it will push us to try to get where they are. It’s a good early chance to see how we stack up against a good team.
“We’ve got a young guys, we want to do as well as we can, push into the play-offs maybe.
I will try to do the best I can to help that.”
Elderkin admitted his delight at bringing in two highly- capable players, and is impressed with how pre-season has been working out.
He said: “We’ve had three key strategies we’ve been working on over the summer, one is to get the guys in BBL shape, one is to work really hard on the individual performances of the players with regards fitness and conditioning, and the third is to get us organised as a team.
“The conditioning and the organisation will have a lot to do with how well we play this year, mentally preparing for this challenge – it’s something they should relish.
“Mike’s a good player. He’s tough, got good knowledge, he’s smart.
“Ralph’s a massive signing for us. He’s a creative player, and the English players respect him so much that they’ll improve their performance. I thought it was my birthday when I got the call that Ralph may sign for us. We’re really pleased he’s decided to sign for the Wildcats.”
However, the issue of player recruitment has not been simple.
Unable to see many of their potential new players in the flesh – Elderkin will be recruiting more players from the American college system – the Wildcats have had to rely on references and video footage of their targets.
Elderkin admitted: “It’s been a tough challenge. A lot of people were saying that the scholarship route would not bring players of BBL standard – looking at Mike, I’ve no doubt he is of BBL standard.
“We’ve got a young squad.
But I’m like Alex Ferguson – I like to make my own stars.”