By: Cole Shelton
Photo Credit: Matt Hiscox Photography
The three-peat is a real possibility for the London Lightning. The NBLC is entering year number eight, and the Lightning has won four championships. They are always one of the best teams in the NBLC and entering the 2018-19 season that is no different.
Head coach Keith Vassell who is back for his second stint, lead the Lightning to a championship in his first season with the club and Vassell has proven to be a successful coach in the NBLC, just like the Lightning organization. Players come and go in the league every year, but London has done a good job of having success year in and year out. How they do it, well it is quite simple.
"Well, obviously this is only my second year but from what I can see, London does a really good job of keeping the main core of players. A lot of players enjoy being here and want to at least return. Having the core of players who know what to expect with the league and playing here, it is a high level of expectations," said Vassell in a recent phone interview. "Every year the expectation is to win, and we are doing everything in our power to win. I think it is really been one of the most important things that players are able to come back and are familiar with the London Lightning."
Having players come back is crucial to any team both on and off the court. On court chemistry and having a familiarity with the organization are a couple of key reasons to why it's important to bring back players. Fans develop an affinity for certain players and want them back as well. Every coach and general manager in the NBLC works hard to bring in an many returning players as possible. Players who know and understand the intricacies of the league and how it operates is key. Take travel for example, teams at times will play three games in four nights which includes travel. Having players who understand it, is a huge bonus.
"Experience in this league I think it goes a long way. Last year would have been more difficult for me if I didn't have experience coaching for Niagara," added Vassell. "It goes the same way for players if you have players who are familiar with what the stadiums are like, what travel and what living is like, it is a lot easier to focus on the game itself. One of the things you get with NBLC experienced players is you get the been there, done that, so let's just keep it going and a lot less distractions."
Not only does London have a ton of success on the court, but they also have success off the court. The Lightning have a great fan base and a big reason why is that the team is a part of community and always willing to help out. If you walk the streets of London, seeing a person wearing a Lightning shirt, hat or sweater isn't uncommon. That is a big reason why Vassell loves coaching in London.
"It's fantastic. We have a really good infrastructure for the players in terms of support, and everything like that. It is a really good organization," he said. "The owner does a good job of providing what is needed to make the team do well. The fans are fantastic. You see people on the street every day, and people always want to talk to you. It has been a really fun experience for me."
The season is set to take place this month, and for the Lightning, they are looking to three-peat. Training camp is underway, and Vassell believes this team is just as good as any team he has coached and knows it has what it takes to win the championship.
"I think that we have been able to acquire some really good players who have experience and have a lot of talent. I think we are definitely in a position we feel good about to defend our championship," added Vassell.
Ultimately, right now the focus is on training camp and making the final roster. For Vassell, training camp is about finding the players that can play in his system. Along with that, the hope is that they will start to build chemistry and start the season off right.
"Well, training camp we are looking for the best players and the best combination of players. Team chemistry is really important and we want to make sure we can find guys that play well together," the head coach said. "Obviously as we are playing, our system is a specific way I'd like for them to play. Not everybody can play that way so I try to recruit players that are capable of it. In training camp assess them how well they can do. Also, start to implement the plays and the different things we want to get done."
Vassell and the Lightning are confident and rightfully so. The team has won back-to-back championships and there is no reason why they won't be playoff bound again.
For London the goal is simple.
"Obviously the goal is to defend our championship. We want to go out every night and compete, and put ourselves in a position to win. When it is all said and done to be able to lift the trophies."