Solent Stars 1981/82 Season

Back row: Harry Smith, Marvin Johnson, Mark Saiers, Peter Mullings, Nic Burns, Kenny Pemberton, John Day, Mick Byrne
Front row: Tom Wisman, Steve Mathias, Paul Philp, Ken Walton, Karl Tatham, Jimmie Guymon, Pete Lovett, Steve Fitzsimons

Solent Stars were promoted to Division One after winning Division Two the previous season. Coach Tom Wisman set about consolidating the squad for the forthcoming season. Most of the team were back for the 81/82 campaign. Only TJ Robinson, who had been brought in when Mark Saiers had broken his finger, was not in the line-up. New players were added to the squad. Ken Pemberton, a long serving NBL player, latterly with Kingston, was acquired. Solent gained an advantage when Ken Pemberton was given a British passport after residing in the country for many years. Peter Mullings (6' 9") also joined the club. Pete had been born in Birmingham, but was brought up in Toronto, Canada, where he learned his basketball. He had played for Great Britain in the 1981 World Student Games in Bucharest. Marvin Johnson was brought in to replace the injured Jimmie Guymon (hip). He was a 6' 5" Texan and had impressive shooting statistics and had been a second round draft choice of the Chicago Bulls.

The season started on a high when Solent Stars won their first major trophy after travelling to Edinburgh to beat a strong British and Irish team line-up to take the British and Irish Federation Cup. This gave an automatic entry into the Philips World Championships over the New Year period.
Solent opened cautiously against Scottish runners-up Boroughmuir Barrs and although winning 86 - 59, it was less easy than the score suggested. Next they beat Birchwood (Warrington) - a newly formed club from the English First Division - by 91 - 68 and played more to their potential in containing Player of the Tournament, Brenton Wade. In the semi-final, Solent were a class above Irish champions, Cork Blue Demons, and won easily 101 - 72.

The final was against host club and former Scottish champions, Murray Metals. Ken Walton played as if his life depended on the result and had scored eight points before anyone else had realised that the game had started. Mark Saiers was rock-like in defence and scored 18 points. Pete Mullings added 13 points, Karl Tatham supplied a string of assists and Paul Philp entered the game just at the right time to add 13 points to the team total. Marvin Johnson, who had experienced trouble with the referees, still managed a total of 15 points in his limited court time. Murray, with their totally international line-up, closed the gap to two points just after halftime but Solent always looked in control and won 79 - 72.

Paul Philp (6) and Ken Walton (7)

Coach Tom Wisman was appointed to the England team coach position in the week following the tournament win. A friendly match with Swiss champions, Pully, at Fleming Park resulted in a 97 - 85 win with Marvin Johnson scoring 31 points. The league season began with two matches at home against Team Talbot (Guildford) and Brighton. Neither team was able to live with the new look Solent Stars and convincing victories were scored in both games (111 - 84, 121 - 81). Marvin Johnson scored 27 points in the Guildford game.

The first round of the ASDA Cup provided Solent with an even bigger score, when they travelled to Brunel Ducks to win 128 - 68. The next away trip was a much longer one for the Solent club, as they tasted away European action for the first time in the Korac Cup. With limited player availability, Solent travelled to Holland to play Donar, Gronigen, and lost 77 -107, but learned some valuable lessons about playing in Europe.

Two more away trips followed for league matches against Manchester (109 - 91) and Liverpool (115 - 55). These two convincing wins put Solent in good heart for the return leg of the Korac Cup against Donar. In front of a packed house at Fleming Park, Solent gained revenge (105 - 92) for their earlier defeat but could not make up the deficit of 30 points from the previous game.

Mark Saiers

Birchwood then visited Solent to play a league game that Solent won comfortably (109 - 81). This match was followed by the first of the clashes of the giants that was to captivate the basketball scene for a number of years. Solent travelled to Crystal Palace on Wednesday October 21st to play them for the first time in a competitive league fixture. Both teams were unbeaten at this stage of the season. A fitting match ensued but it was Solent's unbeaten record that fell. They lost 86 - 98 in front of a then record-breaking crowd of 2,100 people. Palace's squad at the time included Alton Byrd, Bob Roma, Paul Stimpson, Dan Lloyd, Pete Jeremich and Mick Bett.

There was no time for Solent to lick their wounds, as on the following weekend they had to entertain Birchwood for the second successive Saturday, this time in the second round of the ASDA Cup. Solent got back to winning ways with a 114 - 94 victory that saw Mark Saiers notch 27 points and newly back in action Jimmie Guymon 24 points.

A road trip over the following weekend saw Solent achieve a win over highflying Sunderland (111 - 88), with Marvin Johnson scoring 30 points in the first half. This was followed by a difficult trip to Doncaster, in a game where coach Wisman used only six of his squad, which also resulted in a win for Solent (91 - 88). In both cases these were first defeats for the Solent opponents.

Returning to Fleming Park on the following Friday evening, Solent took on Crystal Palace in the quarter-final of the Asda Cup. Tension rose in the Solent camp and Mark Saiers was fined at the end of one training session after he bent the basketball ring following a clash of opinion with coach Tom Wisman about the intensity of the training regimen prior to an important game.

The BBC was present at the game to televise it for transmission on the following day's Grandstand programme. With Crystal Palace still unbeaten, the stage was set for a memorable evening.

The home supporters and those watchinc o6 *En~vbi-n were not to be disappointed when in a close and exciting game, Solent came through to win 99 - 93. Solent had got off to a flying start and led by 20 points at halftime. In a closer second half, Crystal Palace fought back but, in the end, could not avoid their first defeat of the season.

Back row: Steve Mathias, Paul Philp, Ken Walton, Marvin Johnson, Mark Saiers, Peter Mullings, Nic Burns, Ken Pemberton, John Day, Karl Tatham, Jimmie Guymon, Pete Lovett

Front row: Tom Wisman, Steve Fitzsimons

Only 24 hours later Solent were back on the Fleming Park Court to record a 122 - 101 victory over Hemel Hempstead. Marvin Johnson notched 40 points in the game. It was announced during the evening that 6' 9" Pete Mullings was to be transferred to Brighton - until the end of January! Mullings was the second 'British' player at the club with Ken Pemberton being the other. Under the rules at the time only one of them could be used in any one game. With Pemberton claiming the top spot, coach Wisman saw an opportunity to keep Mullings in a competitive mode by helping out Brighton - just as long as he could get him back for the run-in at the end of the season!

Solent, still flying high after their win over Crystal Palace, then went on the road to inflict a (then) record-breaking score on luckless Kingston. Marvin Johnson with 36 and Ken Pemberton with 35 were Solent's leading scorers in their 148 - 97 win - the then second highest Division One score ever.

A trip to Dublin followed to take part in the Roy Curtis Basketball Tournament over the last weekend in November 1981. An Irish team, Marian, were comfortably disposed of by 75 - 64 before Murray International were played in a Pool game. Paul Philp scored right on the buzzer to take this game into overtime and Solent pulled through to win 85 - 78. The final of the tournament saw Solent once more pitted against Murray. This time with Marvin Johnson out because of an injury sustained in the opening game of the tournament it was left to guest star, Larry Dassie, to produce the winning basket in the final seconds. Unfortunately his spectacular attempt to slam dunk the ball failed and Solent lost 74 - 75.

There were still two league games to be played before Christmas plus the semi-final of the ASDA Cup. With Johnson still nursing an injury, coach Wisman only used him for a short period in the second half in a home game against Liverpool, which Solent won 114 - 87. The semi-final of the ASDA Cup went to form when Solent easily overcame surprise second division opponents, Leicester. Mark Saiers top-scored with 22 points in Solent's 102 - 76 win. The final league game of the year was a disappointing one. Only Karl Tatham seemed to play to form by scoring 29 points in a 129 - 101 win. John Day was suspended by coach Wisman for these last two games for missing training. It proved to be the end of the road for John Day who did not play for Solent again.

The next big event for Solent Stars was the Boroughmuir Basketball tournament held on the weekend before Christmas. Solent had a scare when Ken Pemberton was the driver of a car that overturned, with Nic Burns as passenger. Fortunately, neither was hurt in the accident.

In Scotland, coach Tom Wisman used the opportunity to give more court time to the squad players who needed to build up court experience. The host club Boroughmuir were easily beaten (104 - 61) in the first game. Wisman used his full squad to beat Sunderland (110 - 95) but reverted to bench players for the final game against Murray. This proved an ill-tempered affair with Solent losing (77 - 95). Once again Larry Dassie guested and he was joined by Roy Lewis who filled in for Paul Philp.

Solent then moved south for the Philips International tournament at Crystal Palace National Recreation Centre - the best showcase for basketball in the UK. Solent overcame Norkopping (Sweden) 110 - 88 in the first game wherein newcomer Dave Wilson - replacing John Day - was given an extended run on court. Subsequent victories over Billy (98 - 94) and Anderlecht (108 - 95) meant that Solent progressed to the final of this prestigious tournament to play Maccabi, Tel Aviv.

Ken Pemberton

Briefly it looked as if Solent could win the tournament by default, when Maccabi disputed a disciplinary action by the tournament committee on one of their players. However, Maccabi dropped their threat and in front of the live BBC Grandstand cameras Solent played a close encounter with Maccabi, leading several times, before the inability to stop the accurate shooters of Maccabi cost Solent the game (94 - 109).

The first league game in January proved much of a let-down after the heady atmosphere of the Philips Tournament. Bad weather prevented rookies Pete Lovett and Steve Mathias from reaching Guildford for the game against Team Talbot. The changing rooms and court were cold. The Solent players used the hair dryers in the changing room to warm up prior to entering the playing area. Tom Wisman left the coaching duties to his assistant, Steve Fitzsimons, because he was close to an automatic suspension for the number of technical fouls received. Karl Tatham made several important steals to tip the game in Solent's favour against the basement team (93 - 88).

Team Fiat were Solent's next away opponents. A close game ensued with Solent winning by a narrow four-point margin (106 - 102). This was not an ideal warm-up for the next game which was the home league game against Crystal Palace. Solent's only league defeat had been at Crystal Palace (86 - 98) so it would need at least a 13-point win to overcome the deficit. A full house was present to see Crystal Palace score the first 10 points of the game and demonstrate that they were not about to surrender easily. Solent, with good performances from Ken Pemberton and Paul Philp, fought back to lead by seven points at halftime. Although Marvin Johnson weighed in with 31 points in the game, it was the four points from the free throw line in the last minute of the game by Alton Byrd of Crystal Palace that were so valuable. Solent won 100-93 and needed to hope that Crystal Palace would slip up in the remaining part of the season.

Next, in this roller coaster of a season, was the ASDA Cup Final at the Granby Halls, Leicester, where Doncaster were the opponents. Doncaster had been racked by illness to several of their players prior to the Final but were able to lead 31 - 32 at the mid-point of the first half. However, Solent then took over and with Johnson's (30) and Pemberton's (24) points, won their first major national trophy (127 - 91). Karl Tatham gained the Most Valuable Player award.

Page from the Asda Cup Final programme

On the following weekend, Solent beat Birchwood away 115 - 98 (Saiers 28) before playing Hemel Hempstead on the following day in the Anglia TV Masters Invitation tournament. Once again, coach Tom Wisman used the opportunity to rest some of the senior squad and give extended court time to the younger players. Nic Burns played almost throughout the game with Steve Mathias and Pete Lovett also getting court time. Solent lost by one point (74 - 75), but were still protesting the two points that had mysteriously been deducted over the halftime interval!

Solent then repeated their cup win over Doncaster in a league fixture at Fleming Park (117 - 101). It was announced at this game that Pete Mullings would be remaining at Brighton for the rest of the season.
Another announcement was made prior to the next game - that Sperring's would be sponsoring the club until the end of the season (the maximum time allowed by the League, who had arranged major league sponsorship for next season that excluded private sponsorships of clubs). In celebration, Solent Stars overcame tough opponents Team Fiat, Birmingham (97 - 89) with Ken Walton scoring at vital times and Marvin Johnson another 31 points.

A promotional match for the Watford Royals club followed and Solent won 93 - 92 after overtime, having taken a scratch side to fulfil the fixture. The game was noteworthy for the 'disqualification' of coach Tom Wisman by referee Peter Knowles, 30 seconds from the end of the game. After Wisman refused to leave the court, threatening to take his team with him if he had to, the officials relented and the game continued.
Team Fiat were unable to turn the tables after their previous defeat at home to Solent when they visited Fleming Park. Solent continued their winning run with a 97 - 89 victory. Solent's league title hopes took a severe blow when they lost a close encounter at Hemel Hempstead. The mid-table Hemel team pulled out all the stops in this thrilling encounter in front of a frenzied capacity crowd. Despite a late rally, Solent went down by just one point (103 - 104).

For the next game, home to Kingston, Solent were without coach Tom Wisman, who had eventually reached the disciplinary total of technical fouls that led to a one-match suspension. This rule had been introduced in mid-season and was retrospective. The game was notable for two dunks by Ken Pemberton, the second one of which was a reverse two-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet as they witnessed the 128 - 97 win for Solent.

Solent's next home game was in front of a sell-out crowd of 1,200 people who had come to see if Solent could keep up their pressure on Crystal Palace for the league title. Their opponents, Sunderland, in third place could not afford to slip up themselves if they wanted to reach the Championship Play-offs. Things did not go Solent's way and with 10 minutes remaining they were trailing by 15 points. A fine rally, that had the crowd out of their seats, ended with Marvin Johnson scoring the last basket in normal time to tie the game at 90 all. Few who were there will forget the tension of the overtime period as the game swung back and forward. However it was Sunderland who claimed the honours with a 101 - 103 win that inflicted on Solent their first home defeat of the season.

Only 16 hours later, Solent were once again on court. This time it was at the Brighton Centre in front of a new record attendance for a National Basketball League match of 3,250. With the let down of the result from the evening before Solent gave a lacklustre performance but ran out 130 - 86 winners in what was generally described as a boring match!

Mark Saiers was voted the Player of the Season for the National League Division One Men's League. Another award went to Tom Wisman as Coach of the Year. However, Solent's season was about to fall apart as they made their way to Wembley as league runners-up, but still favourites to take the title.
In the weekend before the Championships, Solent travelled to the National Sports Centre of Wales in Cardiff for a match against Birchwood which Solent won 102 - 80.

Mark Saiers went down with 'flu in the week prior to the final, but Solent managed to keep the information from their opponents, Sunderland. The psychological advantage was with the Wearsiders who had so recently beaten Solent at Fleming Park. So it was to be again at Wembley, with Solent unable to raise their game on the first evening and eventually losing to Sunderland (93 - 99). Worse was to follow on the next day in the third and fourth place play-off when Doncaster scored 13 points without reply in the last two minutes and Solent lost again (99 - 105). Although not known at the time, this was to be Tom Wisman's last game in charge of Solent Stars before accepting a new position in the Far East.

Karl Tatham, Paul Philp and Nic Bums were selected for the forthcoming European Championship games by England coach Tom Wisman.

(Division 1)
Played Won Lost For Against Difference Points
1 Crystal Palace 22 20 2 2111 1776 +335 40
2 Solent Stars 22 19 3 2466 2014 +452 38
3 Sunderland 22 16 6 2107 1961 +146 32
4 Doncaster 22 16 6 2140 1941 +199 32
5 Birmingham 22 15 7 2024 1901 +123 30
6 Hemel Hempstead 22 12 10 2176 2104 +72 24
7 Kingston 22 7 15 2120 2374 -254 14
8 Birchwood 22 6 16 1824 1926 -102 12
9 Liverpool 22 6 16 2072 2251 -179 12
10 Guildford 22 6 16 1811 2005 -194 12
11 Manchester 22 5 17 2164 2372 -208 10
12 Brighton 22 4 18 2084 2438 -354 8

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