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Drew Sullivan: There was no way I’d have turned down London Lions twice

Drew Sullivan (centre) is unveiled as a London Lions player at a press conference with CEO and head coach Vince Macaulay (left) and GLL managing director Peter Bundey (right). Pic by LaurentCompagnon Drew Sullivan (centre) is unveiled as a London Lions player at a press conference with CEO and head coach Vince Macaulay (left) and GLL managing director Peter Bundey (right). Pic by LaurentCompagnon

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
2:00 PM

London Lions’ new star signing Drew Sullivan feared he’d passed up a dream ticket to play for his hometown club a year ago so admits he could not refuse a second offer.

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The 34-year-old Great Britain captain was unveiled as a Lion at a press conference in the Olympic Park last week where CEO and head coach Vince Macaulay said he’d landed his number one target.

Sullivan, who as a teenager played basketball for the now defunct London Towers, penned a two-year contract to switch from Leicester Riders and insists he wants to see out his career with the Copper Box club.

The 2006 and 2013 British Basketball League MVP, who has won every major honour of the domestic game, including last year’s BBL Cup, said: “It feels like this has been a long time coming.

“I’ve always said I want to play professionally back home in London and Vince and [Lions partners] GLL have given me the opportunity to be back.”

Sullivan has played US college and EuroLeague basketball plus spells with Newcastle Eagles, Mersey Tigers before his last three trophy-laden seasons with Leicester.

Yet a homecoming for the Hackney ace had been nothing but a fading dream until two years ago – when the Lions moved from Milton Keynes – as London had been without a BBL side since 2006 and the beginning of the end for the Towers.

“I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to happen and I became a little bit desensitised to it, thinking I’d get on with it without that hope of playing in London,” Sullivan told London24.

“Then the Lions came to Crystal Palace and once they moved to the Copper Box [in 2013] I thought, ‘this could be interesting.’

“Vince got in contact with me last summer but it wasn’t the right time for me, personally, even though there was a massive draw.

“He put a great deal in front of me but it wasn’t about the money. That wasn’t why I turned it down but that’s not why I’m here this time around.

“When we had a chat this summer and he told me that he was still interested in bringing me home there was no way that I was going to turn it down again.”

He added: “The decisive thing was just to be back home. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a passionate Londoner. I tell people where I’m from with my chest out and say, ‘I’m from Hackney in London’.

“It’s something that I’m very proud of so to come back and have the chance to represent the city was a no-brainer.”

Sullivan left Leicester with the good grace of Riders coach Rob Paternostro who declared that the 6ft 8ins star was one of the best, if not the best player in the history of the BBL’s most decorated club.

The flattered GB skipper admitted it was a hard decision to leave but said: “The challenge in Leicester will always be winning the next trophy, but now the challenge here is to win the first trophy in London.

“And being part of my hometown club winning its first trophy will mean the world to me.”

He added: “Someone said to me, ‘is there a little bit of pressure, coming back home and trying to replicate what I’ve done in the league before?’ Yeah, there is, but it’s pressure that I’m looking forward to.

“This is my home. This is where I grew up and to be here and be a part of successful organisation would mean the world to me.”

Sullivan joins new recruits Zaire Taylor - last term’s BBL MVP from Worcester Wolves - and US centre/forward Makal Stibbins, with more signings set to be announced.

But boss Macaulay said of his newest recruit: “He’s a London native that we’ve been keen to bring back to London once the Lions were in the Copper Box. He was our number one target.

“We felt that the success overall with GB at the Olympics Games, the legacy of basketball, through the Lions, needed to be carried through by Drew and we are delighted to have him here.

“Apart from what Drew brings to us as a professional basketball player, and leading our team next season, is the inspiration he’ll give to a lot of youngsters in and around London who love basketball.

“The London Lions doesn’t stand on its own. It stands with GLL Sports Foundation and with Reach and Teach.

“Reach & Teach already runs the London School of Basketball, it’s responsible for Midnight Madness and responsible for a lot of our community activity from grass-roots.

“I know it’s a passion of Drew’s, in terms of inspiring young players to be able to reach up to the top.

“We have a player who has gone to the highest level of community basketball in the NCAA, we have a player who has gone to the top of British Basketball having won championships at every single club he’s played at.

“Here’s a guy who has played in Europe and who has captained his team in an Olympics.

“He has a sensational CV when you talk about young people getting inspired and that three-way partnership between the Lions, GLL and Reach and Teach is actually what will deliver the future of basketball for us in London and we’re looking forward to Drew inspiring those youngsters.”

London Lions Basketball Sports Foundation is offering free basketball coaching on four outdoor courts in East London this summer. To find out where and when, click here.

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