WHILE star American Andre Nation is flying high in every game, Tradehouse Central Ballincollig are keeping their feet on the ground ahead of Saturday’s President’s Cup final.
The Cork club are hot favourites to complete three in a row at the National Basketball Arena on Hula Hoops cup weekend, the main event of the Irish basketball season.
The Kieran O’Sullivan-coached outfit have been superb throughout the campaign and boast a 15-0 record.
Four wins ahead of joint second-placed Killarney and Fr Mathew’s with just seven games to go, they are closing in on promotion to the Super League in their third season since making the step up.
That has been the primary goal this term for the Village, who narrowly missed out on progressing to the top flight in their first two years in the National League.
In the coming days, though, they are preparing diligently for the IT Carlow challenge on Saturday, 3.30pm, after the Leinster side upset the odds against Mathew’s in the semi-final.
Ballincollig beat Killarney, away, Portlaoise and LYIT Donegal to return to the decider, with Ciarán O’Sullivan, Ronan O’Sullivan, Dylan Corkery, and Spaniard Inigo Zabola, as well as US sensation Nation, forming a formidable starting five.
They will be without veteran Daniel O’Sullivan however, due to ankle ligament damage, while another experience baller and the 2019 cup final MVP Ian McLoughlin is struggling with a groin issue.
In Jack Kelly, Colin Murray, Stephen O’Sullivan, and Darragh Fleming, they still have excellent bench options, while young ballers like Seán O'Flynn, Andrew O'Connor and Isaac James all got minutes in their most recent league victory.
"We're just focusing on our performance ahead of Saturday," explained head coach Kieran O'Sullivan, whose son Ronan and nephew Ciarán will be on the court.
"Unfortunately we've a few injuries but the squad is strong and we've the experience of being in Tallaght for the past two years. We're demanding big games from everyone, that's what you need to bring to a cup final.
"There's no danger of us taking Carlow for granted that's for sure. They beat a very good Fr Mathew's team and have some very talented basketballers.
"There's a great buzz in the club this week and that's what it's all about," said O'Sullivan, speaking before he took the Ballincollig U16s for a training session in Coláiste Choilm.
His brother Francis is the driving force behind the Collig's underage section.
In part down to the exposure provided by the senior squad's cup-winning exploits, playing numbers are booming from the academy through to the men's teams that compete in the Cork leagues.
The girls and women's section of the Ballincollig Basketball Club is also thriving and a big support will depart from sponsors Tradehouse Central on Saturday.
There are nine Hula Hoop National Cup finals overall this weekend, four featuring Cork teams.
Rebel Wheelers are first out on Friday at 6.30pm, with Neptune’s U18s playing Saturday before the Ballincollig game, while Singleton’s SuperValu Brunell seem their first senior women’s cup on 5.30pm on Sunday.