Potter is well schooled after chemistry lesson in Slovakia
LIAM POTTER did not think he would be this lucky again this quickly.
The 7ft centre helped Prievidza win the play-offs in Slovakia's elite Extraliga last season, only his second out of Sacred Heart University, New England, the USA.
"I had a great group of team-mates," said Potter of Prievidza. "I always thought I'd never have that again. You normally get a few guys within the group who mess up chemistry and want to do their own thing."
Potter, 26, is currently on a rolling one-month contract with Marjon Plymouth Raiders, providing cover for club captain Anthony Rowe, who continues to work his way back after nearly six months out with a knee injury.
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Potter has been Raiders' seventh-man, a role he filled so successfully in Prievidza and come off the bench, helping coach Gavin Love's team go 2-0 in the early BBL Championship standings.
"We have a great group this year and coach has done a great job bringing that together," said Potter, who first joined Raiders on trial on September 12 before agreeing a short-term deal. "It comes from him. I think you have an inkling if a player's a good guy off the court."
Potter added: "We all get on well off the court. Obviously we don't spend that much time together, because we see each other so much anyway, but I'm already good friends with a lot of the guys.
"On the court you see that translates and we have fun. If it keeps up, we're going to be tough to beat."
Myself and Potter have something in common. We grew up only a few miles apart, 10 years apart, in the suburbs surrounding Grimsby, in the north-east corner of Lincolnshire.
It's miserable and raining heavily when we meet in Plymouth. But Potter is relaxed and happy despite the early grey hour.
We chat about The X-Factor. We both want Elle Henderson – also from near Grimsby – to win this season. Raiders' sales manager Kerenza Edney also backs Elle enthusiastically before talk and laughter turns to who we don't like this year on The X-Factor at the club offices in Weston Park Road.
Raiders boss Gavin Love is busying himself in the background. He re-enters the room.
'You're not still talking about The X-Factor, are you?' Love groans.
'How are you settling in, in Plymouth?' I ask Potter, sat across from me.
"So far, so good," he says. "I'm in a nice apartment opposite a gym. It's perfect. I'm getting to know the guys better. I think everyone is. We're all starting to gel and the fans have seen that in the two games this season."
Raiders have blown away their opening two BBL opponents in 2012/13, London Lions and Manchester Giants by 22 and 31 points respectively at the Pavilions.
Lions threatened to be tricky before Raiders guards Jeremy Bell and Michael Ojo combined for 63 dazzling points and Lions were blinded in a 108-86 defeat.
Giants promised to be tougher, but fell away badly as Raiders led imposingly by as many as 36 points in a 105-74 win.
Potter, who hit foul trouble, limiting his minutes against Lions, played longer against Giants and finished with nine rebounds, three blocks and five points in 22 productive minutes.
He anchored Raiders' defence, against another 7-footer, Giants' Morakinyo Williams when he was on court and was a nuisance at the offensive end, pulling down offensive rebounds and finishing 2/2 from the field.
"Liam's done great while he's been here," said Love. "He's rebounding the ball and he's playing defence.
"He's here to be a presence for us in the paint, to block shots and rebound. He's done all that. If someone takes the ball to the rim against us, they have to think twice.
"He's got a little way to go offensively, but he does things well at that end of the floor and he understands what we're trying to defensively.
"He's different from a lot of centres in the league and we saw him against Manchester guard their big guys with ease, really."
Potter said: "We expected Manchester to be tougher, but at the end of the day we played really well.
"What most impressed me was our defence in the Manchester game. We scored a lot of points, but we really set the tempo on defence and guys were able to fast-break on offence.
"We're still ironing out kinks on offence. There are some plays we're not executing as well as we should, but we've worked on that in practice and given a couple of more games hopefully we'll be fine."
Raiders are inactive now until this Friday (October 19) when Cheshire Jets visit in their third contest of the new BBL season.
Power-forward Rowe hopes to at least play some part against Jets and, while still being some way from full fitness, begin to return Raiders to full strength.
In a sense, Potter's role will remain unaffected. He will continue to back-up Raiders' starting centre Matt Schneck, who is a bruiser and a terrific addition from Jets this season, but at 6ft 8in naturally has to work extra hard to guard a Giant like Williams.
Will Potter stay a second month at Raiders; will he stay all season?
More pertinently, can Raiders afford to have an eighth professional on their roster for the entire campaign?
"I hope Liam can stay for the season," said Love, who initially trimmed his squad this summer from nine professionals to seven to be prudent financially. "We're currently doing everything we can as a club to make that happen.
"We're working out whether we have the budget. If we have, we'll certainly do it. We like having Liam around – he works his tail off and he's a great guy to have on the team."
Potter, who split his rookie year out of New England between Khimik in the Ukraine and BBL rivals Leicester Riders, said: "I'm enjoying being around the club and around coach. I'm learning. Right now, all I'm focused on is being here and doing my job. I'm not thinking about the future.
"I just want to help us win games and get better. I've told my agent I'm happy here. We'll see what happens."
Raiders' new-look line-up, with only three faces – Bell, Ojo and Rowe – returning from last season, too are learning as they go in 2012/13.
Bell and Ojo, who haven't missed a beat from a terrific last campaign, assumed control in Raiders' opener against Lions before everyone got involved against Giants, who were simply swamped by the amount of weapons Love had to throw at them.
"Once you get that connection with your team-mates, things go a lot smoother and the game comes a lot easier to you," said Potter. "You don't have to think so much.
"People might say they were two easy wins, but in the London game Jeremy had an amazing game, so that helps. And I think in the Manchester game everybody contributed.
"I think we're going to be a tough team to keep up with this year. We have athletes right through the rotation, so if we play defence like we know we can and really push the tempo on offence, it's going to be a tough match-up for any team."
Potter added: "The atmosphere at the games at the Pavilions has been really good. Everyone says it's one of the best places to play in the league and I've played for Leicester before, so I've been around and I would agree.
"The fans really get behind the team and don't put players down if they make mistakes. Maybe elsewhere you have high expectations from fans who don't really know the sport.
"Here the fans really get into it and know basketball. I've really enjoyed it. We're going to be tough to beat here."
BBL Championship: Surrey 79 (McLemore 25, Holmes 13, Holmes 10) Sheffield 63 (Babalola 15, Gachette 10, Daye 9)
Leicester 89 (Couisnard 28, Fraley 23, Sullivan 10) London 83 (Jackman 18, Sturt 16, Pedroso/James 11)
Worcester 98 (Owumi 19, Irving 13, Fernandez/Belgrave 12) Mersey 48 (Etilopy 12, Gallagher 8, Hulsen 7)
Newcastle 99 (Chapman 30, Smith 22, Huffman 18) Durham 75 (Guinane 19, Page 17, P Elderkin/Bucci 10)
BBL Cup First Round: Glasgow 88 (Harrison 27, Achara 18, Murray 16), Manchester 85 (Aliu 20, Watts 16, Williams 12)
Mersey 51 (Eboige 10, Hulsen 8, Bigley/Forsythe 6) Surrey 103 (Holmes 19, Cricelli 16, Joseph 16)
Sheffield 90 (Daye 19, Tuck 16, Bridge 13) Cheshire 59 (Marks 19, Moore 13, Haskins 12)