Tonight’s BBL Trophy semi-final presents something of a novelty for Gareth Murray. The Caledonia Gladiators coach knows that the competition represents a rare shot at silverware for the Glasgow-based British Basketball League outfit, yet the Scots travel for their encounter with Derby Trailblazers with the weight of expectation on their shoulders.

The Scottish club have never won the tournament and reached the final in 2019 but they will have an excellent opportunity to reach next month’s grand finale after being drawn against a side that ply their trade in the National Basketball League Division One, the semi-professional tier below the BBL.

The Gladiators go into the contest in fine form, having won all five of their last five outings in all competitions and occupying fourth place in the BBL standings, and Murray is hopeful his team can keep the feel-good factor going with a victory in Derby tonight.

“It’s definitely a different challenge to what we’re used to,” he said. “We play teams in the BBL four times a season so we have a good understanding of how teams play and the level of talent they have.

“It is a small venue and they will be used to that – it is a very small place, it’s not the usual standard of the professional teams in the BBL. We have seen them play, they play on a weekly basis in the NBL, so we have been able to see what kind of offense and defence they have been running. It’s a very different challenge.

“We have won five in a row now. I am really pleased with the way the guys have come together and the way we are playing just now. We have had a couple of injuries and brought in a couple of guys so the depth of the squad is really good just now.

“We are playing good basketball. Everyone is saying that we should win but this is basketball and it is always tough. It is just another game for us – we will act professionally and try and get to the final.

“One hundred per cent, there is way more pressure on us. They have no pressure at all. They are the underdogs, they are the ones that have nothing to lose. This is a huge opportunity for the club and this group of players to reach a final. We haven’t reached a final since 2019, so it’s a lot more pressure on us than them.”

There is a rather sizeable carrot dangling in front of the Gladiators this evening, if the chance to play in the BBL Trophy final wasn’t enough to get the players’ juices flowing. The Emirates Arena, their home stadium, will host the showpiece – and, given their impressive record on their own patch, it is not an insignificant advantage.

“It’s something we have talked about in the last month or so and it is one of our goals,” Murray said. “The draw came out and we managed to get past London in the second round and our goal now is a top-four finish and reaching the BBL Trophy final, especially with it being held in Glasgow.

“It would be great for the club and the city. We have not won anything in 20 years so it is definitely a big goal for us. It means a lot to the players as well. You don’t always win a lot of things as a professional player so this is a good chance for a young team to win something as a pro.

“It’s our home base and it’s where we practice almost every day. It’s a different court – they set it up in the arena with the athletics track because there are more seats. We usually play in the back gym where it’s about 1800.

“So it’s a little bit different for us but we would still get to enjoy our home comforts. But we are not getting ahead of ourselves just yet – we have still got to get past Derby and we are not taking anything for granted.”

Murray has played his part in more than his fair share of important matches for Caledonia Gladiators but this one will be different. After becoming player/coach in 2020, the 38-year-old from Arbroath split his time between leading the team off the court and getting involved on it.

He called time on his playing career last year though, and this season is the first where he has been standing courtside, issuing instructions to his team rather than attempting to seize the initiative himself. Murray is enjoying his retirement from playing but is still being kept busy through his work with the Gladiators and the Great Britain international team – something that occasionally results in a rather hectic schedule.

“I’ve enjoyed just being on the sidelines this year and not having to step on the court anymore,” Murray added. “I actually just got back from Serbia on Tuesday morning, I’m the assistant coach with the national team so our assistant has been handling the preparations [for the BBL Trophy semi-final].

“I literally just flew back and jumped on the team bus to go to Derby straight away, so my preparations for this one have been a little different. I haven’t seen the guys for nine or ten days so there are a few different factors that go into it. This is a big opportunity for the club and this group of players.”