SOUTHEND is one step away from having a professional basketball club playing in the town.

The Essex Basketball Club is planning to base itself at the Southend Leisure and Tennis Centre and enter the sport’s domestic top flight — the British Basketball League.

The BBL Franchise Committee has visited the centre in Eastern Avenue, Southend, and will now make a final decision on whether to accept Essex Basketball Club into the league for the new season.

GB international coach Tim Lewis and long-time basketball operator Ian Mollard are heading up Essex Basketball Club and will be setting the team up in time for the new season in September if the franchise gets the green light.

“We are very excited at the prospect of being able to bring top level basketball to Essex and in particular Southend,” said Lewis.

“Heritage of basketball in the area is very strong and adding a top level club will only help to build the strength of the sport across the county.”

Mollard is confident the project will get the go-ahead from the BBL because of the groundwork Essex BC have done.

“The partnerships we have built in Southend and the support of the council is exceptional,” he explained.

“Running a top-flight basketball team is not easy and it is important that we are able to support and launch exciting new community initiatives that strengthen the great work already done by local teams. “Our non-profit company HOOPSetc has already started community coaching in Thurrock and are set to expand that service across the region.”

The visit by the franchise committee encompassed the leisure and tennis centre and the David Lloyd Centre in Snakes Lane, Eastwood, to see the facilities.

They also met Lewis and Mollard who run the AASE elite basketball training programme at South East Essex College in Southend.

The visit is the final stage of the interview process conducted by the BBL before Essex BC find out if their application has been successful.

A name for the club has yet to be picked but Mollard and Lewis are planning to have something with an Essex theme.

A new court has been marked out at the leisure and tennis centre and the seating will allow up to 1,100 spectators to watch the action.

The venue will be hosting a training camp for the GB men’s under-20 squad next month.

And they will be returning to the centre in July when it is hoped they will host the French under-18 squad in two matches intended to be a curtain-raiser for the BBL season start in September.

Southend has a long association with basketball and the Southend Swifts club is currently flying the flag successfully at national level.

The BBL currently features 12 teams competing in the league, the BBL Cup and the BBL Trophy.

The constitution of the league currently is: Cheshire Jets, Everton Tigers, Guildford Heat, Leicester Riders, London Capital, Milton Keynes Lions, Newcastle Eagles, Plymouth Raiders, Scottish Rocks, Sheffield Sharks, Worcester Wolves, Worthing Thunder.

Newcastle Eagles are currently the team to beat, having won the 2009 BBL championship, BBL play-off and BBL Trophy holders.

Everton Tigers won the BBL Cup this year.

l Would-be sponsors interested in backing the Essex Basketball Club can contact Ian Mollard at