The Eagles chief has sounded out world basketball governing body FIBA about entering next season’s Eurochallenge competition – paving the way for British basketball’s dominant force to finally pit their wits against some of the Continent’s best sides.
Blake has spent the last few weeks number crunching and believes that a tilt at Europe is financially viable. There are still significant issues to be addressed before he can commit to a Eurochallenge campaign, but the Eagles chief has never been more upbeat.He says he feels a “responsibility” to deliver European basketball to veteran players like Fab Flournoy, Charles Smith and Lynard Stewart, who conquered the domestic game but have never had the chance to play in one of the Continent’s top tournaments.
“This club has never been as close to entering European competition. We are very serious about trying to make this work,” Blake said. “We are just drilling down the figures at the moment but we have put the calls into FIBA, they are aware of our interest.
“There are, of course, financial implications of going into Europe but I have to say that they are not as severe as they have been in the past. There are ways and means of making it happen.
“If I had to put a figure on it, I’d say we were about 50/50 on being in Europe next season. There are a whole set of issues that have to be looked at but there is a huge personal motivation for me too.
“I know there are guys on our roster who have never had that opportunity to play in European competition and this is a way to repay their contribution to the Eagles. I would love to be able to give Fab (Flournoy) and Charles (Smith) and Lynard (Stewart) the opportunity to do that.”
Among the issues to be settled is working out whether the Eagles can afford the recruitment drive they would need to compete.
Clubs are only allowed to name two foreign players and one naturalised British player for European games, meaning signings would have to be made.
And they need to ensure everything about their operation is absolutely watertight. FIBA impose fines on competing clubs if they don’t stick to a strict set of rules governing everything from court temperature, accommodation for visiting sides and even having the correct kit.
Although the Eagles have been virtually untouchable in the BBL in recent seasons, any move into Europe would be a huge step up in class.
The Eurochallenge final four includes Cypriot side Apoel, the team that current Eagles star Andrew Sullivan left earlier this year, as well as teams from Belgium, Croatia and Germany, where basketball enjoys a much higher profile.
The last British team to enter a European competition was the Guildford Heat in 2008 and it proved a disastrous move for them. The Heat finished with a 0-10 record and the financial implications led to them entering administration.
But, Blake argues, the Eagles would be going into the competition with their eyes open – having held off a move into Europe until it was absolutely right for the club.
“We are dealing with multi-million pound outfits here,” Blake said. “It would be a big challenge for us but I’m sure everyone at the club would relish pitting their wits against those sorts of teams. And we have shown over the years that we have good players too.”