Newcastle Eagles coach Fabulous Flournoy has said that he is carefully planning for the future by keeping a nucleus of players every year with the ultimate aim of competing in Europe, namely the third tier Eurochallenge.
The veteran believes that his side could be competitive in Europe but despite the club re-evaluating their finances every year, it’s the hidden costs that are making them apprehensive at present.
The Eagles are by far the British Basketball League’s most successful club and they could pad their domestic honours to 17 if they overcome Glasgow Rocks this Sunday in the British Basketball League Cup Final, but the north-east side have yet to enter European competition. In fact no British club has entered Europe since the Guildford Heat’s 0-10 ULEB Cup adventure in 2007-08 that almost saw them go into total liquidation, before being re-branded to Surrey United.
London Towers and Brighton Bears have also competed in the Euroleague and ULEB Cup (now Eurocup) respectively with Brighton’s campaign proving to be the better, as they narrowly missed out on the Eighth-Finals, finishing with a 4-6 record.
All three teams though are now no longer in operation – British basketball’s love affair with Europe unfortunately comes with baggage – and while the Towers’ foray in the Euroleague back in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 season was not directly due to their demise, their efforts showed how big the gap in class was back then as in the two seasons combined, Towers went for just one win in 23 games.
The BBL though has improved drastically since then. The league has TV rights, and its own internet streaming service. Better players from top NCAA schools are signing along with former NBA D-League stars. Teams are either playing in or due to be playing in purpose-built arenas and this year’s Playoff Final will be staged at the 02 Arena, where BBL officials are confident that they will sell 17,000 tickets for the game.
But for Newcastle, the fact that the league is in a good place and that now could be a good time to showcase their talent into Europe isn’t fooling them. Coach Flournoy wants to enter Europe at the right time and wants to make 100 percent certain that the team does not fall into the same line as the previous BBL teams that ventured into Europe.
Flournoy though, unlike the others, who rushed into the fray is instead building year-by-year. He says that the Eagles will get there eventually.
“Every year we build to go into Europe for the next season, every single year, every single season,” Flournoy said. “There hasn’t been a time where we haven’t thought about our process of building a team for the next three or five years that can play in Europe. We don’t think about putting together a side that can compete for a single year but a team that will play in Europe.
“There are a lot of other things though about Europe that we must think about. It’s not that we are thinking about the finance, we re-evaluate our finances every year; it’s not how much it will take for us to compete in Europe, it’s the hidden costs that you don’t know, in particular the venue, if you don’t have your own venue, how are you going to be able to host games? There’s the court, specific jersey lay-out and the things you need when you travel away, and we want to be able to accommodate teams.
“So we don’t want to put ourselves in jeopardy if we fail to go by these rules, and this is a team that will not be in jeopardy.”
Newcastle so far play their home games at Sport Central, a well designed £30million, 3,000-seat venue, on campus at Northumbria University that is perfect for basketball. But with badminton and boxing also taking up the schedule, midweek fixtures would have proved difficult.
However, Newcastle have plans to move to their own 3,000-seat home at the start of next season, which could be another piece added to the Eagles’ European puzzle.
“Getting into Europe will eventually happen, Flournoy commented. “We are not rushing this though. We are waiting for the right time, the right moment. When we feel everything is in place and we have confidence that the club can continue to move forward, then we will compete in Europe.”
Newcastle are currently comfortably top of the BBL with an impressive 16-1 league record, the single blemish coming on the opening day and they haven’t lost since, 19 games and counting.
Comparing the Eagles to the team that won the league crown last season is not possible, according to Flournoy. Each Newcastle team that he has led has their own strengths, but he likes this team a lot. And why wouldn’t he?
“I can’t really compare any of the Eagles teams that I have been a part of as the style of each individual varies,” he explained.
“Last year’s team though kind of helped develop this year’s team because a lot of the thing that we do stem from the identity that we have built from last year, particularly on the defensive end and that is the hallmark of how we try to play.
“Our defence sets up our offence, mainly as I like us getting out in transition and that has transferred to this season, where you have myself, you have Charles [Smith], you have Darius [Defoe], you have Drew [Lasker] and you have Scott [Martin], all of them being big signings for us. And then we studied our new guys in order to make sure that they complemented our returning players and so far, the study is paying off for us as they have been outstanding.”
It remains to be seen just when Newcastle will ask the European odyssey to rekindle its affair with British basketball again. But one day soon, the Eagles will get Europe’s attention.