Ok, so I thought a little blog before opening night was appropriate but hey, sometimes life and other demands get in the way so here I am typing furiously just to get something down before the ball is thrown up and tipped off.
The thing about putting this out there I the next hour or so is that most of you will be at work some if you do read it, it’ll probably be tomorrow when most of it will be meaningless as the game will be played and the result will be known. Never mind, undeterred I’ll bash on.
First off, I want to say well done to The Riders. It might not have been the result or even the performance they wanted last night but it was Champions League and they were there and representing British basketball so that has to be something worth celebrating.
Bakken were though much the stronger and in the absence of Pierre Hampton really crushed Leicester inside on both ends of the floor. Riders did well to only trail by 13 at the end of the first leg which makes the second leg a real toughie but I applaud their endeavour in taking it on.
Speaking of Hampton, that seemed like a pretty big brace on his leg and perhaps it may be a while before we see him? That’s what one “in-the-know” fan seems to think. It’ll be interesting to see how they continue to go without him.
The other injury they had going in to the game was Niem Stevenson who was designed as badly enough injured for them to bring in a replacement. Seems to me looking at his replacement that this might be a fortunate injury? That Deandre Burnett looked a pretty special replacement and served real notice.
But, enough about the Riders as I think I’ve paid due reverence to them now. This weekend is all about The BBL and boy is it back in some style. Eight games this weekend so come Monday we should have a slightly better idea where the league is going or will be a case of assessing opening night nerves.
Obviously, I’m going to deal with our game last but let’s just run through the others and see what we can make of them shall we?
Lions v Rocks – Lions were excellent last season until the Play-Off Final. They’ve retained the League MVP and seemed to have recruited well in other areas and also brought back Brandon Peel who was very good. Rocks have the McFour back and have added some new Americans. Will their solid returnees be enough or will home advantage sway it to Lions? Me? I say Lions and perhaps with a bit too spare.
Sharks v Giants – I think Giants have recruited better than any season since they returned to The BBL but I’m not sure if they have enough to beat a very solid looking Sharks line-up who gave us two tough games. With home support and that solid base, I’m going for another home win and a comfortable one too.
Wolves v Raiders – What an intriguing game this is with obviously PJ’s return to Worcester the headline maker. PJ has recruited a team he wanted and had a bit of time with them too. More than new Worcester coach Ty Shaw has had with his and he may still be a player or two short? Raiders are notoriously poor travellers but this is one of their shorter trips. I’m going for an away win but this could go either way and I think it’ll be close.
Scorchers v Rocks – What a tough opening weekend for Rocks. Surrey were very good on their home court and I suspect will be again. The returning Quincy Taylor could be their key. A lot will depend how quickly Rocks recover from the game at Lions and how they come through that. My feeling here is that this will be another close one but Scorchers may well just edge it.
Flyers v Royals – Arguably the most eagerly awaited game of the weekend as The Royals make their bow against a Flyers side that many think looks the strongest they’ve been. Flyers have announced themselves on The BBL scene now and look stronger each year. Royals seem to have recruited a lot of very, very good British talent. I think there’s a question mark over their back-court and Ashley Hamilton is injured so I think that gives Flyers a slight edge.
Raiders v Lions – The Pavilions was always a tough place to go and get a W. Less so in the last few tumultuous years. I’ve tipped them to win at Worcester and Lions to beat Glasgow at home so if I’m right both teams could be going for a 100% weekend. A lot will depend on how both teams come through that first game but I like the look of Lions so I’m going for an away win.
Phoenix v Wolves – Two teams in massive transition. Both of them will have had a tough opening game. Both have completely changed their teams from last season. So, a difficult one to call. Phoenix have more BBL experience in their camp and I think that may just sway it their way especially at home leaving it as a tough opening weekend for Ty Shaw and the Wolves.
Finally, Eagles v Phoenix! – I’m expecting a home win, nothing more nothing less and I’m hoping for a double-digit win at that. We’ve studied Phoenix. They’re pretty young and athletic and look like they might run and gun in typical BBL style. But I’m not sure they’ve got enough to cope with us.
That’s what I’m hoping any way! Can their inexperience cope with Fletch? Are they strong enough to cope with Darius and Vic inside? That’s where I think the game will be won and lost. Yes, we have Kyle and Ahmad who are rookies but our other nine have all played and done well in The BBL and that might well be where the difference lies.
Phoenix have done well pre-season. They only lost at Leicester by 9 and then beat Manchester by 15. Sketchy details have emerged from their trip to Ireland last weekend but they won the tournament so they should have some confidence coming in. Plus, Head Coach Ben Thomas has a very good record against us!
They won both times they came to Sport Central last year and it seems to me that whatever side they put out they have enough BBL knowhow outside the players to always be a threat in The BBL. But, even given all that I’m going for a home win. In truth I can’t really go for anything else, can I?!?!
The guys have worked tremendously hard this pre-season which started with that trip to Belgium and ended with two solid home wins last week. A full week and a bit of practices and time together has hopefully seen them build on those five games.
The watchwords and thoughts that are coming out is that we seem to be getting better and better as a group with every passing day. That would always be the key to progression. Last season we entered the season on a wave of optimism and for a few weeks it seemed to be well-founded. But, we all know what happened in the end.
This season it appears to be cautious optimism and a feeling that this is more of a team built around Fab’s philosophies and mantra. Fab, Dave and Ian looked at last season closely, they evaluated on what we did and what other teams around us did. They have, they hope, recruited accordingly and planned their strategies for what they’ve built.
Pre-season is over, the hard-work has been put in and we’re as ready as we can possibly be for the game tonight. Time will tell and whilst a win is paramount and definitely the aim, perhaps the performance ad the way we go about our business is more important?
Whatever does happen I hope you all enjoy The BBL season to come and roll up in numbers to support us and help by that “sixth man” tonight to hopefully get us up and running. As for me? I’ll be up in the rafters with my c0-commentator Dave Elderkin trying to make some sense of it all.
Wish Dave and me luck but most of all wish your 2018/19 Esh Group Eagles Newcastle good luck as we embark on yet another exciting season and one that as we all know will be a hugely historic one for the organisation. Once an Eagle, always an Eagle!