So, on the eve of the All-Stars Tournament and with no home game this weekend nor any midweek articles written I guess I’ve got time to do a blog and hopefully create a bit of discussion and have a bit of fun. Obviously was going to start with the Men’s Team, although should it be Ladies first?
But, I hope before I start that you’ve all had time to read Kai’s thoughts on tomorrow’s shenanigans? I think he’s got it pretty spot-on myself. We go in to it in great form, full of confidence and with everyone available so we have a real shot at it. But, then the other seven will be thinking the same.
Ok, I have decided to start with the Ladies and what a solid start they’ve made and one that augurs well for the future. Ok so they lost at home to Sheffield with ex-Team North star Alison Gorrell putting them to the sword but it was a close game and could have gone either way against a team that will be challenging for honours.
Kudos must go to Coach Chris Bunten for pulling together an amazing roster in such a short space of time with the eye-catching signing of GB superstar Steph Gandy very much the highlight. That’s not to be disrespectful to the other very capable Ladies he’s signed but Steph is a bona-fide GB superstar and it’s quite the coup for The Eagles WBBL side to have her in her ranks.
Steph has made the All-Star team bench the first two weeks of the WBBL season but team-mate Kara Bonenberger has gone one better after her 21 point-12 rebound double-double in The Eagles first round win at Caledonia Pride actually got her in the starters for the All-Star Team in the first week.
Skipper Giulia Simoni also made the bench in the first week and Kara actually made the bench in the second week alongside Steph. It may well be these three that are the stand-outs at the moment but there’s plenty of talent in Coach Bunten’s roster and they’re a team well worth going to see.
I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to make the home game last Saturday against Sheffield but I gather lots of you did and despite the result enjoyed the occasion and the game. It was a wonderful occasion put together by The Eagles back-room staff having the meet and greet with the Men’s squad first too.
Then for so many of you to stay after the meet and greet to support the Ladies was great to hear about and shows you appreciate what the Club is trying to achieve this season. I know Coach Bunten and the Ladies enjoyed your support and were grateful for it and I hope that you can continue to show it for the rest of the season.
Paul, Sam and all those responsible for adding the Ladies venture to our entourage deserve to be supported as do the team itself as we embark on another legacy addition to the basketball and sporting history we continue to make in Newcastle.
Well, what about that start then? Has it surprised you? Is it as you expected? What do you think of the new team Fab, Dave and Ian have put together? Are you optimistic after what you’ve seen so far? Are you excited about what you’ve seen so far? The answers to any and all will be different depending on your head but boy has it ever been interesting!
The win against Phoenix I hesitate to say is perhaps a game last season’s team and especially it’s post- Christmas incarnation would have struggled to win. Purely my opinion but when Cheshire came back to level in the final quarter I suspect a lot of you thought about last season and feared the worse.
But, we didn’t buckle and we slugged it out, closing out an “ugly” one and picking up that vital first W of the season which seems to have been a springboard for what has come since and what we’re all hoping will continue tomorrow down in London.
Shortly after that game we parted company with Ahmad Thomas. I gather it wasn’t an easy decision but it was one they all felt was right for all parties and had to be made. We wish Ahmad all the best for his future going forward but we have to move on and have in the form of Jeremy Smith.
But before I get to Jeremy and his debut, we must deal with Glasgow and boy did we ever. The Rocks had broken a 21-game losing streak against us last season. They also won the head-to-head for the first time in a decade and we went there essentially a man down. It made little difference.
With Fletch dropping dimes like they were going out of fashion and Vic dominating early one especially with Darius rising from the bench for the second time to take top-scoring honours we came away with an excellent road win and laid the Rocks bogey back at their feet.
It was an impressive performance. A controlled team effort with everyone doing something of note and contributing. Even when Rocks pulled close in the third quarter we didn’t bow nor buckle and following a beautifully timed time-out hit them with 17 unanswered points and baby, that’s all she wrote.
I wonder how many of you knew that our last away win was February 4th at Manchester? Since that win we’d lost six BBL Championship games, a Play-Off game at Bristol and the three pre-season friendlies on the road. Somehow makes that Rocks win all the sweeter and it was nice to break a run that you wouldn’t normally associate with Newcastle Eagles.
Which all meant that we went in to last Friday night’s game against newbies London City Royals on 2 – 0 facing the newest BBL franchise who had actually gone one better at 3 – 0 after making a sensational start to their rookie season. Something had to give and boy did it ever.
Of course, it’s far too early in the season for it to be a significant victory and there are far too many games left for it to be season-defining or vital win, BUT, it was without doubt a statement win. It was a win that showed all the hard work put in before the season was worthwhile and it was a game where we clearly showed the way we intend playing this season.
Can we keep it going? Well, another question to add to the list but the defensive intensity and the way we went about our business was very, very, very impressive indeed. Stifling, swarming D led to explosive and potent offence and yes, it is and was only one game, but I think we all recognised that as EaglesBall!
We cannot get carried away. We were guilty of that last season and look what happened but somehow, with Fletch leading from the front and dishing out to the rest of the guys it looks and feels different or does it indeed look and feel more like Eagles?
Six players in double-figures. Vic and Darius doing one heckuva job on the reputably unstoppable MBA. Kai and Kyle shooting them down, Jamal and Drew bringing massive intensity. Fab being Fab and then of course 19-7 & & in a shade over 22 minutes from the bench from the newest Eagle, Jeremy Smith.
Like I said, a statement win but not necessarily a season-defining one just as it’s not for Royals nor would it have been had it been vice versa. But, IMHO, it was as good a team performance as we’ve put in for a few seasons now and “relentless” seemed to be a keyword in many of the interviews afterwards and I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that.
Very impressive debut from Jeremy too especially in the second half. I thought he was probably trying to force the issue a little bit too much in the first but once he had the half-time break and building on the confidence others around him created he looked a very nice fit last Friday that’s for sure.
We were lucky in that he almost fell in to our lap and we had the luxury of being able to look at him and he at us before both parties agreed that they liked what they saw and thought let’s tie it all together. That doesn’t happen often and I think perhaps we were smiled upon in this one. Let’s hope so going forward.
Which brings me to the briefest of BBL round-ups and a look forward to All-Star Sunday if you will. Results in the Championship have been interesting to say the least and have given us hope for the future but, we had hope last season too. So, let’s just say its early days and we need to remain focused.
We’ve beaten Phoenix who almost went 4 – 1 for the season and to the top of the BBL. We beat a Rocks side that hasn’t started well but did win at Surrey and of course we’ve beaten a Royals side that won at Bristol who are 3 – 1, Surrey and also won at Manchester. To me it sets a good standard for us to keep reaching for. Lions look dangerous again this season but they lost at Plymouth!
Everybody looks capable of beating everyone on their day and with only three weeks gone, only two teams remain unbeaten and one of those has yet to win a game also! So, let’s be optimistic but throw in the caution too. Three games, three wins and we could do little more than that at the moment!
It means that we go in to the All-Star tournament as I said early in good shape and as favourites in many eyes. Not sure how as a certain team from King Richard III’s last resting place make their BBL bow this weekend and will no doubt add their power and presence to the mix. Plus, last year’s reigning Champions get to play on their home court.
I think a lot of people in particular are looking forward to Leicester re-joining the BBL family after their brief flirtation with The European Champions League and before they start their Europe Cup campaign. It’s certainly going to be intriguing as this is their BBL bow for this season and what a competition to start in!
With all the vagaries of the various rule changes and different scenarios that can occur, I think I agree with Kai that it’s anyone’s tournament to win. It should be a cracker of a day and I’m sure there’s going to be thrills and spills along the way but as The OOTA have already tweeted, “let the chaos begin.”
My goodness Jeff that was a neat link as you did think that you needed to mention The OOTA and the continued wonderful support they give to the guys on the road. Well done you! The OOTA are legendary and this season have added blogs and tweets to their repertoire. You really need to follow them, they are hilarious and well worth the effort and just go from strength to strength. Loving your work gals and guys!