Marc Steutel has paid tribute to Bristol’s comeback king Rowell Graham-Bell ahead of Friday’s Vertu Motors Arena showdown with the Flyers.
But the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles playcaller is keeping his fingers tightly crossed that the homegrown star saves his best form for after this week’s sell-out clash on Tyneside.
Steutel worked with Graham-Bell at Great Britain Under 20 level before making the versatile swingman his first signing as Newcastle head coach.
And only a serious pre-season injury prevented the highly-rated forward from realising his full potential with the men in black.
“It was a really, really difficult situation for Rowell last season and it’s credit to him that he’s fought his way back to full fitness and is making an impact for the Flyers,” said Steutel.
“He was the first signing I made in the summer of 2022 and he represented the direction that I wanted to take the team in back then.
“I was really excited to work with Rowell again — I love everything about him as a player and what he brings to the table.
“I was so disappointed for him when he picked up the injury but it’s testimony to his character and his determination that he’s back playing in the British Basketball League.
“On a personal level I’m delighted for Rowell but on a professional level I’m hoping he has an off night this week!”
Graham-Bell remained on Tyneside throughout last season after Eagles’ bosses made good on a commitment to support his rehabilitation.
The former Plymouth star completed his recovery in the North East this summer before inking a temporary contract with the Flyers.
That deal was made permanent in October after Graham-Bell immediately proved his worth to Andreas Kapoulas’ top four challengers.
“It’s just reward for the hard work Rowell put in on and off the court,” added Steutel. “He deserves all of the credit but of course I’d like to highlight the work of our medical team.
“They worked around the clock to help Rowell in his recovery and it will be special for everyone to see him back at the VMA this weekend.
“He’s relentless when it comes to sniffing out offensive rebounds and he loves a battle under the boards. We have to be aware of that threat.
“Rowell has a really good feel for exploiting defences and we have to ensure he doesn’t impact the game under the glass.
“Once he gets into his rhythm he’s a very competent shooter: preventing him from getting into catch-and-shoot situations will be key.
“I don’t want to see him get any easy looks in the post. That’s another area where he’s more than capable of influencing a game.”
Steutel looks set to be without wing Scott Spencer again this weekend after the US star suffered a painful recurrence of his troublesome back injury.
But the Eagles’ playcaller is hoping a largely fit roster can bounce back from last weekend’s unusually flat performance against Surrey Scorchers.
That defeat halted a seven-game winning streak — a blistering run of form that put Steutel in the mix for November’s Coach of the Month award.
Voting for the accolade closes on Friday with the Great Britain boss up against Cheshire Phoenix playcaller Ben Thomas and veteran Sheffield coach Atiba Lyons.
Fans can cast their votes on the British Basketball League’s social media channels until noon on Friday. Newcastle guard Jordan Johnson is one of four players nominated for November’s Player of the Month award.
Tickets for this Friday night’s tip-off are available now from the box office.