Not content with a commanding lead at the top of this season’s BBL table, Newcastle Eagles are cleaning up where the North East’s emerging basketball talent is concerned.
And if first team breakthroughs by Aaron Nielsen and Will Spragg have hinted at a pool of top hoops potential bubbling under the pro game’s surface, then the Eagles are spreading their net far wider.
This season the club moved into Northumberland in a bid to capture the county’s best basketball kids.
And community coach Emma Lawrence is excited at the prospect of working with the next generation of Newcastle wannabes.
“I want to take as much basketball to as many kids as possible,” said Lawrence.
“There are already established clubs in Morpeth, Cramlington and Blyth and I want to support them.
“But I also want to reach out to other communities in south east Northumberland and make sure nobody misses out if basketball is their game.”
Lawrence cut her teeth as a teenager in a local men’s team run by former Newcastle favourite Paul Douglas.
And the basketball addict was snapped up by current Team Northumbria play-caller Deirdre Hayes while bossing Tyne & Wear.
Lawrence forced her way into Hayes’s starting five after proving her mettle against Britain’s best women’s teams.
And there were offers to play basketball abroad with a series of leading US colleges ready to take a punt on the youngster.
“I was doing quite well and made the starting five regularly from the age of 22,” added Lawrence.
“I took a break to have two children and as a result of that I suffered an injury which meant I couldn’t play basketball.
“I haven’t played for four years but it has been good in many ways – I’ve gained a huge amount of coaching experience.”
Lawrence is keen to pass on that experience as a new breed of North East player looks to make an impression on Hayes’ TN title contenders and an Eagles roster making massive strides in the men’s game.
But a lack of practice areas has emerged as an immediate barrier between developing potential into the finished product.
“Facilities are the major problem,” she admitted. “There are venues but they’re all booked up. If there’s not trampolining or gymnastics, then there’s five-a-side.”
If Nielsen and Spragg are examples of North East kids come good, Lawrence is not short of other examples of excellence in a sport growing in popularity at grassroots level.
South east Northumberland is emerging as a hotbed for basketball and Blyth’s Kieron Embleton is blazing a trail in his hometown.
Lawrence added: “Kieron is a great example of a kid who’s come from nowhere and now is playing a major role for the Eagles’ U-18 Academy side.
“He’s only been playing basketball since he was 15 and it’s my job to unearth more talent like that.”