Marc Steutel insists Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles’ were right to dip their toes into Europe this season after describing the club’s journey into the unknown as wholly positive.
The men in black face their toughest test yet in the European North Basketball League (ENBL) when big hitters RSW Liege Basket arrive on Tyneside tonight.
And head coach Steutel brushed off concerns over injuries and illness by pointing to the unique challenge facing his patched-up roster.
“We think the ENBL has been such a healthy experience for us,” he explained.
“As a coach you always look at the fine margins and we should have got the game in Siauliai at the start of the season.
“I thought the result in Romania was fair but Voluntari is a team competing at a different level and with a different resource.
“The two wins that we’ve got were well deserved. We’ve got three really challenging games left but every game is fun in this competition.
“They are games of different styles and different identities and the players have enjoyed that challenge.
“The staff have enjoyed testing themselves and it’s added experience to our group.
“We’re excited to see where we finish and it would be amazing if we could get a playoff spot. That’s the target.
“Liege will be tough — they’re a big, physical and well-disciplined team. They have some serious size and athleticism in their group so it’s going to be a challenge.
“I just hope our guys can get some juice in the tank before tip off. It’s all been about rest and recovery since Friday and I’m hoping that pays off.”
Steutel will hand late fitness tests to big men Darius Defoe and Malcom Delpeche after both forwards put in a shift against Leicester on Friday despite suffering from illness.
And Newcastle’s playcaller may well dip into the Eagles’ Academy to bolster a bench already depleted due to the absence of four senior pros.
“I’m hoping there’s enough time for Darius and Malcolm to get the rest they need,” he added.
“We’re going to put everything into winning this week after missing out on the Trophy semi finals.
“Unfortunately that competition has gone but it means the ENBL becomes our primary focus for the remainder of the month
“There’s definitely an opportunity to utilise our Academy links for this week’s game and I’m looking at bringing up a few of the younger guys to bolster the bench and give them some game night experience.
“We’re trying to keep the six senior guys as fresh as possible but I’m confident that, by the following week, we’ll start to see some of the injured players come back into the mix. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Steutel and his staff have powered through a tough period with typical professionalism and the Great Britain playcaller refused to look for excuses immediately after Friday’s loss to Leicester — even though it was clear that fatigue and sickness were key factors.
“On reflection it was probably a game too far for a short-handed roster,” he admitted. “There’s being short-handed and then there’s being short-handed with illness in the mix.
“We had a really challenging week leading up to the Leicester game and preparation wasn’t ideal.
“Darius doesn’t get enough plaudits and perhaps he shouldn’t have played on Friday. He was very poorly but he played on because the game meant so much to him.
“Malcolm was the same. We had six senior guys to pick from and two of them were really struggling with illness, so it was a tough night.
“I’m not making excuses and I never would. What I’m saying is that I’m proud of the way we played in the circumstances.”
Liege boast a 4-1 record heading into tonight’s crunch Group B clash with dangerman Jamelle Hagins averaging 14 points and nine rebounds per game.
RSW sit seventh in the Belgian top flight after losing to Brussels last time out.