Amongst the many happy Esh Group Eagles Newcastle players faces at Surrey Sports Park celebrating being crowned BBL League Champions for 2013/14 perhaps the biggest smile of all came from veteran forward ‘Prince’ Charles Smith.
Smith who is not just an Eagles legend but also a legend of The BBL celebrated on court with what is becoming a trademark dance to show just how much winning this league title means to him and the rest of his team mates.
It’s been a tough regular season for Smith and his colleagues but last weekend they brought the Championship back to Newcastle in some style. Faced with back-to-back games against Birmingham Knights and Surrey United, the Eagles had to win both to confirm them as title winners.
Saturday they were give a real scare by the Knights who stuck with the Champions-elect right up until the final quarter before Newcastle eased away to an 87 – 71 victory. That set up Super Sunday in Surrey and boy did those Eagles soar.
From the first tip the result never looked in doubt and the newly crowned BBL Champions were simply irresistible as they blew United apart with a stunning display at both ends of the court to take a 106 – 58 victory and seal the deal as regular season Champions.
Smith has more than played his part. Despite hitting his 38th birthday during the campaign the wily forward has still contributed 14.6 points, 6 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game. But more importantly he’s brought real experience and that winning mentality to the party as Eagles Captain for this campaign.
With Smith leading by example and showing real steadiness and consistency throughout the season his less experienced team mates have benefited from the leadership of one of the very best players to ever grace the courts of The BBL. Smith spoke with EuroBasket immediately following the huge win that confirmed him as Captain of the 2013/14 BBL Champions.
“It’s definitely about the result. We’re back where we wanted to be. This is why everyone came back and we brought the team together that came in. We’ve been working hard since day 1 and a lot of people doubted us but we’re here now back on top.”
“Every weekend lately was a title decider for us really. We were either still in it or we were out of it but we came through all of it. I mean we even struggled last night in Birmingham but the guys refocused and came out on a mission today and we got it done.”
“I can’t say why we struggled last night but didn’t today. I guess that’s just basketball. Things just happen. Last night we got good shots but we didn’t make them but today when we got those shots we knocked them down. Last night we played great on defence and held them to 32 points in the first half then we did that again tonight. So I mean the defence end was good but offensively today we were a lot better.”
Smith has been a massive part of the legacy that Esh Group Eagles Newcastle have built up over the last few years, has won every honour the British domestic game has to offer and been part of Championship winning sides before. How does this one compare?
“Your first one is always going to be good and right up there but a lot of people doubted us this year especially with the team we put together. They talked about how old we were and having new guys to the league but I guess we’ve proved a lot of people wrong. So it feels great, its right up their with the best.”
“I’m proud of those guys in the locker room right now. We stuck together through a lot of tough stuff especially after losing The Cup Final the way we did. I think that actually helped us. If we’d won The Cup I don’t think we’d be here celebrating today.”
And as mentioned earlier this was Smith’s first trophy as Eagles Captain, an honour and role he’s taken on with real poise, pride and panache throughout the season, very much leading from the front although with almost typical modesty he played that down.
“I’ve been Captain but it’s kind of been under the radar. We tried to keep it low profile. In the past its always been out there who’s been Captain but we decided to keep everything in-house this year. I’m just happy and proud to be able to lead those guys, be part of the journey and help get us a title.”
Typically of Smith he also knows the season is far from done and there’s still plenty to play for with the End of Season Play-Offs looming in two weeks time for The Eagles who go in to them as the No. 1 seed.
“We’re happy to get this title out of the way and in the bag and of course we’re going to go out and enjoy ourselves and celebrate it. Having two weeks off I think will help a lot of people because we can heal up. A couple of us have been really banged-up this last month. So we can use the time to heal up, re-focus and try and come out and win the play-offs also.”
Smith is a real warrior, a winner through and through and used to big game situations and pressure. With him in the side and rested, no one will look forward to having to guard him or his confident team mates in the race to be Play-Off winners.