Date Time League Season
January 4, 2024 7:45 pm Men's Trophy 2023-24

Devin Whitfield faces a late fitness test ahead of tonight’s eye-catching trip to London Lions as Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles look to tip off their Trophy campaign in style.

The US star missed last week’s win against Plymouth City Patriots after picking up a slight hamstring strain in practice.

But Whitfield is hoping for the all-clear to return to action with the short-handed men in black facing an energy-sapping two games in two days.

“Devin was always targeting these games and he had some assessments earlier in the week but we’ll have a better idea on the day of the London game,” said Newcastle head coach Marc Steutel.

“We took the decision to rest him last week based on the schedule this week so I really hope that move pays off.

“It’ll be touch and go this week and if he does pass his fitness tests then it’s too early to tell if he can play one or two games in two days.

“It may be a case of Devin playing one game this week and one game next week. We’re hopeful he’ll be ok — we want him back in the line-up sooner rather than later.”

The British Basketball League has pressed pause on Championship action for a month to focus attention fully on its reformatted Trophy competition.

Two groups of five teams play each other once in January with the top two from each group qualifying for the Final Fours weekend in Birmingham.

And Steutel admits squeezing the Trophy into four weeks is an interesting experiment with Newcastle one of a number of sides dealing with a series of mid-season challenges.

“Psychologically it’s fascinating,” he added. “Other leagues — Spain in particular springs to mind with the Copa del Rey — try to work in mid-season competitions and the Trophy’s an interesting format.

“At this stage different teams are in different phases in their evolution.

“Some teams are integrating new players, some teams are welcoming back players from injury and some teams are dealing with injured players.

“It’s a really interesting time to play the Trophy. What I do know is that right now you’ve got 10 teams that all want to get to the Final Fours.

“My belief is that everybody prioritises the Championship and rightly so. But everybody wants to win the game that’s in front of them and we’re no different.”

Newcastle and London have already thrown up three thrillers this season with the Lions edging the league series 2-1.

Both the Eagles and the Lions are juggling significant injury lists but Steutel recognises the league leaders’ constant threat — whatever starting five coach Petar Božić is able to select.

“The Eagles-Lions fixture has already captured the imagination this season,” he added. “They’ve obviously got some injuries on their roster and that impacts them but what they have shown is that they can still win without those guys.

“London had a great win at Caledonia and followed that up with a tough win at Surrey on New Year’s Day.

“It shows the strength in depth and talent that they have on their roster.

“We have to make sure that we’re absolutely at our best on both sides of the ball to give ourselves a chance.

“There’s a lot of responsibility on Gabe Olaseni, Luke Nelson and Jordan Taylor this week and they’re players who we know very well. We need to limit those three for sure.

“And for me Conor Morgan is a really, really high level basketball player. He’s really efficient and doesn’t need the ball in his hands too often to be efficient.

“We just have to play our brand of basketball — when we do we know we can cause London problems as we have done in the past.”

The game can be watched live on the British Basketball League’s YouTube channel with tip-off at 7:45pm.