Marc Steutel has praised impactful rookie Devin Whitfield — after revealing the all-action guard will be rested ahead of tonight’s crunch clash against Plymouth.
The Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles host an unpredictable Patriots roster on Tyneside before the two teams match up again on the south coast on Saturday.
But the men in black will have to manage the first game of this week’s mini series without regular starter Whitfield after the former G Leaguer picked up a knock in practice.
“I like so many parts of Devin’s game,” said Steutel. “He’s a really hard worker and can influence the game on both sides of the ball.
“I like it when he’s guarding the ball and he has significant strength in that area. And he’s known around the league now as a high percentage shooter.
“I honestly feel Devin will continue to make an even greater impact within the group and he can get even better.
“He’s so important to this team and that’s why I’ve taken the difficult decision to rest him for the first of the Plymouth games.
“Devin picked up a little niggle in practice just before Christmas and it’s a case of managing his minutes so that a minor injury doesn’t become anything more serious.”
Whitfield lit up the NCAA during two years with Trevecca Nazarene Trojans — earning a move to Grizzlies G League affiliate Memphis Hustle in 2021.
A mid-season move to Finland kicked off a European adventure that also took in Denmark before Steutel caught footage of the 26-year-old in action.
“I came across tape of Devin playing for Svendborg in Denmark’s top division and he was outstanding against the leading team over there,” added the Eagles’ playcaller.
“I was impressed with the way he conducted himself against Bakken Bears and when I found out about the person he was off the court — as well as the player on it — he looked like a really good fit for us.
“I’ve been really, really pleased with the start he’s had to his Eagles career.”
Whitfield’s absence tonight means the hosts will be missing three senior stars for the final home game of 2023.
Will Neighbour and Scott Spencer are both recovering from mid-season surgery and two games in 48 hours — including an energy-sapping road trip in between — will test Newcastle’s stretched resources to the limit.
But the Eagles face Plymouth on the back of a brilliant win at Cheshire Phoenix and confidence is high within the home camp.
“It’s exceptionally important that we finish the calendar year on a high,” added Steutel. “Every game has massive significance given the way the league’s shaping up.
“Every team is competitive and so we have to focus on being the best version of ourselves every night.
“Of course we’re focusing on the first game against the Patriots before we even think about the trip down there.
“But it does feel like a mini series and we know that psychological and physical considerations come into play when we play Plymouth back to back.
“It’s a difficult trip and a notoriously tough venue to visit so as soon as the final buzzer sounds at the VMA we’ll be thinking about resting, preparing and when to watch the film so that we’re in the best shape possible to steal a win down at their place.
“Until that point the focus is on doing our job at home and playing the way that we know we can.”
Tickets for tonight’s clash are almost sold-out but some limited seats are still available on the box office.