Drew Lasker insists the combination of a top-three finish and a playoff run is still a realistic goal for the rejuvenated Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles.
The men in black will look to earn their fourth win in 10 days tonight against Plymouth City Patriots as they rebound from what ex-Eagles star Lasker called an ‘underwhelming’ start to the campaign.
Despite a much-hyped summer recruitment drive, Newcastle sit seventh in the British Basketball League and are playing catch-up after running into several big guns early in the season.
However, their timely upturn in form means they are just three wins behind Cheshire Phoenix and Bristol Flyers, who are second and third respectively.
Now a broadcaster, Lasker commentated on the Eagles’ 90-74 European North Basketball League victory at Latvia’s Valmiera Glass VIA last Tuesday. Newcastle followed that up by beating Manchester Giants 97-85 at home last Friday and then romping to a 95-68 win at Plymouth on Sunday.
Ahead of tonight’s Vertu Motors Arena clash (7.45pm tip-off), the former fan favourite said of the Eagles: “They should be a top-three team; they have the talent. I think over the next couple of weeks we’ll have a really good idea because it’s fair to say that their schedule’s been tough.
“Now they’re in the middle of a softer schedule, starting with that win over Manchester and then in Plymouth. Including those two last week, they play the bottom feeders – Plymouth, Surrey, and Manchester – in five games out of seven. From my perspective, if you’re going to be a top-three team, those are games you’ve got to win.”
He added: “This past week, it looked like things were finally starting to click together. I feel like coach Marc Steutel has been trying to figure out what is the best lineup and I think he’s nailed it. Now we’re starting to see why this team was put together in the preseason – and I think they’re only going to get better with time.”
Ahead of a crunch double-header that also sees the Eagles travel to Caledonia Gladiators tomorrow, Lasker expects Steutel will have snuffed any hint of complacency out of his gifted group.
Newcastle wowed hoops fans this summer by building a roster loaded with exciting young talent and veteran savvy. The former guard praised Jordan Johnson for his consistency and said fellow summer signings Rickey McGill and Malcolm Delpeche look more settled in their respective roles now.
But the Sky Sports pundit noted the Eagles’ hot streak has coincided with captain Darius Defoe’s return to the starting five – and he reckons the 39-year-old is still the club’s most important player.
Lasker said: “When it comes to the intricacies of defence – knowing how to anchor a defence, knowing how to be in the right position, communicating all those little details that it takes to be a great defender – he’s the best. I would say he’s number one.”
The American ended his 16-year professional career in 2021 with 10 trophies. After winning his first with Plymouth, he was part of the Eagles’ golden era under legendary player-coach Fab Flournoy. Another of his Tyneside team-mates was Defoe, who wants to add to his British-best haul of 27 major titles.
Reflecting on the manner of one-club man Defoe’s success, Lasker said: “When you look at the winning, playing for the same team, playing as long as he has – when you think about all those boxes, I say it’ll never happen again.”
Despite all their success since 2005, the Eagles only made their European debut this season. Lasker insists he does not envy the current group and said he was ‘very emotional’ to see his old club record their first European win, an 87-81 home triumph over Basket Brno.
“I guess a part of me is living through Darius,” he added. “He’s representing myself, Fletch [Rahmon Fletcher], Charles Smith, Fab, TJ Walker, all those guys that came before, that he had the pleasure of playing with, he’s representing us all.”
A lot has changed around the league since Lasker bowed out. A period of strong growth, an influx of money, and rule changes have all enabled teams to invest more in their rosters.
The ex-Eagle believes the talent level in Britain is higher than ever and, thanks to the transformation, he envisages more stars will spend their entire careers in the UK.
“I think five years from now, you’re going to have two or three teams that have the personnel that London has,” Lasker, 41, said. “I’ve interviewed several London players about why they would play here and being in an English-speaking country is very attractive for Americans.
“It’s a close flight to America and even though it’s different, it’s still easier to adapt to living here. Guys will take a little less money to live in the UK rather than, say, Eastern Europe. I think the talent level is just going to continue to get better.”