In-form Josh Ward-Hibbert faces Surrey Scorchers at the Vertu Motors Arena tonight with a glowing endorsement from head coach Marc Steutel ringing in his ears.
One of this season’s frontrunners for the British Basketball League’s sixth man award continues to make a key contribution off the bench for Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles.
And one of the most experienced professionals on the homecourt roster will have another major role to play as the men in black look to bag back-to-back wins against the Scorchers.
“There are probably not enough positive descriptors that I can use about Josh and his level of play at the moment,” said Steutel.
“He’s been really consistent for a long time now. I know that he feels in rhythm right now and the group trusts him.
“Josh is obviously scoring the ball well — and in a really efficient manner — and he’s taking good looks.
“He’s really showing how he can shoot the ball from the perimeter, cut effectively, make reads from his team-mates and create space.
“On top of this he’s often taking on the opposition’s leading scorer on the perimeter. He’s showing his value on both sides of the ball.”
Steutel saw off stiff competition in the close-season to secure Ward-Hibbert’s signature with the former Leicester and London man top of the Eagles’ summer shopping list.
The former tennis star and friend of Newcastle United’s basketball-loving skipper Jamaal Lascelles has emerged as the glue that holds together an evolving roster.
And Steutel revealed Ward-Hibbert’s off-court influence is of equal importance to his on-court leadership.
“Josh is doing even more behind the scenes with his professionalism, approach, hunger and desire to get better every day,” added Newcastle’s playcaller.
“He’s somebody who I feel we’re very fortunate to have wearing an Eagles jersey.
“Josh is a joy to work with on a daily basis and both of us feel he can continue to grow and get better which is the exciting thing.”
Newcastle are chasing an eighth straight win in all competitions having lost just one of their last nine games.
And as a hectic November finally drew to a close yesterday, Steutel admitted December’s kinder schedule is perfectly timed.
“For the last few weeks full practices have been at a premium,” he added. “We’ve just been in a cycle of games, walk throughs and recovery sessions for the last month.
“To have a solid week of practice has been different but it’s been good for us to get back out on the floor and work through some things.
“The group is ready and excited to play again. Playing at home without any travel is a nice feeling to have.
“It’s been an interesting week in that sense. But it’s a week that we’ve needed in order to develop some areas within our game.”
Newcastle dominated Surrey in Guildford last Saturday on their way to an impressive 100-87 win against Lloyd Gardner’s men.
And a seventh Championship win on the bounce would maintain the pressure on second-placed Cheshire Phoenix with this season’s early pacesetters suffering a mid-season wobble.
A sell-out crowd is expected to get behind the Eagles for what will be a poignant occasion at the VMA.
Tonight is the first homecourt fixture since the passing of club director Ken Nottage last month.
Plans are in place to celebrate the life of the popular former Sunderland and Newcastle favourite, who famously went on to secure the future of the Eagles alongside current owner Paul Blake in 1999.