Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles have built an eye-catching roster primed to get fans on their feet and win with style.
That’s the definitive verdict of former franchise favourite turned TV pundit Drew Lasker as British Basketball League action returns to Tyneside tonight.
Marc Steutel’s men host northern rivals Sheffield Sharks in front of the Sky Sports cameras from 7.45pm as the new Championship season tips off.
And Lasker is predicting a ‘juicy’ match-up as new-look Newcastle take on a Sharks side stacked with returning talent.
“This Eagles team will excite the supporters,” said the popular Texan. “And if you look at the way the league’s going right now then entertainment is what it’s all about.
“That’s why people pay their hard-earned money every week. They want to get off their feet and be treated to a show.
“Newcastle have recruited players who can get pulses racing — and win games.
“Look at Taj Green. Larry Austin Jr is a dog! And Jordan Johnson is a great personality.
“These are players the Eagles fans can really invest in throughout the season.
“The Vertu Motors Arena has the potential to explode on the back of a few crowd-pleasing wins.
“Coach Steutel has recruited a team that can generate a special atmosphere and win games in style.”
This time last year Lasker faced intense criticism from certain sections of Newcastle’s fan base for predicting his former team would only just scrape into the playoffs.
But the erudite ex-guard was proved right as the Eagles only secured their playoff place on the final weekend of a frustrating season.
Fast forward to the 2023/24 campaign and Lasker has Steutel’s side finishing runners-up to reigning champions London Lions in the final Championship table.
“This summer has been completely different on and off the court,” he added.
“Coach Steutel was away with Great Britain heading into last season and didn’t see his team practice together for the first six days.
“Ultimately that impacted on the way things panned out and he’s long since admitted performances were unacceptable for a franchise of Newcastle’s stature.
“This time the club’s made sure they’ve assembled an experienced roster with players who know what British basketball’s all about.
“Those players have come out really hungry in pre-season and you can already see there’s balance and versatility there.
“I don’t think there’s ever been so much strength in depth and especially in the point guard position.
“In this league you need guys who can create shots for themselves, create shots for others and get up and down the court.
“Austin JR, Johnson and Ricky McGill are three of those players. And that’s just the back court.”
Despite a raft of BBL experience, Newcastle are heading into a second successive season under Steutel with only a handful of familiar faces.
Sheffield, by contrast, returned seven players in the close-season and Lasker expects the Sharks to benefit from a level of continuity.
“From a chemistry standpoint, of course they’re in a more favourable position,” he added.
“They’ve been through the good times and the bad together as a group and of course they have a great record at the VMA.
“For the Eagles it’s all about setting the early tempo. Newcastle have gone back to playing defence and doing it aggressively.
“The Sharks are known as a defensively strong team but they sit back in the half court.
“That contrast in styles makes for an intriguing opening night game and I’m expecting a juicy match-up.”
Tickets for tonight’s season opener are available from the box office.