Esh Group Eagles Newcastle face a tough BBL Championship clash at Surrey Scorchers this afternoon after their long journey south this morning, writes Jeff King. The Scorchers are on a red-hot run of home form having won six in a row on their own court.
Indeed, they haven’t lost in Surrey this calendar year and until Friday night’s defeat at London were also on a four-game winning streak. The Eagles meanwhile have only played three away fixtures since the turn of the year the last of them being at the beginning of February.
They have however won all three meaning someone’s record has to give this afternoon.
Newcastle did complete a season series sweep against Leeds Force on Friday demolishing the Yorkshire side 120 – 68 with six players in double figures and local youngster Themba Yabantu making a very promising debut.
The Eagles though were without Captain Darius Defoe and Player-Coach Fab Flournoy through injury as well as vice-Captain Drew Lasker who is in Brisbane, Australia as part of the England Commonwealth Games squad seeking medal glory.
Flournoy was not even fit enough to take his place on the side-lines and coach the side on Friday and handed the reins over to assistants Dave Forrester and Ian Macleod. Both did a fine job in his absence and that will continue this afternoon as Flournoy will not be travelling.
Thrust in to the captaincy role in place of his missing team-mates, Kai Williams reflected on his side’s win and the trip to Surrey as well as considering a tough week ahead for a depleted Eagles roster after Friday’s game.
“It was good for us to come out of some adversity we’ve had this week with missing some players and Fab not being around and still play the right way and the way we’re supposed to play.”
“There are still some things that we obviously need to work on, so we’ll have a good film session Saturday to look at Scorchers and then get ready for what is a very long trip and a tough match-up.”
“But tonight, we started off the game playing together and playing the right way and I think it had a trickle-down effect. Everyone that came in to the game knew what was expected of them and it was definitely an impressive night for us.”
As Captain Williams had a special mention for 19-year-old Yabantu who made his senior bow and looked at home amongst his senior compatriots.
“I can imagine how big of a night this must have been for him. Our fans I think are the best in the league and they certainly welcomed him in to the side and that must have been great for his confidence too.”
“He got a great reception and I think he fed off that. I was happy for him and happy to see him out there because he’s impacted with us really well and works so hard in practice. He’s a great kid.”
Yabantu did pay his part in the victory but with six players in double-figure scoring it showed the Eagles all-round strength and how well they performed as a unit.
Surprisingly Williams was not one of those. But his line of 7 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 8 steals was still a mightily impressive one and the old cliché, a Captains performance, could be tagged on to it.
“I’ve never had a triple-double before and I guess I was flirting with it. But in honesty it was just a product of playing with some talented guys and everyone just doing their bit to help each other out anyway we could.”
Now the Eagles go in to this difficult away stretch but Williams remains positive and focused.
“The BBL is a kind of weird league in that you might not play for a couple of weeks and then you have six games in two weeks or whatever it is. We just must be ready for it. Your perception is your reality so if we perceive this as an un-accomplishable task it’s going to be really tough.”
“But I think all of the guys have the right mindset and they know we can pull off some important wins so we’re all thinking positively. It starts at Surrey and we’re only looking at that one right now.”
“They’re a team that played well against us up here do we know it’s going to be tough down there as they always do play well at home. The travel on top of that makes for a tough trip but at the same time we’re playing basketball on a Sunday afternoon so it’s too bad!”