Caledonia Gladiators104Loss

Five-and-a-half years is a long time in basketball. Just ask Glasgow Rocks.

The border raiders must go back as far as 2012 to find evidence of their most recent victory against Newcastle Eagles – an 85-77 win on April Fool’s Day.

David Cameron was leading a coalition government, Queen Elizabeth had just celebrated her diamond jubilee and Carly Rae Jepson was riding high in the UK top 40 with Call Me Maybe.

Newcastle, meanwhile, were still fully committed to finding space on their title-challenging roster for the very best in emerging British talent.

And in the build-up to a hotly anticipated first homecourt clash of the season it was the Eagles’ subtle move away from developing homegrown heroes that most exercised the mind of Rocks’ Tony Garbelotto.

Prior to tip-off Newcastle’s former playcaller, newly installed as the head coach of the Great Britain national team, made his feelings very clear on a contentious matter. Any attempt to draw the Eagles’ hierarchy into a tit-for-tat public spat might have fallen on deaf ears but the issue remains a source for heated debate.

To view this as Garbelotto’s Great British Rocks – the Glasgow outfit is built around a core of players with UK passports – versus Fabulous Flournoy’s global All-Stars might have been stretching the point.

But as the backdrop to a fixture that still feels like a fierce local derby – despite 21 successive defeats for the Scots – it was always guaranteed to add an extra edge.

For 15 minutes it looked like the visitors might just be capable of doing British basketball proud. The reality was predictably different.

Flournoy will have been mildly concerned to see his star-studded roster concede 28 first quarter points – a painful throwback to last season’s defensive lapses – but the hosts still led by two.

And Newcastle’s lean, mean attacking machine was simply warming up.

The Eagles broke the game wide open after the restart to lead 45-36 and 57-38 before taking a 15-point lead into the half. As if to confirm the sudden shift in power, Saah Nimley added yet another magic moment to the highlights reel – the 5ft8in guard was floored in attempting a three-point shot only to grab his own rebound and sink a spectacular fadeaway triple.

Interestingly, given the depth of Newcastle’s bench and the undoubted talent from one thru 10, Flournoy resisted the temptation to roll out multiple rotations until victory was all but assured.

Jure Gunjina, Terry Martin and AJ Basi were virtual spectators as the hosts edged ever closer to a 30-point lead: all three had impressed in pre-season and the trio will surely hope to secure a greater share of the court time in Manchester tomorrow [Sunday].

Another fascinating aside was Flournoy’s contribution. Those suspecting the New Yorker would take a backseat role in his 45th year clearly hadn’t read the script as the Eagles’ evergreen player-coach hit five points, grabbed 10 rebounds and added seven assists in 26 action-packed minutes.

So far, so good for new-look Newcastle. So far, so far away for the Rocks. Joe Hart, a former Eagle and one of those British players Garbelotto is so desperate to develop, managed just five points on his return to Tyneside and never looked comfortable in the face of Nimley and the irrepressible Jaysean Paige. The GB shooter is a genuinely exciting talent but Newcastle’s sublime backcourt pairing operates on a different level altogether. It’s a level few BBL players – British or otherwise – can live with right now.