Marc Steutel has hailed Larry Austin Jr as the heartbeat of his Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles team as the men in black close in on a Trophy semi-final berth.
The former Cheshire favourite is in the form of his life ahead of Friday’s shoot-out with Duke Shelton’s Leicester Riders at the Vertu Motors Arena.
And Steutel insists Austin Jr — who bagged another MVP award in Newcastle’s 84-82 win at Bristol — is the perfect role model for the North East’s hoops hopefuls.
“Larry is somebody who we’ve wanted at the club for a while,” said the Eagles playcaller.
“His performances on the floor are a testament to Larry’s energy and his work ethic.
“He works every day pre-practice and post-practice but it’s his enthusiasm and the joy with which he plays the game that’s so contagious.
“There are still aspects of his game that he can improve on but that defensive energy, tempo and pace is infectious.
“It’s exciting that he’s making such an impact for us and that he’s filling up the stat sheet.
“I call Larry the heartbeat and he’s showing why. He’s the ultimate professional and I’m excited to see what’s still to come.”
Austin Jr was in typically effervescent mood against the Flyers on Friday as he stuffed the stat sheet and stunned the homecourt fans.
The game’s standout performer added 11 rebounds, six steals and five assists to his 18 points on a night when Bristol had no answer to his all-action game.
A heavy fall towards the end of the third quarter initially looked serious but Austin Jr dusted himself down to play a key role down the stretch.
And Steutel pointed to the US guard’s focus and commitment as key qualities for any aspiring hooper looking to progress in the professional game.
“We’ve got two younger guys with us and I want North East basketball to continue to improve,” added Great Britain’s head coach.
“Newcastle Eagles is at the forefront of that improvement and part of that is the next generation learning from the experienced pros we bring to the club.
“I’d urge young players to look at Larry’s motor — sometimes he doesn’t see the ball for a possession or two.
“But it doesn’t take anything away from how he goes, how he attacks the defensive glass, how he defends in transition and how he puts his body on the line.
“Every coach in the world wants players like Larry who’ll give everything they’ve got for the team.
“If he can be a role model for younger guys then that’s something positive for everybody.”
Newcastle’s hard fought victory at Bristol — underpinned by a positive night in the paint and a Herculean rebounding effort — puts the Eagles joint-second in Group B of the new-look Trophy.
Leaders London Lions have already qualified for the Final Fours in Birmingham later this month.
And now Steutel’s men face arch-rivals Riders — featuring former Eagle Shelton — in front of another full house for a winner-takes-all tilt at the semis.
“We understand Friday is a different challenge and one that we really welcome,” added Newcastle’s playcaller.
“I’m sure Leicester will be looking at the rhythm we’re playing in and how they can slow us down but we’re looking at their strengths too.
“Going into the Trophy we wanted to make sure that every game in this competition meant something and we wanted to make sure that we kept winning and kept progressing.
“We know we’ve got a big challenge on Friday but we’re excited to have that opportunity in front of our own fans.”
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