Will Neighbour has lifted the lid on the long road to recovery as the experienced centre edges closer to a Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles return.
The popular big man admitted he’d love to be part of Friday’s eye-catching Trophy showdown against Duke Shelton’s Leicester Riders.
But Neighbour is playing the long game as he looks to stay on target for a 2024 comeback — alongside sidelined team-mates Josh Ward-Hibbert, Devin Whitfield and Scott Spencer.
“I’m still on course for a return to action at the end of this month or early February,” revealed the former Cheshire favourite. “I’m feeling good.
“The surgery went well and the rehab’s going well. You can put a time frame on your comeback but nobody really knows when that will be.
“I just feel like I’m getting to that stage now and I’ll be back on court sooner rather than later.”
Neighbour took the decision to go under the knife in December — rather than continue to manage a painful knee problem — in order to be fully fit for the second half of Newcastle’s Championship season.
That meant missing out on the new-look British Basketball League Trophy and a tough decision still rankles with the former London Lion.
Neighbour was holed up back on Tyneside as the Larry Austin-inspired Eagles netted a nerve-jangling win at Bristol last Friday.
And he added: “I wished I was there. The four of us who are injured sat out the trip but we watched it together back here and we lived every minute of that game!
“We’re all very supportive and we’re looking forward to getting back out on court as a full strength team.
“I said to Larry after the Flyers win ‘great game but you can still be better’. “Larry’s Larry and he’ll do what he always does — he was finding his feet at the start of the season and carrying an injury but in the last few weeks he’s been at his very best.
“It’s nice to see. He works so hard and he deserves the rewards for that hard work. I’m not surprised at what I’ve seen from Larry in the last few weeks but I want to see more!”
Neighbour and Austin played a lethal inside-outside game at the Phoenix last season but the pair have had little opportunity to reprise their partnership on Tyneside.
It’s a source of huge frustration for Newcastle’s sidelined centre but he insisted there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“I’ve been doing some swimming, lots of bike exercises and strength work on the legs,” added Neighbour.
“I’ve never had a problem with my knees in the past so I don’t have anything I can directly relate to.
“Of course I’ve had significant injuries in the past, including surgery on my shoulder, and so in that respect I’m used to the recovery process and understand what’s required.
“We have a great medical staff at the club — they tell me what I need to do and I make sure that I’m doing it!
“It’s a case of resisting the temptation to do too much too soon. I have to look at the bigger picture here. That’s difficult when I see the other guys working so hard on court every week.
“The first few weeks post-surgery were very time consuming and boring but it won’t be long before I’m back on court, shooting and doing some basketball exercises. I’ll feel like that’s when I’m really back. Playing basketball is why I’m here.”
Neighbour is tipping fellow Newcastle bigs Darius Defoe and Malcolm Delpeche to contain the returning Shelton on Friday.
But he accepts the Duke will be a man on a mission following two colourful spells on Tyneside.
“He was around the club last summer when I first came up here so I know what Duke’s like as a character and all about his connection with the club,” added Neighbour.
“I know he’ll want to have a big game against his old team. But we’ve got Malcolm and Darius to keep him quiet and Darius knows Duke better than most.
“I know what it’s like when you go back to a former club. You want to make a statement and Duke’s a big personality. It just adds to the occasion.
“If they’re anything like me then our fans will be buzzing about Friday. I’m hoping it’s another sell-out and that the arena is bouncing.
“It was a great game the last time Leicester were here and it’s a case of ‘win or go home’ where the Trophy is concerned.
“Our guys will leave everything out there and it should be a great watch. Hopefully we’ll get the win and punch our ticket for Birmingham.”