Interview: 'Prince' Charles Smith of Newcastle Eagles

Newcastle Eagles stalwart Charles Smith is aiming for British Basketball League Cup glory

Simon Hobson Newcastle Eagles' Charles Smith
Newcastle Eagles' Charles Smith

The reign of ‘Prince’ Charles Smith began in 2000 and, but for a year in Spain, he has witnessed at first-hand a long line of Newcastle Eagles.

Reluctant though he is to draw comparisons, he rates the current roster among the franchise’s most attack-minded.

Get the basics of defence right, he has warned Sunday’s BBL Cup final opponents Leicester Riders, and the Eagles will be “hard to stop”.

Newcastle have won 17 titles – championships, play-offs, the Cup and BBL Trophy – over the last nine years.

This weekend’s finale at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena is their 19th finals event during that period.

Yet last season ended with the trophy cabinet bare.

To make matters worse, it was Leicester to whom the club lost last January’s cup final.

Not that Smith, player-coach Fabulous Flournoy and their men have revenge in mind.

Winning, whatever the circumstances, is what matters at Newcastle Eagles.

To that end, the squad underwent an overhaul last summer, with the likes of Scott Martin and Malik Cooke varying the team’s offensive options, alleviating the pressure on the likes of Smith and Darius Defoe. And Smith says they, as much as last term’s dearth of silverware, have replenished the club’s thirst for success.

“Winning is the main focus of our club every year,” said Smith.

“It’s not about revenge, it’s about going there and putting on a better performance than last year and getting a win.

“I mean, we wouldn’t have really been bothered who the opposition was. It just happens to be Leicester again, but they’ve made changes too, so it’s not like it’s the exact same players who’ll be out there on the court.

“We’ll have to adjust to their new guys, but we’ll be going in just trying to play our game and as long as we can get stops on the defence, I think we’re going to be all right.

“We’ve got myself, Darius (Defoe) and Fab (Flournoy) back from last year, then we made some changes and brought in some fresh faces to the club.

“They haven’t won anything here yet, so they have that competitive edge too. They want success. I think that’s going to help us a lot, not only in the cup final but throughout the rest of the season, especially if we go down there, put on a good performance and get a win.

“That’s just going to build that hunger in them, and they’re going to want to experience winning more and more.”

Smith added: “It’s hard to compare each year to another.

“We change our style to play offence. The defensive principles will always stay the same because the main thing is the defensive end. As long as we can get consistent stops, and get the rebounds, we’re going to be hard to stop.

“But offensively this year I think we’re a lot faster and more athletic than we’ve been in a while.

“We’ve had a lot more scores from all positions now. It’s hard to really key in on one or two guys.

“Last year, opposition teams tried to contain myself and Joe (Chapman) and take us out of the game. We didn’t have a good enough balance to get other guys in scoring.

“I think that’s changed this year. The new guys like Scott Martin (pictured left) and Malik Cooke have been scoring well all season long, which has taken a lot of pressure off myself. Without that scoring pressure, I can try and do other things on the court.

“The same goes for Darius, Paul (Gause) and Drew (Lasker). You give them the ball and they’re probably some of the best guys in the league.

“It makes us have to run harder and faster to keep up! But in the long run, that’ll help us out a lot. We have that many options on the court.”

More options, but less experience. That, says 38-year-old Smith, is where he can help.

“Some of the guys have never experienced this,” he said.

“We just try to tell them what to expect on the day throughout the game. The important thing is not to bring out too much emotion early on.

“It’s kind of a different feel to the game. The build up is different, you can’t get on the court to warm up like you usually do in a normal game.

“There are things going on there before. You have to try and prepare your body in a different way.

“Then, usually, the game is reffed differently. Usually, the game is on the TV and the refs try to let you play out the game, they don’t call as many fouls as they might normally.

“That’s just in years past, we don’t know how this will go.

“They might let the players decide the game, which can help and also hurt you.

“We just have to be prepared for whatever happens. But we’ve been doing a lot of preparation, so hopefully come Sunday we’ll be ready for it.”

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