Fab Flournoy has urged his Newcastle Eagles to sign off a challenging year by checking the momentum of London Lions – a club he believes is British basketball’s coming force.
The Lions are the latest attempt to establish a strong presence in the capital, having previously been based in Milton Keynes and enjoyed moderate success in the BBL. This year they have relocated to the Copper Box Arena, the home of handball in the Olympics, and sit six points off the top of the standings and handily placed to make a real impact in the play-offs.
That makes the Eagles’ trip to the capital on Sunday a real test for a team that have started to pick up form and recently and have a BBL Cup final date with Leicester Riders awaiting them in the New Year.
“London Lions have had a real resurgence. They are a team that I would say have been waiting to happen,” Flournoy said.
“They are a team that have enjoyed a resurgence and that is one of the main things that has happened in British basketball this year. London is a real hotbed of basketball – all of the top players at this point in time come from London, Manchester and Birmingham.
“Players come from all over, of course, but it does tend to be the fact that most come from those three cities and London is one of the major sources so it is important to the sport to have a team that is very competitive from that city.
“They have come from the Milton Keynes franchise which was always difficult for us to play against and they are building momentum and have had a very good first part of the season. They are in the mix this season.
“They are playing at the Copper Box and playing there is all part of laying down the foundations for a London club. They are reaping more of the rewards from the Olympics than any of the other BBL teams and they are really making sure that they are making the most of it.”
The identity of the opposition make this an important game but the way the fixture list has beenprogrammed adds a real sense of urgency to the London game.
Eagles do not have another game this year and their next engagement is the Birmingham date with Leicester for the BBL Cup.
“Every week we build up to the Friday game but after the London match we have a 14-day build-up to the Cup and that is a long time,” he said. “I think for one aspect it is all right for us. We still have players who are injured and they will have recovered by the time we play at Birmingham against Leicester. That’s no bad thing for us.”
Eagles maintained their BBL title push with a straightforward win against Birmingham Knights last week, and while many would dismiss a win over a team that have yet to register a point this season, it brought real pleasure for Newcastle’s head coach. They are third in the table ahead of the London trip.
“It was an important game for us given the way we have been playing,” he said.
“Obviously we had the big high of the Sheffield game and then we went into the Birmingham game and we were desperate to win that too. I think that we have tended to respond to the bigger games, but we have to be consistent and play at the same level that we have played at in those important matches against every team.
“We had a couple of players out but I was pleased with the way that we played and the focus and consistency that we illustrated.
“That’s important for me and it’s important for us. It was just an important fixture for us and for us to be able to play like we did was pleasing for me. I want us to replicate that moving into next year now.”