Fab Flournoy believes de-railing the Sheffield Sharks “juggernaut” will be the biggest challenge of the Newcastle Eagles’ season so far.
The Eagles head into the first leg of a BBL Cup semi-final against the in-form Sharks with their tails up after their nail-biting defeat of Worcester Wolves at Sport Central – but Flournoy believes it is far too early to be dishing out praise to his team.
Taming the Wolves was the biggest result of their campaign so far but it gets no easier for Flournoy’s men, who will travel to a Sheffield team that are in the thick of the title mix this season.
They have won six of their last seven games, a run that includes an impressive defeat of Durham Wildcats in the quarter-finals of the Cup.
Flournoy has hailed the Sharks as one of the strongest teams in the chasing pack, and feels that tonight’s semi-final clash is the most important game of their season.
“The way this season is progressing for us, each week becomes bigger than the last and this is the biggest game of the season for us,” he said.
“Last weekend was a big win. It was a nail-biter and the sort of game that we wouldn’t want to go through again but this weekend is a new challenge. It’s a huge test.
“Sheffield are playing extremely well at the moment. They had an injection of fresh blood over the summer which was mixed with players who had experience and knowledge of the ‘Sheffield way’ and it is no surprise to me that they’re doing well.
“Sheffield is one of my former clubs and I would file them under the category of major BBL club. They’re a juggernaut. I think like all clubs in the BBL they will have their peaks and troughs and they will have some seasons that are better than others, but they’re back to a position of strength again.
“They got themselves back on track towards the end of last season and won the Trophy and I think this season has been like a continuation of that form.
“Add into that that they feel a bit disrespected by people last season, who maybe didn’t recognise their contribution.
“All the talk was about other teams but they won the Trophy and had a good team.
“So maybe they are fuelled by that a bit. It’s going to be a big test for my team.”
Flournoy is not just wary of a fired-up Sharks team but also by a format that he has always had a problem with.
The two-legged semi-final is more usually associated with football but the BBL adopted the system a long time ago and it does add a completely different feel to the latter stages of the Cup competition.
“Flournoy has been a vocal critic of it in the past and his team have only won the Cup once in seven seasons, a telling statistic considering their overwhelming supremacy in British basketball over the past decade.
There is an added complication this season because the Eagles have a clutch of imported players who have never taken part in a contest over two legs.
Flournoy admits they will have to get up to speed quickly.
“It makes it very different being over two legs and we should take into account the fact that both us and the Sharks have new players who have not experienced this before,” he said.
“It’s going to be a case of which team settles into it and which team understands the format better. To be honest it is a funny old game over two legs and I don’t like it but it’s something that I just have to deal with, and so does my team.”
With the BBL fixture list having kept so many of the title contenders away from each other in the first months of the season, this will also be a chance for two of the leading lights to make their introductions. Flournoy anticipates that making it a cagey affair in those early stages.
“Both teams are going to be feeling each other out in those early stages. There are some teams that we’re very familiar with already but Sheffield aren’t one – and that adds something to this,” he said.