Fab Flournoy believes that the seeds for Newcastle Eagles’ success were sown in the Second City – which is why he will welcome the Birmingham Knights to Tyneside tonight with “open arms”.
The Eagles need to bounce back from Sunday’s defeat at Plymouth Raiders, and on the face of it a meeting with the inexperienced Knights looks like the perfect platform for Flournoy’s new-look team to do it.
But the game is loaded with significance for former Birmingham Bullet Flournoy and visiting coach Paul Douglas, who spent seven years in the North East with the Sunderland Scorpions and the early incarnation of the Newcastle Eagles.
Flournoy joined Birmingham in 1996 in his first posting in British basketball and credits the Bullets with making him realise the importance of community work and building a solid foundation for success off the court. He also credits legendary coach Nick Nurse as being a major inspiration for his own coaching career.
And while the new-look Birmingham will take time to emerge from the shadow of the formidable Bullets franchise, Flournoy feels their introduction to the league is a major step forward for British basketball.
“It is great to have the Second City back in the league. At one point in time I called Birmingham home, it was my first point of call in the country and it is where I learned quite a bit about the game,” he said.
“It is the city where my understanding of how important community work is to basketball was formed. My first couple of years in the BBL really served me well, and to be honest I think I adopted a lot of the things that I do now with Newcastle from the people I worked with there.
“This is a big game for me and there is big history involved for both teams with Dougie coming back here with Birmingham. Both of our affiliations make this a great game for both teams and personally I am absolutely delighted to have Birmingham back in the league.”
The Knights have had something of a baptism of fire in the BBL, facing champions Leicester in the opening game before a weekend double-header against Newcastle and Sheffield.
Just as Manchester found out last year, a big city name does not necessarily mean big success and Flournoy is preaching patience to the people of his former city when it comes to play-off aspirations.
He argues that their presence alone is a sign of progress. “We got Manchester back last year, this year it’s Birmingham and London – to have the three major cities in the UK represented is great for the BBL,” he said.
“These are the juggernauts of British basketball historically and I think Birmingham brings history and prestige to our league.
“I am really happy that they are back in the league and it’s a major step forward. They bring excitement. They are not quite where they want to be at the moment but it is a process. No-one would expect them to be the team they were in the past but they can get to that stage. It is a process and there will be growth with that franchise because you look at the people involved and they are good people with an understanding of the game.
“I was enthused because they were meant to be in the BBL last year but they took a year out to make sure things were right off the court. Getting those foundations right is a key to long-term success and they understand that.” Meanwhile, Flournoy has confirmed that both he and Charles Smith will play this weekend as they continue to battle injuries. Flournoy’s hamstring and Smith’s ankle have been troubling them of late but the player-coach believes they will be stronger for a week of rehab.
“It’s a slow process but we are getting there,” he said.
“We were only meant to play limited minutes at Plymouth but because of various things like foul trouble we ended up playing for most of the game. We have had the chance to do work with the physio this week and that will make us stronger. We will both be involved.”