Fab Flournoy believes unbeaten Worcester Wolves are genuine BBL title contenders this season.
Flournoy’s Newcastle Eagles welcome the BBL’s early pace-setters to Sport Central tomorrow in probably the game of the season so far in British basketball. Eagles’ decent early form includes a defeat of Glasgow Rocks last week, but it is Paul James’ Wolves who have raised eyebrows with a blistering start to the campaign.
They have beaten Plymouth and Leicester already and know that if they can complete a hat-trick of heavyweight victories, they will have to be taken seriously.
To be fair to Flournoy, he has been banging the drum for Worcester for a couple of years – even stating last season that the sheer size of their starting five would make them Britain’s best bet in any European competition.
James has managed to bring back many of last season’s stars and added a bit more physical presence to the mix, which makes them a dangerous prospect in Flournoy’s opinion.
“This is a big game for both teams. They have got off to a great start and Paul James has got a very well organised team who are playing well and with a lot of confidence,” he said.
“Paul is also a great coach. Every year since PJ went to Worcester the Wolves have been getting stronger and stronger, but this year the difference is that they have got off to a good start. Last year they had issues with work permits so it took them a while to get their team together, but once they did they were very strong.
“PJ has been able to add to the roster he has.
“They had size last year and they’ve got size this year, as well as a very good guard in Taylor. They recruited well in the summer and the simple fact is that the players he has brought in can play. They have been playing with a renewed energy and confidence and that makes them a dangerous team. They have confidence and ability so this is a big, big Friday night for us.”
The rise of the Wolves franchise has been one of the stories of the BBL in recent years. Worcester were perennial fixtures in the lower half of the division until recently and their highest ever finish was in 2011/12 when they managed a third-placed finish.
They have never won BBL silverware but Flournoy is including them in a list of likely challengers for the title this season.
“They are in the running, no doubt,” he said.
“They have the talent so that puts them in the running for a start. With the format of our league it tends to come down to the wins and losses in pivotal games. So far this season they have already knocked Leicester off and Plymouth as well.
“We have a three-game format so they are already in a commanding position against both those teams and they will be coming to Newcastle thinking that if they knock us off too then they have beaten three of the contenders in the BBL. This is an absolutely pivotal game.
“Are Worcester in the title race? Yes they are. Are Leicester? Yes, they are. Are Newcastle in the title race? We are. I mention those three teams but I think Plymouth and Rocks, who haven’t played many games yet, are both capable of improving and being right up there too.
“These games are absolutely pivotal to how the season goes so we have to be aware that we’re playing a team high on confidence who want to beat us.”
Flournoy has declared both himself and veteran forward Charles Smith fit to face the Wolves despite still carrying niggles.
Predictably, ‘Prince’ Charles was in man-of-the-match form against former club but Flournoy says he is currently playing at around 75% of his full fitness.
“There has been swelling but we’re both fine to play. There are no excuses,” he said.