Bullish Fab Flournoy is predicting a successful 2014 for the resurgent Newcastle Eagles.
Flournoy’s Eagles round off a year of highs and low at Sport Central with their final home game of the year against Birmingham Knights, who are yet to pick up a single point in their BBL season.
They are overwhelming favourites to rack up another home win to add to last Friday’s impressive demolition job on the Sheffield Sharks but the bigger challenges are over the horizon, with Leicester, Plymouth, London and Sheffield all still to come to Tyneside.
Flournoy believes that the Eagles have the quality and ability to overcome all of those teams – and bounce back from a barren 2013.
“I believe we are a good team and that we have quality. I thought the same about the team in 2013 but obviously there were problems that we had to deal with,” he said.
“We made the adjustments and brought in the right people to make 2014 a successful year for us. I think that we are set up for the new year but it is going to be a tough challenge and we have to maintain the standard that we set last week.
“I want to see every practice, every game trying to hit that standard. If we do that I believe that we can have a successful 2014 and I believe in this team.”
While Birmingham and Surrey are cut adrift at the bottom of the BBL, the rest of the league is fraught with danger with Eagles as they head into a new year.
Six points separate six teams in the division and Newcastle are only fourth in the Christmas standings, a position they will hope to improve with games against Birmingham and the tricky London Lions before the turn of the year.
But Flournoy does not anticipate any team running away with it in a season that has been defined by the improvement on and off-the-court of several of the league’s established clubs. Many have aped the Eagles’ strategy of retaining key players for a second year and the retention of head coaches has also allowed those teams to develop an identity and philosophy, which is something that Flournoy felt played a key part in Newcastle’s success.
“It’s been a year like no other. The race at the top is pretty tight – in fact it is extremely tight,” he said. “It’s just very interesting and I think it will make for a vintage 2014. It is not just us and one other in it, there are other teams as well and it makes it much more interesting than it has been in previous years.
“Everyone is making their bid this year. They are trying to use this season as a platform to jump start their clubs and that is an interesting thing for the whole of British basketball.”
Indeed Flournoy reckons the post-Olympic buzz might belatedly be making a difference in the BBL.
The 2012 London Games gave basketball a unique opportunity to be beamed into people’s living rooms and the sport has recorded an increase in interest, but it is only this year when sponsorship and attention seems to have spiked. “We were all expecting it last year but it actually feels like the Olympic jump that we anticipated is happening now,” he said.
“Within the players and teams it feels like that Olympic spirit that we were waiting for is happening now rather than last year and that is great. There are other factors too.
“A lot of it is down to consistency of coaches. We have now got a consistency of ownership and a consistency of coaches who are able to build a philosophy and team spirit that is giving them a chance to really develop. Leicester, Worcester, Sheffield – these teams are all retaining key players and they have started very well. The teams that have retained key players and retained their coaches are the teams that have started very well.”