It was Fab Flournoy’s 40th birthday in July, but the landmark occasion was not the cause for lavish celebration.
“I was in the gym at six, quietly working out,” he reflects. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
To those who don’t know the Newcastle Eagles player-coach, the assumption would be that Flournoy was trying to ignore a birthday that takes him into that rare sphere of professional athletes still plying their trade into their fifth decade.
The retirement of one of Flournoy’s 2011 Invincibles, Andrew Bridge, at the age of 33 this week, was another reminder that the New Yorker’s longevity is pretty remarkable, especially in a sport that relies on the sort of explosive movement that puts unprecedented pressure on joints and muscles.
But the lack ofpomp and ceremony surrounding the Eagles veteran was not an attempt to rage against the encroaching years. Rather it was just a reflection of Flournoy’s philosophical attitude to his age.
“No matter how hard I try to ignore it, I will keep getting reminded of it this season, I know that. But in truth turning 40 is not a big milestone for me. I tried to let it happen as quietly as possible.
“That’s not because I’m embarrassed about my age or I don’t want people to know how old I am. It’s because I have never really been a guy who celebrates his birthdays. I think I tried to keep 30 very quiet as well!
“Look, for me 25 was a big milestone. By the age of 25 I was supposed to be dead or in jail. My younger brother was shot at the age of 23. My older brother was dead by the age of 23.
“After I made it through to 25 everything else in life became a piece of cake. So I will celebrate 50 because that is another big milestone for me but 40 is not a big deal.
“I am just lucky to be still playing at this age and getting on with playing a game I love. A lot of my peers have retired by now but I’m still going and I have spent half my life in this sport.”
Whatever the age on his passport, the competitive fire has not dimmed within Flournoy. A season spent playing second fiddle to Leicester Riders has emphasised that the Eagles’ assumed BBL ascendancy is far from a given.
They will start next year as second favourites behind the Riders but with a new-look team that has been assembled with one eye on improving their offence – an Achilles heel last term.
Scott Martin and Malik Cooke are the two new arrivals, but the return of Drew Lasker and Paul Gause should quicken black-and-white pulses. Flournoy admits there were clear strategic reasons for their recruitment.
“The Eagles have always been a defensive team with clear defensive talent but last year we were unable to turn our defence into offence,” he said.
“So over the summer we have looked to keep our defensive components in place but also looking to improve in other areas – particular offence. We have looked to have a little bit more explosion in our attacks. I think we lacked that a little bit last season.”
There were a few surprise summer calls when it came to recruitment, with sharp shooter Joe Chapman jettisoned. Partly that was due to the player himself needing a quick answer to whether the Eagles could offer him a contract – a rapid response that Flournoy could not give while he pondered where to go after last season’s barren year.
Aware that the critics are once again questioning whether Flournoy has it within him to mount another push for BBL supremacy, the Eagles player-coach is happy to confront the query head on.
“I’m excited now because it is a new beginning. The group we have put together is a good group and we want to push for silverware again,” he said.
“It is a different team from last year but I don’t necessarily think we made any big mistakes last year. In truth, at times we just didn’t have it. That’s not taking anything away from Leicester or being disrespectful to them.
“I think that we needed to change a few things but the season but the critics will inevitably talk about legacy and whether we are now finished. I don’t blame them because they always say that and it is borne partly from wanting a new team to come through.
“That’s fine but if you ask me if I’m motivated this year I would say ‘Hell yeah I’m motivated’. We have learned from last year but I’m not going to say we have learned from mistakes because I’m not sure that many mistakes were made.”
The key could be chemistry this year, with Flournoy hopeful that his roster becomes the sort of band of brothers that his 2011 team developed into.
The Eagles player-coach also anticipates Stuart Thomson’s signing as giving them something different. Like his brother, he will bring character to the mix.
“One of the things that I would like this year is for us to be a cohesive unit on and off the court. I think that makes a big difference and that is something that we want from this new group,” he said.