Face to Face: Shawn Myers

He began the season with the best club and finished it with one of the worst.

Shawn Myers

He began the season with the best club and finished it with one of the worst. Yet it was he and his no-hopers who won the silverware and gained the glory.

Shawn Myers, back at Newcastle for a new season which trumpets its arrival on Friday, smiles with obvious satisfaction when he recalls the strange twist of fate that befell him.

At this time last year he was with Chester Jets, then the Manchester United of British basketball having completed a clean sweep of domestic honours the previous season. But only a couple of weeks into hostilities Myers was sensationally thrown out and signed for the Scottish Rocks, who seemed destined for continued oblivion.

However, Scotland's only professional basketball club somehow, against all sanity, won the BBL Play-off Championships on an emotional night in Birmingham when Myers, their top points scorer, was named most valuable player. Oh, sweet, sweet revenge!

"Yeah, it sure was," agreed Shawn, born in Trinidad, educated in the States, and a basketball player all across Europe.

"I got the laugh that mattered and it was a good feeling. A great feeling.

"No-one rated the Rocks. They put us down. We were supposed to be a mediocre, inexperienced team - but we knew what we were capable of doing in important games. And we came up big."

Myers' bust-up with the Jets still rankles and confuses a proud man.

"I got the push along with the other new player at Chester because the chemistry of the squad wasn't supposed to be right," Shawn told me. "That was the explanation I got from the coach Robbie Peers but it didn't make sense.

"We only trained together as a team twice a week so how could we build up a chemistry? We worked individually apart from those sessions.

"I should have known from the start that things weren't right. I flew into Manchester from New Zealand where I'd been playing basketball for three months and phoned up coach Peers to ask him to find me a gym and a place to practice. I wanted to get sharp again.

"But he messed about, he came up with nowhere. Yet we went to play Manchester Giants pre-season and I found that their arena is just down the road from where I was staying. Why didn't he tell me about that?

"So, with a lack of pre-season work-out we faced Newcastle Eagles at the league's start and it was horrible. We lost and I wasn't in condition.

"The coach kept avoiding me. There was no good feeling but it still came as a huge surprise when I was released. I was hurt."

The Jets coach phoned Scottish Rocks in Glasgow and offered them Myers - but the move to basketball's outpost cost the 34-year-old forward a lot of money as well as heartache.

"I went because they wanted me and I knew some of the guys up there," he explained. "It was either the Rocks or me back home in America.

"I was dropping a lot of money in wages. This wasn't a big club. We were supposed to be no-hopers but the coach Kevin Wall embraced me with open arms and it was a warm feeling after the Jets. I told him that once the dust had settled everything would be all right. Chester's loss would be their gain. And those words still stand."

At 6ft 6in tall and 15 and a half stones, Myers turned his burning grievance into a huge will to win as the Rocks blasted their way through the play-offs to an emotional final victory.

The Scottish outsiders beat the top three seeds - defending champions Chester in the quarter-finals which was sweet indeed, League winners Sheffield in the semis, and eventually Brighton Bears in the final 83-76.

"Oh, it was fairytale stuff really," smiled Shawn. "Coach Wall had announced before the play-offs that he was retiring back home to his family in Texas so it was a huge send-off for him. The Rocks were in the final for the first time in their history and our victory was the first success for a Scottish team since 1989."

Myers not only had silverware as his consolation for what he perceived as unfair treatment but was the top performer on the night.

"I scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds," he recalled. "When the Rocks needed a bucket they came to me. It's difficult to guard me. Someone had to carry the team and it was me.

"Our skipper Ted Berry, who had taken out Sheffield in the semis, was hurting badly and I had to come up big.

"There was great satisfaction in victory. The chemistry was good with the Rocks and so was the hunger and the determination.

"We knew what we could do if others didn't. I felt, for example, that we matched up Sheffield better than any other team in the league."

Now Myers is determined to repeat his Scottish exploits back at Newcastle, where he began his association with British basketball in 2001.

Having been burned with Chester, the nationalised American has turned his back on another big money-laden club, Brighton, to come to Tyneside and go for glory.

"There are some big bucks flying about at Brighton but when you're looking for success you can't allow money to get in the way," insisted Shawn. "I'm a winner. I hate the concept of losing, and I believe we can win at Newcastle.

"I want to bring the hunger for silverware with me to the Eagles. I know the guys down here - guys like Fab Flournoy, TJ Walker and a lot more - and I know the chemistry is right. I know what to expect here.

"I felt we did well when I was first here but there is unfinished business. I wanted to stick with these guys rather than go to Brighton where I don't know the coach or the set-up in the locker room.

"I have no worries coming to Newcastle. I know the load won't be on my shoulders alone. This will be a collective effort by the squad."

Myers had travelled the globe playing in Lithuania, Finland and Iceland before the Eagle landed on Tyneside, where in his first season he became leading scorer in the BBL, averaging 23.68 points, third in the BBL for rebounding with an average of 11.03 boards per outing, and made the BBL's All Star team.

"My girlfriend was from Newcastle so I kept coming back when I was in Scotland," he smiled.

Now the move is permanent and another silver lining, he insists, could be on the horizon.

Page 2: Becoming a goalkeeper was my first choice

Becoming a goalkeeper was my first choice

Basketball is lucky to have Shawn Myers because his first love was soccer and as a star goalkeeper he was actually good enough to train with the Trinidad national side.

Indeed, originally he only messed about on court to fill in his time while he was waiting for his lazy soccer mates to turn up for training.

And Myers only graduated permanently to the sport that has provided him with a good living because he was desperate to leave home and basketball opened the door to a scholarship in America.

"Soccer was my big love as a kid - I was a very good goalkeeper," he said. "Good enough to train with our national squad.

"I only started messing about with basketball because my team-mates would turn up late for training and I'd wander across to the court to get warmed up while I was waiting. Nothing else.

"I'd join in for a couple of minutes, then five minutes, then 10 and 20. I became a basketball player gradually.

"However, one day the basketball coach said: `You know, Shawn, you should concentrate on this sport. You're good, man!' I thought yeah, perhaps you're right. And I knew you could get basketball scholarships to America. I wanted to leave home and that looked the obvious opportunity.

"Sure enough the coach kept calling up the talent scouts and asking them to come and take a look at me. The next thing I knew I was in the States."

Myers went to college in Florida then to the University of West Georgia, St Petersbourg JC. His career was under way.

Page 3: Life in Lithuania very different

Life in Lithuania very different

It was a culture shock, right enough, but it was the start of a journey that was to take him across the continent of Europe.

For a young man brought up in Trinidad and educated in America to suddenly find himself living in Lithuania was an eye-opener.

The country had been part of the Soviet Union until 1990 when it became the first of the Soviet republics to declare its independence.

Shawn Myers signed for Silute, his first club, and he admitted: "Life was very, very different. This was effectively a third world country, a communist country, and I wondered how they would take to someone like me from the other side of the track.

"The people were very different and I was concerned they mightn't accept me.

"Luckily there was another American in our team and we bonded. He helped me settle.

"I was looked after - they fed me, gave me a car, an apartment, and all my expenses were met. There were no restrictions socially but you had to motivate yourself. It was a challenge.

"The basketball, mind you, was great. A very high standard and very competitive, which is the way I like it."

Myers moved after a year to Finnish club Tampereen Pyrbasket and after a further 12 months to Tindastoll in Iceland where he stayed for two years.

"Finland was very different to Lithuania - Finland was fun," smiled Shawn. "It was more English, more outgoing."

Having played in the Lithuanian All Star game he repeated the feat in Iceland twice and was voted the country's most valuable player.

It was here in the land of extremes that his move to England - and to Newcastle - first took root. Myers pitted his wits against Tony Garbelotto, who was cutting his teeth as a coach in Iceland, and he impressed.

When Garbelotto became the Eagles coach he remembered the forward who had given him problems on court and Myers was heading for Tyneside.

"I played Tony several times in Iceland. He knew what I could bring to the game. He got in touch with my agent and I was happy to play in England.

"I had been before - my mother used to live in London. But I'd never been as far north as Newcastle. However, I've played in some unusual countries so no challenge fazes me. I'm willing to live where basketball takes me."

Page 4: Have basketball will travel

Have basketball will travel

Shawn Myers has a house in Florida but is a citizen of the world who lives out of a suitcase.

As a bachelor whose parents are both now dead, he has few ties although he has three sisters.

Born in Paloseco in the south of Trinidad, "my dad passed away in '98 and my mum in 2000."

Florida is now home. "I have a house there and an old schoolfriend of mine, who is a policeman, keeps an eye on it when I'm away playing basketball," he explained.

Despite being 34 years of age, that is still his burning passion, one which drives him on to maintain peak fitness.

Eagles managing director Paul Blake called Myers "the only player we have ever signed who hasn't had a spell out injured. He really looks after himself and trains very hard."

That's an attractive commodity when it comes to doling out wages, and Shawn realises it.

"Thank God I've done very well when it comes to injuries," he added. "I missed only one game in my first season with the Eagles. That was down to an ankle injury but I could have played at a push. However, it was decided that it was wiser to rest me as we were in the play-offs anyway.

"And I didn't miss a solitary game for the Scottish Rocks last season."

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