Newcastle Eagles have made securing a five-star guard rotation their top summer priority as the countdown to the new season begins to gather momentum.
The Eagles have been quiet since losing the play-off final to last season’s dominant force, Leicester Riders, but the fight-back has begun behind the scenes, with Fab Flournoy and Dave Forrester having already written up a blueprint to wrestle the initiative back from the East Midlands side.
Near the top of the summer agenda is bringing in stronger guards to compete with Leicester’s three-man rotation of Jay Couisnard, Jorge Calvo and Conner Washington.
Last season the Eagles’ rotation was Damon Huffman, Joe Chapman and Anthony Martin, and it is widely acknowledged in-house that they didn’t have the strength in depth of their BBL rivals.
So work is well under way to make sure the team has three guards good enough to start any fixture.
“The early summer priority for us has to be to focus on our three guard rotation and at getting that right for next season,” owner Paul Blake said.
“We felt that was where Leicester were particularly strong last year. If they recruit the same three players next season they will be equally as challenging next season as they were this season.
“The early indications are that they have re-signed two of the three, and that’s why we feel we need to match them.
“So that is where the work is going in while we’re also trying to balance the fact that we have three work permits to give out, one of which we want to be the forwards.”
The Journal understands that the Eagles are considering wholesale roster changes this season, with only the core of Fab Flournoy, Darius Defoe and long- serving Charles Smith certain of a return – if they want to come back.
Flournoy will definitely play on while Smith, who nearly retired two years ago, is also understood to be keen to sign for another year when he returns from holiday. Long-serving Defoe has become a Flournoy stalwart.
Elsewhere, there could be a flurry of new faces as Eagles look to shake up a roster which battled hard last season but could not find the added edge when they came up against a very strong Leicester team. The Eagles are set to unveil their first recruits within the next seven days.
“The first and second signings are imminent,” he said.
“We’re probably looking at the next week or so. The work permit cycle is something that needs to be factored in, of course. If we want everyone in for pre-season and we have two or three work permits to be processed then we need to really start the process by the end of the month.”
The Eagles also expect more integration between the D1 and Northumbria University teams and their BBL roster next year. There is excitement about a raft of young, local talent that is emerging in those sides – and Blake admits part of their recruitment at that level has been done with the Eagles in mind.
“We’re attempting to try and knit the two squads more closely than we did last season and the season before,” he said.
“We’re recruiting with that basis. It is what Durham and Worcester have done and, while it isn’t our unique selling point, we’re keen to improve that side of things.”