After averaging 15 points a game and collecting every medal the British Basketball League had to offer in 2011-12, Newcastle Eagles will be hoping to see the old Paul Gause at Sport Central this evening. They will not.
The 27-year-old point guard says he has returned from Slovakia a different player and plans to prove it this season - starting with tonight’s opening game at home to Durham Wildcats.
The familiarity of a club where he wowed the fans and swept the board was a big draw for Gause, who nevertheless made the Eagles sweat over his return with hard-nosed pay negotiations.
However, Gause insists he is not on Tyneside to relive past glories.
As he points out, the dominant force in British basketball would not stand for that.
He said: “The Eagles are used to winning, so the tradition is strong here.
“It’s not are we going to win, it’s how are we going to win? The players have to meet that standard.
“I think all the players here are taking on that challenge of getting to the level expected and they’re capable of doing it.
“The Eagles, the team, the coaching staff and the organisation are always well prepared so they would never put themselves in a position not to succeed. When they’re playing hard and working together I think it’s very hard not to do as well if not better with the club.”
That said, there is a definite sense of coming home as the man from New Jersey looks forward to the new campaign in the plush surroundings of Marco Pierre White’s city-centre steakhouse.
He added: “I’m really pleased to be back.
“Throughout the season when I was away I was in contact with some fans and players and I would ask them how things were going and check the internet.
“It’s a close-knit family with the players, coaches and fans so you want to see how the team is doing.
“I always felt welcome from day one. Even when I wasn’t here I was always wished the best in my career, so when we were in contact about coming back it was a no-brainer because I knew I was going to be happy and welcomed back.”
As usual, there will be new faces to integrate this season, in the form of Stuart Thomson and BBL first-imers Malik Cooke and Scott Martin. Gause is one of those responsible for showing them the ropes. Even for Thomson, who has played for Cheshire Phoenix, Worcester Wolves and Manchester Giants, it will be a big adjustment. By common consent, player-coach Fabulous Flournoy is like no one else on this or any other circuit.
Gause said: “I feel like I’m a season smarter but the league is getting a lot better.
“What my role might have been in 2011-12 might not be this year’s.
“I’ll be more of a leader than in 2011 because I know what to expect.
“Hopefully, that can make the transition for the new guys easier.
“When you have a guy who has been through it along with Darius (Defoe) and Charles (Smith), it makes it easierr, but that being said I’m still learning.
“Fab’s Fab. If you can handle his expectations you’ll be fine as a player.
“My first year here was a similar case. He seems a little more focused than when I was last here because the turnover of players is so heavy. When I was last here (Andy) Thomson and Joel (Madourie) an dI were the new guys.
“We have four or five new guys here now so the energy has to be turned up that much more.
“Fab always likes to be prepared so he and the other returnees are coming in with a focus to get the guys on board.
“The new players have a good pedigree. Stu is Andy’s little brother, Malik played in Germany last year, Scott was captain of Notre Dame and Eddie (Matthew) is a young guy. The other returnees, you know what you’re going to get from them.
“It’s pretty much about gelling as a team. The faster we all get our roles down and get comfortable with each other, the better we’ll be.”
There is extra pressure this year. Managing-director Paul Blake used to set the bar at silverware every season, but now he expects the Eagles to average two trophies a year over a ten-year period.
Last year’s trophyless season means they have eight from their last nine.
That, along with the damage to pride done by following a clean-sweep season with a barren one, should make the wounded Eagles a dangerous prospect this season.
Gause added: “Any little bit of motivation you can find throughout the season you have to use in a positive manner.
“We’re taking every game like it’s our last. If you step on the court, you’re our biggest enemy that night.
“The teams lower down the league can have a great night. You don’t take anyone for granted.”