PAUL Blake believes the enforced absence of play-maker Charles Smith might be a good thing for Newcastle Eagles.
Veteran Smith has been out for more than a fortnight and is a major doubt for Sunday’s derby date with Durham Wildcats, which is a first-round clash of the revamped BBL Trophy.
Although the club want him back as soon as possible, Eagles’ owner Blake believes the team is learning to win without their ‘go-to’ forward and will be a stronger force in 2013 as a result.
Fab Flournoy has already indicated he will allow Smith as long as he needs to get himself back in time for the January 13 date with Leicester Riders in the BBL Cup final.
Without him, they have won four games and Damon Huffman and Kareem Maddox have posted fine performances.
Blake said: “I don’t think it’s a bad thing Charles is out at the moment.
“The team is learning how to play without him at the moment and that will only strengthen us.
“Charles has been a key player for a long time but this is a new team and they are still in the process of building winning strategies and philosophy. Sometimes you start to see what the other players are made of when you have a few of these injury problems and this has come at a good time for the team because it is winning, building up confidence and learning to play without Charles.
“I don’t anticipate Fab will risk him before the BBL Cup final unless he absolutely has to.
“To have him back for that would be a real boost.”
The December 30 clash with Durham is a potential risk for the Eagles, with their Durham rivals having a tendency to improve drastically when their neighbours roll into town.
A large visiting contingent is expected in Newton Aycliffe for a game no one in Newcastle is taking for granted.
The Wildcats beat the London Lions in overtime before Christmas and are now targeting a play-off place.
Blake added: “This is an unusual one because it is a knockout game and the Trophy is usually a pool system.
“It is not one we want to lose because we have already drawn a home game in the next round, and that is a major incentive for us to do as well as we possibly can.
“With it being Christmas and the holidays we are expecting a lot of support to travel with us and that should create a superb atmosphere.
“We have always seemed to struggle at Durham against them, maybe partly because they do manage to up their game when they play us.
“We would be a huge scalp for them to take, so we can’t take anything for granted.” After that game it will be a fortnight’s break for the Eagles before the big BBL Cup final – and the team is working on a warm-up game to be played in the meantime.
At the moment Newcastle are planning to take on Team Northumbria on January 5, although a venue is yet to be agreed.
The Eagles want to stay sharp as they prepare for the defence of their BBL Cup crown against a strong Leicester team at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena.