Old rivals Newcastle Eagles and Glasgow Rocks open the New Year with a key BBL Championship clash at Sports Central on Friday.
The Eagles go into 2012 on top of the table with a 9-1 record, while Rocks are third in the table with seven wins from 12 games.
It will be the fifth meeting between the sides in all competitions this season, and a win for the Eagles would see them seal the head-to-head decider if they finish level at the end of the campaign. Newcastle have won three of those four match-ups this season, but after a 22 point blow-out in the opening meeting in September, the remaining games have all been settled by six or less points.
Understandably, Eagles’ player-coach Fab Flournoy (pictured right) knows exactly what to expect when the Rocks arrive in Newcastle on Friday evening: “It’s the fifth month of the season and we have played the Rocks in every single month so far. It fair to say we know everything about them apart from their shoe sizes. Sterling [Davis] has done phenomenal job to keep his team playing hard through injuries to key players and we know that whoever steps on the court for them is going to provide us with a significant challenge.
“They are all potential game-changers, Mychal Green has moved to the point guard spot like he has been playing it all his life, Danny Huffor and [Andrew] Wedemire have continued to develop at an extremely quick rate, Gareth Murray is a consistent player and DeAundre Cranston has really stepped us as he has become more acclimated to the league. Also Sterling has found ways to get production out of Jonny Bunyan and Martins Malnieks as well.
“We have played well in patches against them but at other times we have allowed their energy to overwhelm us. We need to play 40 solid minutes against them.”
Flournoy is looking to continue the Eagles’ excellent start to the season which has seen them win only lose twice in 17 games in all BBL competitions, and is hopeful that their injury situation will have eased: “Our aim remain to win every game that we play. Given the level of competition in the BBL that may not turn out to be possible but it is certainly something we aspire to.
“We think our injuries are clearing up. It’s really a question of maintenance on our bodies as opposed to any fresh injuries. Obviously the more minutes each of us plays the more I have to monitor everyone’s workload.”
Sterling DavisRocks’ player-coach Sterling Davis is in no doubt about the size of the task facing his side at Sport Central: “They are the team to beat right now. They have led the pack throughout the course of this season despite the injury problems they have been facing.
“Charles Smith has been the most consistent in my opinion. Every close game they have been in and won had something to do with his play.
“We just need to find a way to come out of the game on top. We have been there or thereabout so the final challenge is to finish one up on them.”
Rocks finished 2011 on a high note as they chalked up their seventh Championship victory of the season with a 72-64 victory against One Health Sharks Sheffield, despite both Davis and influential guard EJ Harrison missing due to injury, and the Glasgow play-caller was understandably pleased with the result:
“Considering we were coming off a break, the guys really responded well. I really put them through the paces after Christmas and it carried over to the game. Nate Reinking once again was the driving force for them. His experience always shows when they need him.”