The first piece of silverware in the 2011/12 season is up for grabs on Sunday afternoon as Newcastle Eagles meet Plymouth Raiders in the BBL Cup final at the NIA in Birmingham.
The final will see Newcastle looking to add to the impressive array of 13 trophies they’ve lifted over the last eight years, while Raiders will aim to repeat their 2006 BBL Trophy final victory against the Eagles. But regardless of records, the stage looks set for a great final between two of the top teams in the country.
Eagles’ player-coach Fab Flournoy is in no doubt that his side face a tough task against the Raiders: “They’re a really good side,” he said. “Gavin [Love] has done a great job putting a team together with all the right components, and they’ve made a tremendous start to the season.
“Jeremy Bell really gives them an extra dimension both as a point guard and a shooter. Paul Williams is a big pick up for them, and Lehmon Colbert is having a great sophomore season and played really well for them. Then they have the guys like James Jones, Anthony Rowe and Anthony Martin who do a quiet but efficient job for them. They can hurt you without you even realising.
“Their X-factor is Michael Ojo, and they seem like a really good, close unit who play for one another. They also have Tomas Janusauskas and Jamal Williams coming off the bench, so they have lots of depth. They’ve really found their way in the league, and they’re playing extremely well.”
The Eagles hammered Plymouth 90-67 when they met at Sport Central in late November, but Flournoy isn’t taking anything for granted because of that result: “I’m not reading anything into that – it was just one of those games. They had an off night, and Ojo didn’t play. They are a really tough side who can hurt you inside and out, they can push the ball and they have some great three-point shooting in their team. They have lots of different components.”
Flournoy knows what his team needs to do to win the Cup for a second time: “We need to establish our game plan, which is to shut them down defensively – that’s always a big key for us. Offensively we need to be a lot more efficient and we’ve been struggling with that recently. We need a good stat as this isn’t a team you want to start poorly against, we saw in the semi-final that once you let them get off to a good start they won’t let you back into the game. We’ve had a few comeback wins this season, but this isn’t the kind of team you can do that against.”
Raiders’ coach Gavin Love appreciates the size of the task facing his team on Sunday afternoon and is keen to put that early season loss against the Eagles behind him: “We need to do more than last time, that’s for sure,” said the 33-year-old Englishman. “For me, when we played against them before, we didn’t even get off the bus that day. I know we’re a good team and we can beat Newcastle, but we need to bring our A game this time.
With Eagles having one of the most stable rosters in the BBL, Love has a good idea what to expect from Newcastle: “They are a tough team with experienced guys who simply know how to win. They’ve had the core for many years now and that’s a massive advantage for them. I think both teams will have good performances, and it should be a good final.
“Charles Smith and Joe Chapman have both done well for them, and Andrew Thomson is playing really well – they’re the three guys we need to control. But their overall team defence and effort cause problems.
“Teams are taking them very close but they have a winning team mentality and that’s what I’m trying to add to our team.”
Having been a player and then a coach with the Raiders, Love is understandably delighted to be in the final: “I think any coach wants to reach a final, and I’m really happy that we’ve done so, he said
“We’ve worked really hard to get here, and as a club we’re ecstatic about being in the final. We’ve not made it to a final for a few years, the fans are excited and although our focus has been on the league over the last few weeks, it’s a great honour to lead the club I love to a final.