NEWCASTLE HOLD OUT HOMEGROWN HOPE

Andrew Bridge reckons the UK’s best prospects need to think twice before heading to the USA. And Newcastle Eagles are now offering a Plan B.

The BBL outfit already have strong ties with Northumbria University – including their home venue, Sports Central, which is part of its city centre campus.

Tightening the links could now give British teenagers the attraction option of pursuing professional basketball on home soil rather than heading across the Atlantic. Proposals have been drawn up to award scholarships to the university which, more than ever, will effectively become the Eagles feeder club, using the same systems, getting the same support and medical care, with a clear route from one to the other.

If only, says the England international, there had been similar opportunities when he was first making his way into the sport, almost a decade ago, with Sheffield Sharks.

“I got lucky,” the 31-year-old (right) admits. “I fell into a great situation with Chris Finch at Sheffield but a lot of players don’t get that same opportunity and they’re not aware of what’s available. Worcester has a good tie-in with their university. Plymouth has something similar with their local one.

“But there’s a lot of benefits to going to university here at 18, doing your degree then coming out at 21, knowing whether basketball’s a good career path. Whereas if you come back from the States at 23, it can be harder to get in. Sure, if you get a scholarship offer from a top Division I school in the States, that’s a great option. But going to NAIA or Division 2 or 3, that’s not necessarily the best move.”

Northumbria remain ambitious to move up to EBL Division 1. Signalling Newcastle’s closer involvement in their operations, Eagles coach Fab Flournoy will join the university’s coach, Marc Steutel, to oversee a two-day training camp on June 4 and 5.

Effectively, it will be a try-out for the expanded programme. “It’s a chance to show what people can offer and maybe get a huge opportunity,” Bridge affirms.

Venturing across the Atlantic, he argues, does not guarantee a shot in the BBL upon return. The league has seen plenty of domestic talents who have come back and failed to make the grade after four years in the collegiate ranks.

Often, it is a mental leap too far.

“It’s important that players are brought up with a British or European mentality to the game,” Bridge states.

“If you go to the USA, you get acclimatised to their culture and if you come back here, then it can be difficult to re-adjust.”

Bridge will help oversee basketball’s answer to Britain’s Got Talent. Like Flournoy, he has yet to sign a new contract in Newcastle but both are expected to be a formality once club owner Paul Blake returns from holiday as the Eagles look to re-build following their trophy-less season.

Falling short on all four fronts has, he confirms, forced everyone to re-evaluate.

“Our over-riding feeling was frustration and disappointment,” the guard states. “If there’s one thing that’s come out of this, it’s instilled a hunger in everyone to try and prove people wrong. People have been saying we’re over the hill as a group.

“More than anything it’s been a kick up the backside.”

Newcastle have confirmed they will not enter European competition next season.

“It’s not a priority. We don’t have an automatic right to enter this season because we haven’t won the league,” Blake told The Journal.

“Even if the Tigers do turn down the chance then I can’t see it happening. It is not a focus this summer – the focus is on getting the league back and building a team capable of challenging domestically.”

 

For more information on the Team Northumbria camp, email: debbiereay@newcastle-eagles.com

 

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