BBL Trophy LogoEssex Leopards’ guard Ishmael Fontaine is hoping the EBL side can cause an upset by knocking out 5-time Trophy winners Newcastle ahead of tomorrow’s clash.

But the 24 year-old admits they face a tough task and is expecting a strong response from the Eagles following their Cup Final defeat last Sunday.

“It’s the worst possible time to play them. Fab (Flournoy) hates losing so they’re going to be rattled up. We know it will be tough because they will just want to win every trophy left now. Newcastle are an amazing team and they’ve had some great players over the years so I’m super excited to be playing them again.”

Fontaine is one of several former BBL players that the Leopards have amongst their ranks and he believes the experience could play a vital role.

“I think it will be very important. Howard (Crawford) played well against them before (scoring 25 points). Carl Josey has experience on a high level having played in leagues like Iceland then there’s Kris Clark. He played with me the only time we beat the Eagles which was the only time we defeated them in my four years in Milton Keynes.”

During that spell between 2009-12 Fontaine was often used sparingly but now enjoys a more active role with the Leopards, and is now in his second season with the club. There is a strong Milton Keynes connection with the Leopards this season with the aforementioned Crawford, Josey and Clark all having played for the Lions, as did player-coach Robert Youngblood.

Despite playing at a lower level, Fontaine doesn’t feel they have anything to prove.

“I don’t think so. I’ve had big games in the EBL with skills that are transferable in other leagues. Personally I don’t feel I need to prove myself in this game.”

“I’ve played well against them before and I remember dunking on Charles Smith.”

Leopards’ 6’9″ forward Crawford added: “It will be a great test for the team to see how focused we can be throughout the game. I’ve been playing against players of high quality my whole life so it’s going to feel good to get that feeling back again.”

The Leopards take on Surrey United’s conquerors Bristol Academy Flyers tonight in an important league clash but Fontaine insists the game won’t have any baring on tomorrow.

“Obviously, playing Bristol is our first priority but that won’t take any focus away from the Newcastle game. Every game is equally important and we just want to win.”

The Big Cats sit in third place in the EBL’s first division with an 8-3 record and have already been defeated twice by the Reading Rockets. The defending champions defeated their rivals in the league as well as the National Cup semi-final and Fontaine believes that beating the Rockets is key to his side’s season.

He said: “If I’m honest, we have to beat Reading.  We’ve been doing well so far but they’ve taken a few things away from us; they took our unbeaten start then they took away our chance to play in a Final so I think we need to continue what we’ve been doing then make sure we take the head-to-head against them.”

Of the four EBL sides to be competing in the first round of the BBL Trophy, two are joining the top division next season. Bristol and Leeds Carnegie have both been accepted into the BBL for the 2014/15 season while Leopards have previously delayed the opportunity. And Fontaine believes it’s only a matter of time before the Big Cats are back amongst the elite clubs.

“The Leopards have good ownership and have elite teams every year. Rob (Youngblood) has done a great job with recruiting six former BBL players and the Leopards have that ability to attract good players and that’s why they’re always consistent.

“The owners just want to make sure they are financially stable so when they make the jump up, they can keep it up and not become another Mersey Tigers.”

Sunday’s game with Newcastle presents the club’s fans with another taste of what life in the BBL could be like after last season’s Trophy experience. After Bristol’s win over Surrey on Thursday, the Big Cats are on the prowl for another upset to add further misery to the North-East club.

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