Three possible coaching changes, investment diligence, Nix’s next and Rio blanks

With The 02’s in-house army already sweeping away the confetti and deconstructing the court following the most successful BBL Playoff final in league history, Fab Flournoy was still sat deep inside the arena, reflecting on eight months which had delivered something close to perfection.

Four competitions, four trophies, just five defeats. Newcastle Eagles assured of their place in the pantheon following the third clean sweep campaign under his decade-long watch.

For the American, it felt abundantly joyous but also curiously empty. “This was the very first big game that I’ve ever just coached,” he reflected. “It was unfamiliar territory.”

The giant plastic boot serving as his protective shield in the wake of an Achilles surgery that saw four centimetres of his tendon removed didn’t just leave the 42-year-old as a by-stander for their final victory over London Lions.

It left him ill at ease and out of sorts. “It’s like brushing my teeth and now it’s like ‘oh, I’m twiddling my thumbs’. I ran the risk of over-coaching because I had this abundance of energy where I didn’t know what to do.”

The prognosis for a complete rehabilitation is modest, at best. The fight to return – and then eventually depart at the moment of his own choosing – goes on. But there is the very real possibility that Flournoy will walk away as both player and coach this summer if he is advised that his brilliant career on the court must come to an end.

Others are already attempting to convince him otherwise. But the truth, he told MVP, is that being a playcaller and nothing else is an occupation which has never genuinely appealed.

“I never wanted to be a coach,” he confirmed. “Everyone’s trying to persuade me I will (want to be) but if I can’t put my heart into something, put my all into it, I’d rather not do it. I’m in 100 per cent or I’m out. And I can’t lie to players as a coach, just doing it to be doing something. I’ve always had a motivation to be doing something.

“We have a fortunate situation at Newcastle. I’m not saying it’s perfect but I know what it is. Everyone around knows what it is and it works for us. Turning around and saying: ‘you just have to coach’… I don’t know because I’ve never done that before, until (the final). Equally, we’ve never recruited a team without me being part of it. Or without certain roles filled. Who would I bring in?

“So I honestly don’t know. I don’t want to say it’s one way or the other. I just hope that when I know I can’t play no more, I’ll have some kind of enthusiasm or love to do it.”

Booted, not suited (Mansoor Ahmed)

Booted, not suited (Mansoor Ahmed)

A face from back at the start of his career crossed the court for a word pre-game on Sunday. When Flournoy was deemed, upon his arrival from the United States, to be good enough only for a spot in Birmingham Bullets second-tier squad (he was almost cut completely), Kevin Cadle was in his trophy winning pomp, setting coaching records which his compatriot would eventually surpass.

“This is a sign,” laughed the Sky Sports presenter, pointing at Flournoy’s XXXL-sized footwear. “This is the reason I stopped and went over to the coaching side.”

It cuts to the heart of a dilemma. Flournoy, emotionally driven but rational of thought, will reflect deeply before making any final call. “But I know I’m going to have to answer that question very soon because it’s going to happen, whether or not I want it, being a player-coach is going to end sooner rather than later,” he said.

“I know that. But will that bring forth Fab the coach or will it be time for Fab the person to do something else? There are a lot of different sacrifices I’ve made. I might want to do something else.”

If he does go, at least it will be on an immense high. It was fitting that Charles Smith – who would doubtless be offered the chance to succeed his old friend – insisted they both pick up the Playoff trophy together.

Then again, every squad member had their input. This Eagles group, I suggested, might be the finest of his reign.

“Best team? Yes. Most talented team? No. Hardest team to coach? Yes. The 2005-6 team were more talented by far. If you put those two teams together, that team would win. That team didn’t need coaching. It just needed steering.

“This team needed coaching. This was hard. I had to make them work. But this is probably the best team I’ve had.”

Fresh blood in London?

It’s not definite. It’s still under discussion. But here’s a solid bet: Robert Youngblood to be London Lions’ head coach when next season begins.

The multiple BBL All Star has been learning his coaching chops while in charge of EBL outfit Essex Leopards but, in recent weeks, has been working as an unofficial assistant to Vince Macaulay, including a seat behind the bench at The 02 on Sunday.

Youngblood is mulling over an early-stage offer to leave Leopards and link up with the Lions but confirmed he has yet to make up his mind. While Macaulay, who is under pressure to concentrate on bringing a more effective management structure to the capital franchise, is still pondering a number of ideas– and candidates – as he approaches an off-season review with chief backers GLL.

“Were looking at two or three different options – we’re not clear where we want to go with it right yet,” he said. “But we’ll evaluate over the next few weeks and make a decision. I put pressure on myself because it’s a case of who I get to replace me where.

“It’s easier to find a coach to replace me over finding someone to do what I do off the court. That makes sense. But I did that before in Milton Keynes (with Mike New) and it didn’t work. We didn’t make the playoffs in those two seasons. I’ve got be very clear that if I step aside, it’s going to be someone who will be a winner.”

With the Euroleague keen to bring a BBL side – London, especially – into its Eurocup, the kind of success that the Lions belatedly enjoyed this term needs to become the norm.

Macaulay (right) may step aside (Mansoor Ahmed)

Macaulay (right) may step aside (Mansoor Ahmed)


United front

Expect major changes behind the scenes at Surrey United in the next few weeks. Despite a recent reaffirmation of his commitment to MVP, Jack Majewski is set to end his involvement with this season’s bottom club – on and off the court.

Instead, Surrey Sports Park – who currently own the other 50% share in the franchise, as well as owning a Superleague netball team – are to take complete control amid encouragement from elsewhere in the league.

With crowds dwindling, and concern that United could remain a spent force, swift moves are in the pipeline, with a thinly-veiled threat that the franchise would simply be re-allocated if Majewski does not agree to depart.

Ex-Guildford Heat coach Creon Raftopoulos, a casualty of the previous takeover, will become a lead candidate to return at the helm. Rebranding them ‘Surrey Heat’ would surely be a good move.

With representatives from every club scheduled to meet on Tuesday for a post-season debrief, there is also some concern over the current strategy and viability of Leeds Force and Durham Wildcats.

Leeds, having impressed on the court in their debut year in the top flight, will be asked to raise their game considerably off the floor in Year Two – with a challenge to increase their fan base and consider a larger venue as soon as possible. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” one prominent voice in the BBL told me. “Playing in front of 200 people doesn’t really cut it.”

And while Durham are not under the formal review automatically given to the league’s bottom two finishers, the same source added: “we’re not really sure where they’re going now or if they’ll still be around in a couple of years.”

Diligence, then doubts

I spoke to a number of faces from within the BBL over last weekend and while their engagement with potential American investors continues, there is a growing scepticism that the so-called BBall UK takeover will come to fruition.

Having done due diligence on the offer tabled, and taken professional advice on the numbers involved, the ball is now back in the court of New York-based GEM to provide answers to questions sent their way. But the approach, driven largely by recently-departed Basketball England chief executive Huw Morgan, has received only a lukewarm reception.

“I just don’t see it happening,” said one league official. “If you scratch the surface, most of the money they want to put in is earmarked to putting teams into big arenas and then almost expecting that enough fans will show up to generate the revenues they’re looking for.

“That’s not far off where the BBL was 15-20 years ago and it didn’t work then. I don’t think they understand how difficult it is. And there’s no real plan there.”

Said another club owner: “The other factor is that we’ve seen other parties come forward. That’s still something we’ve to look at but there’s other routes open that might work even better.”

Nominally, BBall UK and GEM are due to respond within the next two weeks. Sharp responses will be needed. Quick decisions will likely be forthcoming.

Nix need to regroup

There was something of an inevitability when it emerged late on Sunday night that John Coffino and Cheshire Phoenix were parting ways, despite a year remaining on his contract.

This has become the unhappiest of clubs. Stalwarts had become disenchanted. Players, one after another, had departed. Even the outgoing chairman and benefactor Andrew Donaldson is understood to have relished the end of his tenure.

The least disillusioned, perhaps, was Coffino, who did an admirable job in holding the team together amid the maelstrom. Yet his rapport with the board had imploded. It seemed unlikely, even months ago, that he would remain beyond the summer.

What now though? There is a vital question to be asked: what are the Phoenix for, and who do they serve? I recall several months ago asking Mike Burton, again the chairman now, if it remained a community club despite the injection of funds from Donaldson? He affirmed in the positive, but there can be no doubt that Cheshire have been living beyond their natural means.

With their backer gone, and none of his money retained for rainy days, budgets will be reduced. To plug the gap, a fresh sense of purpose is needed. They are soon to move to a new arena but it is located outside the city, adjacent to a retail village several miles away. Holding onto what they had is a challenge enough.

But the Nix need to ponder their own identity, and who gains from what they do. This must, as it once was, be a source of fun for all.

If not, the clouds will linger.

Rio plans beached

If you want dedicated basketball coverage from Rio 2016 – even if GB Women secure an improbable qualification – then you won’t get it from the BBC.

Our good friend John Amaechi has revealed he will not repeat his turn of London 2012 in Brazil because Beeb bosses are to take the Olympics’ in-house feed rather than sending their own TV commentary crew.

The diktat, thought to be a money-saving exercise, is to apply to all but the UK’s 12 sports with the largest expected medal chances. But if this cringeworthy and error-filled video illustrates the quality of basketball coverage we can expect from the Beeb headed towards the Olympics, then we’ll all be scrambling to watch the American NBC feed.

Time out

When we originally started up MVP in 2010, there were Four Musketeers involved, each of us determined to bring something fresh and original to the British basketball scene with a hot-looking magazine and up-to-the-minute website.

When we decided to go digital-only at the start of last year, four became two with the exits of valued duo Jake Green and Harry Adams. And then they were followed by man-about-town Greg Tanner.

Since then, with priceless help from our social media star Jazz Hanley, ace snapper Mansoor Ahmed – and a handful of willing contributors – we’ve managed to keep MVP ahead of the fast break on the big stories that matter.

And over the summer, we’ll keep you up to date on the national teams – which will be flagged up on Facebook and Twitter – as well as access to our inside track on the world of hoops.

However, with other priorities filling up my summer schedule, including covering both EuroBaskets for other outlets, this column is taking a break.

What lies beyond the next few months? Impossible to say. But I’ll post links to my reporting elsewhere on my Twitter feed. And in the meantime, thanks for all your support, correspondence and feedback over the past season.

Outside shots

Excellent interview with Basketball England chair Jan Hagen – albeit one which raises plenty of questions which still remain unanswered

Q&A with Leeds Force coach Matt Newby

Tributes paid to Juma Ngqobongwana



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