We’re Gun­ning for clean sweep

Sunday Sun - - Basketball -

JURE Gun­jina re­turns to Ben­field Cen­tre of Sport to­day look­ing to an­swer the burn­ing ques­tion that stopped the charis­matic Croat in his tracks.

Namely, is this New­cas­tle Ea­gles team the most tal­ented – player for player – that the ath­letic for­ward has ever been a part of?

“You know what, it could be,” mused the 6ft 8in pow­er­house af­ter new-look New­cas­tle care­fully de­con­structed – and then ruth­lessly de­mol­ished – a Glas­gow Rocks side un­der the ex­pert tute­lage of for­mer Ea­gles play­caller Tony Gar­be­lotto.

“I have never been sur­rounded by so many guys who can do so many things and play so many po­si­tions.

“As a ros­ter we bring a lot of stuff to the ta­ble. Even within our small group there are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent line-ups and a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways that we can break down teams.

“But ev­ery­body came here to win. You don’t sign for New­cas­tle if you don’t think you can win all four do­mes­tic tro­phies.

“We’re not here to pick up one or two pieces of sil­ver­ware. This is the Ea­gles.

“The big­gest chal­lenge we face is win­ning all four but we’re tal­ented enough to do what­ever we want.

“The only thing that can beat us is our­selves. Men­tally, we must stay fo­cused.”

On the face of it Gun­jina might ap­pear overly op­ti­mistic given the con­text of this one-sided, if en­ter­tain­ing, pre-sea­son af­fair.

It was New­cas­tle player-coach Fab­u­lous Flournoy who, prior to tipoff, con­ceded the re­sult would mean ‘ev­ery­thing and noth­ing’.

But if a 33-point win­ning mar­gin meant very lit­tle, then the ev­i­dence of a de­vel­op­ing on-court chem­istry and clear lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion meant al­most ev­ery­thing.

Gun­jina knows a tal­ented baller when he sees one and the Ea­gles boast 10 this sea­son.

Gar­be­lotto would agree. Pri­vately, the vet­eran play-caller knew he was onto a hid­ing to noth­ing by test­ing his tran­si­tional line-up against the most suc­cess­ful fran­chise in Bri­tish bas­ket­ball his­tory.

And the canny Lon­doner re­turned to Ty­ne­side fully ex­pect­ing that he would de­part again as the ar­chi­tect of his own down­fall – it was Gar­be­lotto, af­ter all, who signed Flournoy for New­cas­tle in 2001.

The two re­main close friends and it was that bond that per­suaded both to agree to a po­ten­tially di­vi­sive fix­ture. The match was played against a back­drop of un­ease – for many fans the close prox­im­ity to the first league match be­tween the two teams, on Oc­to­ber 6, meant this was a friendly too far.

Ul­ti­mately, the fix­ture al­lowed the Ea­gles to flex their mus­cles and the Rocks to re­flect on what needs to be done be­fore the big tip-off.

The teams might meet again in a mat­ter of weeks but this feisty clash never had the feel of a phony war.

There was noth­ing fake about the Rocks’ raw ag­gres­sion nor Flournoy’s con­stant calls to arms.

In­deed, those ex­pect­ing some kind of pre-sea­son sham clearly didn’t un­der­stand the his­tory be­tween two cross bor­der ri­vals and their re­spec­tive coaches.

The score­line might have been wider than Gar­be­lotto wanted but he couldn’t fault the com­mit­ment of his new-look Rocks. And to de­scribe this as a ‘friendly’ would be akin to de­scrib­ing Dar­ius De­foe as dainty.

New­cas­tle re­turn to ac­tion and their tem­po­rary Ben­field home this af­ter­noon when feeder club – and Di­vi­sion One cham­pi­ons – Team Northum­bria set out to claim an un­likely scalp (1.30pm tip-off).

“Ask me af­ter that how good we are,” added Gun­jina. “But right now I think we can win a few games.”

Dave Moore

New­cas­tle Ea­gles’ Jay­sean Paige looks to add to his side’s tally against the Rocks yes­ter­day

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