Leeds Force face the biggest challenge in British basketball tonight when they try to clip the wings of the soaring Newcastle Eagles – and they will have to do so without their head coach on the sidelines.
Matt Newby, Force’s director of professional basketball, will have to watch the game unfold from the opposite side to the team bench at Leeds Beckett University tonight as he serves a one-game ban for being ejected in the team’s previous home game.
“I took exception to some of the decisions being made,” said Newby, of the refereeing decisions made during the Force’s defeat to Leicester Riders two weeks ago. It’s tough, but in a way I felt I was defending the players and they weren’t getting the respect they deserve.
“I’ve got to serve my time. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to get a ban. It’s the nature of sport.”
Newby can still prepare his team in the same way, he just can’t have any influence during the 40 minutes of action out on the court.
And that will be frustrating for an animated head coach, whose side will need all the help they can get against an Eagles team who are chasing success on four fighting fronts this season. “Newcastle Eagles are on fire at the moment,” said Newby.
“With the way they’re playing and the depth they have it’s a massive challenge but one our guys have to relish.
“We are a young team and inexperienced, but we will only gain experience by playing the top teams.
“We showed a great deal of grit up at their place, and that’s what you’ve got to demonstrate against Newcastle; grit and the ability to dig in.
“But they’re playing the type of basketball most teams will be aspiring to play, and that’s testament to the coaching staff and the depth of the squad at their disposal. I saw a stat somewhere that they’re chasing 20 trophies in 10 years, that’s some achievement.”
Force go into the game on the back of a heavy defeat at fellow BBL rookies Bristol Flyers last week, a loss that Newby highlighted was down to a poor shooting game.
But while many coaches have been active this week in the run-up to the trade deadline, save for a few speculative calls to out-of-work players Newby is happy to go to the end of the season with the players who have taken them this far.
“There’s so many guys here who have worked hard and there have been some terrific breakout performances in recent weeks; Dwayne Camille and Darrell Bethune for instance,” added Newby.
“If there’s a gap on the bench we want to fill it with an academy player who has earned that right.”
Tonight’s opponents Eagles are currently four points clear at the top of the BBL Championship table with two games in hand.
They also booked their place in the BBL Trophy final on Sunday after a dominant two-leg semi-final victory over Plymouth Raiders. The Eagles cruised to a 126-79 victory in the first leg and followed that up with a 104-99 win in the second leg at Plymouth.
Tip-off tonight is 7.30pm.