North East duo set up British Basketball League rivalry

Basketball fans in the north east will have a choice of two teams to support in this season's 2011-12 British Basketball League - two teams with differing outlooks on the season ahead.

On the one hand there are the Newcastle Eagles; trophyless in 2010-11 after a run of 13 trophies in six years, while at the other end of the scale are the Durham Wildcats, fresh into the BBL as a new franchise.

"I want to put that one behind us, it was a tough season last year with the injuries, a tough season coming second and getting knocked out of the semi-finals," Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy told BBC Look North.

"It was a transitional year for us, but we're more equipped now for this season to come."

Flournoy has strengthened his roster, refreshing the group with the arrivals of Mersey Tigers power forward Andrew Thomson and Freiburg point guard Paul Gause.

Meanwhile, the retention of experienced players such as Charles Smith and Darius Defoe is a further boost going into a crucial campaign.

"I believe all the signings we have this year are going to be great," Flournoy added.

"We have that sense of urgency, that we want to do something unique and great here, partly because last season was the first time we hadn't won anything.

"This year the expectation on us is not necessarily to win, but whether or not we are going to be as good as we were - or is that dynasty over?"

For Durham, the experience of former Sunderland, Newcastle and London coach Dave Elderkin will be crucial in their opening campaign.

Elderkin was at the helm of the Sunderland team that were National Cup winners in 1991, and has been building the team this summer in preparation for the rigours of top flight basketball.

"We've got a pretty strong core of English players, who have been with me for five or six years," he said.

"With the link with Durham University, the scholarship opportunity, we've been able to recruit players to the university that have strengthened the team.

"Also we have brought over three Americans [Ralph Bucci, DJ Glavin and Mike Capocci], who I have high hopes for."

Coincidentally the Eagles will be the Wildcats first opponents in a BBL Trophy double-header on Saturday, 1 October, and Elderkin is confident his players can cope with the pressure.

"They're young but they're tough, and they shouldn't be at all daunted by this," he added.

"I'm certainly not, and I'm hoping they'll really rise to the challenge."