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Eagles off to see wizards of Oz?

Byline: MARK DOUGLAS

NEWCASTLE Eagles are monitoring the financial meltdown of the Australian National Basketball League with a view to plundering bargains from Down Under.

Eagles chief Paul Blake is back behind his desk following a two-week break, and has started work on securing players for next season's defence of their BBL title.

The club want to re-sign as many of last season's players as possible and have already had verbal assurances from Tafari 'Tap' Toney and Reggie Jackson, who both made a big impact at the Arena last season.

Blake is planning for every eventuality, however, and that means the Eagles are keeping a close eye on the developing crisis in Australian basketball.

There will be no play in the NBL next year because two of the biggest teams in Australia, the Melbourne Tigers and the

Melbourne South Dragons, withdrew from the league.

It means plenty of highquality free agents milling about - and Blake would not be averse to bringing them to the North East.

The last player the Eagles signed from Australia was the mercurial Steve Leven, the supremely talented but troubled guard.

He clashed with management and left under something of a cloud, but Blake would not have any qualms about looking to the Southern Hemisphere to fill in any holes on their roster.

The Eagles supremo said: "At the moment the top priority is to have the same team back again next year.

"If that does not happen for whatever reason then we will be able to sign high-quality replacements because we do have a decent scouting network.

"We are aware of the significant problems with the Australian league.

"Not so long ago that was the third league globally, so there are a lot of high-quality players looking for a game next year.

"Culturally, they are the kind of players who could settle well over here, so it is something we could look at.

"There is a big pool of available players at the moment, which is why we will not panic if we do receive the odd rejection." Blake and player-coach Fab Flournoy are hopeful it will not come to that.

The pair want to retain an identical roster to the one which won the Trophy, league and playoffs last season - but again they will not have the biggest budget in the BBL with which to play.

With most of last year's players looking for a pay rise to reflect their status as champions, there may be interesting negotiations ahead.

Blake, though, is confident the players will continue to look at the bigger picture.

He added: "Most of our players will be interested in more than just money.

"Our attitude is that we look after the guys on and off the field, there is a guarantee from us they will not be abandoned whatever happens.

"Sometimes that counts when you are in the negotiations, as does the promise about developing them as players." They may lean heavily on their off-the-field care to persuade Toney to reject the overtures of clubs from the big European leagues.

The 6ft 8in forward was so good in his first year he was picked for the Great Britain training camp - and the Eagles are keen to keep hold of him for another year..
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 9, 2009
Words:543
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