We were on April 18th; the Newcastle University Basketball team was celebrating. They just came off a close victory against the Bradford Dragons, 78-75 in Bradford. Federici and Blain’s 25 points each, with a game-winning shot from Federici saved the team from an overtime.
That victory capped off their three-game winning streak and marked the end of their amazing regular season.
For the first time in the team history Team Newcastle University finally reach the top eight of the best basketball university leagues in England. And will make the Division One playoffs as a 5th seed.
The team was doing a lot of ups and downs between the first and second Division since 2016. They never came near the Division One playoffs at any time.
No one predicted this, back in early November. When the season started Newcastle was seen as the newly promoted university that will struggle to stay in the division.
However, the team managed to find a perfect balance making heads turn all year. Winning games against the first seed and having two wins streaks on the season were a part of that.
So, what is the secret of this Newcastle University Basketball team’s amazing season?
First of all, after looking at the stats and the players, what is noticeable is the good recruitment the team has done.
Their three top scorers were all recruited last summer: Blain, Federici and Moya.
Chris Hughes, journalist for NBL England who designed the Team and Player of the week praised the recruitment done by Newcastle this off-season.
He rated very highly Ronald Blain and Brandon Federici especially by saying:
‘Blain would not look out of place in the ‘Team of the Year’’. Followed a bit later by: ‘Federici has quickly established himself as one of the league’s top shooter’.
This is a great accomplishment by the two post-graduates who have been ballistic all season long as both average more than 14 points per game –14.7ppg for Federici and 22.1ppg for Blain.
However, even if those two players really stood out this season. Coach and recruitment manager Mark Elderkin likes to remind that everyone who is on the first team has been recruited.
‘Having recruits is extremely important’ he says.
Knowing this we can just appreciate the good job done by Newcastle University. To attract those players and create a balanced team with great scorers but also team players behind to support them.
Another reason in favour of Newcastle university success is the academic guarantee and the facilities’ investment the university made. That help them to be a good side and an attractive destination for players over the last few years.
Indeed, as Brandon Federici said to me Newcastle is a Russel Group university and it offers great programs and education to every student.
And for players that come here to finish their studies, to have the safety that the diploma they will get will be very valuable and recognised as a great accomplishment that obviously play a role in the decision making.
In addition to this, the university also decided to invest in a new sport centre and a new gym few years ago.
The brand-new facilities alongside the excellent teaching programs make the perfect mix for student-athletes to come here. They have access to two great programs academically and in sport.
Federici explains it well: ‘I think it was a combination, definitely the academics but also the city reputation and the facilities that did it for me’.
All of the above combined together could really push Newcastle to become a top basketball program in the UK argues Chris Hughes:
‘It is important Newcastle make their mark now’.
The competition is very harsh as other universities stand out right now, such as Loughborough or Solent. Nevertheless, Newcastle isn’t far behind and the next few years will be really important for them.
The team chemistry was excellent this year and it is the main reason those players played the way they did.
To have a team full of friends is very important as the respect and trust players have for each other will make the difference in games.
Everyone seemed to know his role and their competitiveness was used to push each other to reach the maximum of their capacity.
Watching them play, it is obvious that this group is special, see yourself here.
‘This year, this is probably the closest the team has been and I’ve been on in my whole career. We just clicked as a team from the start’, says back-up point guard Naseem Abu-Ramadan.
The team got lucky this happened because this is pretty rare to find a balance like that. Especially in an environment where, every year, there are players joining and leaving the group.
Team Newcastle’s BUCS second team continue to outperform expectations, adding a league/ cup double to their growing list of achievements.
After promotion last season into BUCS Northern 3B and with multiple key players leaving, it initially looked like the Knights could be in for a tough year. However, a combination of ambitious new players and steady veterans has propelled them to the top of this new division. The team finished as champions with an 8-1 record and will play in the 2nd Division in 2019/20 for the first time in their history.
The team also competed in the Northern Conference Cup, a competition in which they have never previously progressed past the last 16 stage. Hard-fought wins against Bradford 1st and Leeds 1st (both placed in Division 2) set up a semi-final derby against Sunderland 1st. After suffering their only league defeat of the year to them 4 weeks earlier, the players came out extremely motivated, eventually running out 90-64 winners. Sunderland had no answer for some strong finishing and shooting from forward Oscar Sanchez, who finished with 36 points.
The final pitted the Knights against Bolton 1st, an experienced team led by a former BBL (professional) player. The game was characterised by both teams making strong runs, with Newcastle having to rely on efficient outside shooting from Adria Estany Roura (23 points) and Oscar Sanchez (24 points) to stay in the game. Team Newcastle finally found some breathing room after two 3-point shots from Center Georgios Karatzas opened up a 56-48 lead. From there, captain Daniel Casado Serra put on an inspired defensive display to take Bolton’s best scoring threat out of the game and see the Knights through to a 70-64 win.
The results mark a successful debut season for Player-Coach Josh Szymanis, who had this to say:
"We started this season with a new, young squad and a new style of play for them all to adapt to. We had to play the majority of our games against other university 1st teams, with some of them in higher divisions than us. We had plenty of reasons to not be successful but this group has sacrificed for the team and for each other at every turn and fully deserve everything they've achieved."
3rd year Captain Daniel Casado Serra, set to graduate this summer after 4 years with the club, added:
“In the 4 years I have been part of this team, I have never seen teamwork at the same level as shown on the court this season. It would be very difficult for me to single out any individual player. I am proud to graduate knowing there are still great things to come for the Knights.”
Highlights of the team’s season can be found below: