MARKED man Joe Chapman admits he has had to take a back seat in the scoring stakes this season.
Having scooped the BBL’s MVP for the second time last year, rivals are well aware of the ever-present danger that the Newcastle Eagles sharp-shooter poses – and he knows that they are structuring their defence around stopping him now.
It has halted his free-scoring approach, but opened up opportunities for others in the team, not least new point guard Damon Huffman.
The latter did the damage against tonight’s opponents Plymouth Raiders in the first leg of the BBL Cup semi-final, notching 29 points to edge the Eagles closer to January’s final.
Newcastle have a 17-point advantage to defend in tonight’s second leg at Sport Central, and should be good enough to do that and book their place in the Birmingham showpiece.
It would be the first tangible achievement of the season and a significant feather in the cap of Flournoy’s new-look team, which has been remodelled to give it more fluidity.
One of those changes has meant Chapman in this new role as provider, and the Chicago-born star is happy to continue shelving his own personal glory to push the Eagles on. “It has been a new challenge for me but I knew it would be. I came back into the league knowing that I’d be a marked man and I’ve had to change my approach,” he said.
“I knew that it would happen so for me this year it has been about picking my poison. I need to be more of an assist man this year because teams are blanketing me and guarding me differently. They are determined not to let me score.
“So the challenge for me is to try and lead the league in assists, which is something new and is something that has been set for me.
“It has been difficult but I think that I am beginning to get to grips with it now. It is interesting because in the first year every team was blanketing Lynard Stewart and that left me in plenty of space to score. Now they are doing it to me and that leaves Damon in the space, and he is making the most of it.
“I am happy about it in one way because it means that the teams are paying me a big compliment.”
Club skipper Chapman also dismissed talk that the Eagles are as good as through to the final, despite their commanding advantage.
The team have been made to analyse their first-leg win, with demanding head coach Fab Flournoy picking apart the display in his own inimitable fashion. It has left the players in no doubt about what is expected of them.
“There is plenty of basketball to be played yet. This is only half-time,” Chapman said.
“We did well in spurts over in Plymouth and that was how we managed to win the game. That is fine but on their day, Plymouth are a very, very good team and they have an excellent five that is still in the process of gelling.
“They have pushed (Michael) Ojo into more of a scoring role and that has given them an extra dimension which we have to cope with. There is no way that we can afford to just turn up and expect to be in the final – there are still four quarters of basketball to play and the game is still alive.”