Newcastle Eagles face a big game in Birmingham tomorrow afternoon. They will be led by Kareem Maddox, who isn’t your ordinary athlete – as Chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports
FROM Birmingham to Barack Obama – January is set to be a pivotal month in the life of Newcastle Eagles’ renaissance man Kareem Maddox.
A Princeton alumni who has graduated from BBL rookie into a blossoming attacking threat for the Eagles, Maddox has already made a big impression on Fab Flournoy and the Newcastle hierarchy.
But he may be rubbing shoulders with some of the most important men in the world when the season is over as he pitches for a summer internship at the White House.
His application goes in at the end of the month to join Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, and even though Maddox’s mind has been totally focused on the BBL Cup over the past week, he has been compiling an academic essay on the club’s Hoops for Health programme in his spare time to support his case.
The DPC is the department that co-ordinates and advises the President on the most pressing issues in the country, such as education, justice and immigration. In short, he’d be right at the heartbeat of the American government if he was successful.
It is all part of the busy life of 24-year-old Maddox, who arrived at the Eagles to further his basketball education under Fab Flournoy.
The first examination comes tomorrow, when he is part of a Newcastle team that faces a major test against a motivated and talented Leicester Riders team.
“The game is all-important at the moment. We want to go there and win – I want to be part of the club’s history and win things too,” he told The Journal.
But, as you would expect from someone with an Ivy League education, there are off-the-court ambitions which are equally fascinating.
Maddox has taken a particular interest in education policy back home – and with a socially progressive Democrat in the White House, maybe he senses a chance to make a difference.
With only around 50 taken from all over the country in any one year, it will be some achievement if he makes it all the way to Washington.
“It’s just something I’m shooting for. I’ll be applying at the end of this month – it’s a White House internship in the Domestic Policy council,” he explains.
“It’s tough because I still have to do a couple of things here and there to build my CV but I’m hopeful. I’ll apply at the end of the month and see what happens.
“For me I’ve got to update my own CV. There’s a couple of things I can do in Newcastle and one of the things I’m planning is an article about our Hoops for Health programme for publishing wherever I can publish it. I want to finish it at the end of next week – I need it to be of quality, which I hope it will be because it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. That would go a long way to helping me because it deals with education.
“We’ll see what happens. There’s so much going on at the moment, especially with the Cup and the build-up to that at the moment. I need to get that played – and won – and then we can move on.” Of course that is easier said than done, especially against a Riders team that feels it “owes” the Eagles after being rolled over in the play-offs last summer.
Flournoy fired the first shots in the war of words on Thursday, warning the Riders that they were intent on “killing” the East Midlands basketball renaissance. Backing him up is an 80% success rate in the 13 finals contested in the Flournoy era.
Maddox – who will take in his first experience of a major final in Britain tomorrow – believes that following Flournoy’s lead is the best policy in the run up to Sunday afternoon’s big game.
“You have to take the experience that your team-mates had and we have Fab, Chuck (Charles Smith), Joe (Chapman). Then you just go into it like you’ve been here before.
“You don’t try and change anything in your preparation because that’s when you get caught up in it and don’t play as well as you should. I’m just going into it like that and I know what to expect because of Fab.”
For the Eagles, a major doubt has been raised about their prospects because they haven’t played of late. It has been playing on Flournoy’s mind, but Maddox feels that freshness can play into Newcastle’s hands ahead of tomorrow’s big game.
“We’ve been trying to figure out our identity and where each piece of the jigsaw fits in,” he said. “Once we’ve come back from the winter break we’ve been playing a lot better.
“Fans haven’t seen it because we’ve only played one game and then a tune-up game against Northumbria, but from what I’ve seen we’ve been definitely a lot better than we were just before the break.
“I’m excited to see how we play now.”