By Jamie Thomas
Moving between the Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles in either direction is always going to raise eyebrows and cause headlines, such is the rivalry between two of British basketball’s best sides.
It is a move we describe to the newest Newcastle Eagle, Corey Johnson, as bold, and the young Canadian sharpshooter nods his head in agreement, as he discussed the reasoning behind his decision to move and the dynamic of joining up with his former rivals.
“We all know that basketball is a business and certain things don’t work out, but I had a great time at Leicester and appreciate everything Russell and Rob have done for me, and I just felt like going into this season that Newcastle was the best situation for me.
“I remember coming here last year for games with the Riders, just seeing the town a little bit at first, then experiencing the arena and what the club has built here, the style of play and how they approach the game and it just felt like a great fit for me to expand my game and further my career.
“It was a strange dynamic in the beginning, coming into a former rival’s territory if you like, but now that I’m part of the team and so on everybody here has been so helpful and made sure I’ve settled in great, gotten to know the city a little bit better and I can’t ask for anything more for them.”
“People are definitely starting to see that British Basketball is right up there.”
The talent level competing in British basketball is rising exponentially every year, with uber-talented imports like Johnson and others on the Eagles roster being joined by the best British talent which has been drawn home from the continent by the growing attraction and quality of the BBL.
What this means is the action is getting more and more exciting for the fans to watch, but also that the match-ups for players and teams are getting tougher and tougher, but Johnson clearly relishes that as he discusses how his new team will approach the season.
“We’ve got to approach every game by taking care of our own business, and if we worry about ourselves first and getting ourselves right then we won’t need to worry about anybody else down the road, because we’ve got everything we need here to be successful.
“All the teams now are becoming better and better every year and the talent levels across the league are just getting higher and higher because players all over the world are realising how this is a league going in the right direction, which is how it should be.
“As the league grows and gains notoriety with even more people realising how great the talent is here in a very, very respectable league, I think there will be even more opportunities to showcase how great this league is. London being in Europe is one way to showcase that, Leicester did it recently as well, but people are definitely starting to see that British Basketball is right up there.”
“I feel like being here will enable me to showcase my best self.”
Although they’ve now left the club, former Eagles stars Justin Gordon and Cortez Edwards played their roles in securing the signing of Johnson, as the former Rider confesses he reached out to both for their take on the Vertu Motors Arena club and how he might fit in.
A glowing endorsement from both for Coach Ian Macleod is what followed, and particular aspects of that endorsement excited the Canadian star, who detailed those conversations further and what the Eagles fans can expect from him this term.
“I’ve had great conversations with Coach Macleod and I’m really excited to work with him, but even before then I had spoken to Justin Gordon and Cortez Edwards about their time here and they both said that he gave them an opportunity to showcase their potential, and now they’ve both moved on to great opportunities, and I feel like being here will enable me to showcase my best self as well.
“Newcastle fans can definitely expect a big effort on both ends of the floor. I am known for my shooting, but I’ve expanded on the defensive side of my game in the last couple of years and developed my leadership qualities. I’ve had good experience at this level now and feel I have a voice and an opinion that can add value, but I’m just excited to contribute however I can to help the team.
“The transition game is going to be really good for me, and our style of play and the pieces we’ve got this year mean we’re going to be very, very difficult to guard because we have so many weapons on so many levels that teams are going to have to adjust, and on the defensive end we have a lot of size and length, so all-round we can definitely make some noise.”
“You can see why these guys have the reputation they do.”
He’s played with some of the BBL’s best during his time in the league so far, and he’ll get to do so again on Tyneside as he joins up with the likes of Rahmon Fletcher and Darius Defoe in Coach Macleod’s side.
Having competed against them as a rival in the past, the 25-year-old detailed what he first noticed about his new legendary teammates when he joined forces with them.
“I think what has stood out for me since being here is just the understanding of the game the likes of Rahmon Fletcher and Darius Defoe and others have.
“When you’re playing against these guys as I have, you’re not really thinking about the opponent and what they know, if you like – you’re more focussed on yourself and your teammates – but over the last few days they’ve shared so much with me to help me fit into their offense and style of play.
“You can see why these guys have the reputation they do as legends at this level because they’re so professional and cover every detail. They’re all business, they come to work and have faith in my abilities to help the team be successful and I’m excited to play alongside them.”