A whole year out of basketball for Rahmon Fletcher increased insecurities and raised doubts about his game.
Despite respectable numbers in his second season in the Dutch top flight – playing alongside recent Bristol Flyers pickup, and college team-mate Bryquis Perine – a period in limbo ensued following the 2012/13 campaign.
“It was very frustrating,” the Green Bay graduate recalled. “You start to second guess if it was you, or if you were good enough for teams that passed on you.”
It had been 15 months since his last competitive game with Weert, when BBL powerhouse Newcastle Eagles came calling.
“I’m grateful Fab (Flournoy) and the Eagles gave me a chance to play again,” he revealed. “It’s a blessing and a privilege to be here.
“Sitting out made me respect the game more and know I have to take advantage of every chance I get.”
And the Kansas native is doing just that, enjoying a new lease of life on Tyneside. Fletcher has settled well and is playing a valuable role in his side’s current 17-game win streak in all competitions.
“It’s no secret that the key to our team is our defensive identity,” he said of the run.
“If we play good defence our offence will come, in either transition or just the flow of the game so we focus a lot on stopping our opponents tendencies individually, and as a team.”
Fletcher is leading the league in assists – dishing out an average of 6.5 per game – currently two shy of the century mark in just 15 games.
“I’m content with my contributions so far,” the 26-year-old said. “I think I have settled pretty well, but still have a way to go.
“I’m not a person who just looks at what I do. Us winning games is most important, and if my team is satisfied with my game, then I’m pleased.”
The plethora of options the Eagles have at their disposal eases the responsibility, but the 5’10” general deserves a lot of credit despite his modesty, with the league-leading offence reaping the rewards of his leadership and unselfish style of play.
“It makes it a lot easier,” he said of the Eagles’ scoring options. “Teams cannot just key in on one player when you have a team with everybody capable of leading in scoring.
“I like to create for others because it gives our team confidence in me as a player,” he explained. “When your teammates respect one another it makes it easier to go out and play for each other.
“I consider myself a point-guard and within that title comes a lot of responsibilities. I do what I need to do for our team.”
The roster is stacked, with strength in depth a key asset.
Six different players currently average 10+ points per game, including Fletcher who is putting up impressive numbers across the board.
Leading the way is veteran Charles Smith, still prolific as ever, even in an adapted role from the bench – averaging 18.8 ppg. The 39-year-old soared past 6000 points in his illustrious BBL career, in October, and Fletcher has nothing but respect for the elder statesman.
“Chuck is a legend, no doubt about it,” he acknowledged. “I’m honoured to play with him and be able to learn little things from him.
“He’s not only great on the court, but also off it and I call him Uncle Chuck.”
Whilst Fletcher is proving to be another shining success stemming from smart recruitment, all teams are prone to the odd hiccup.
Recruiting players from overseas never guarantees success, and comes with an element of unpredictability. So, even notorious gem-finders like Newcastle can sometimes get it wrong.
Ricky Taylor was axed just a few weeks into the season with the Eagles conceding the preacher-cum-
businessman did not ‘fit their style’.
However, it didn’t take long for another important addition to be plucked. Replacement guard Andre Jones has filled the void more than adequately and has been growing in his role in recent weeks.
“Adding Dre has been good for us,” Fletcher said. “He has fit right in with us from the beginning and can score as well as play defence well.
“There was no added pressure (when Ricky left). It’s part of the business as a professional. I wanted to have a positive impact with my team-mates and for them to respect me as a person first, as well as a basketball player.”
Newcastle boast an impressive 14-1 record at the top of the league, four points better off than nearest rivals Worcester, who are the only team to beat Fab Flournoy’s men this season.
The Eagles have swept all four trophies on two previous occasions, and they are well placed to be strong contenders on all fronts once again.
However, Fletcher insists his side are not going to get carried away with their strong start.
“We haven’t talked about it as a team,” he claimed. “In our mind, we approach each game like its a Championship one.
“The league is tough and competitive,” he added. “But, the biggest challenge is not getting too comfortable with where we stand.
“It will only get tougher and we have to stay on our mission.”
The journey is building towards next month’s Cup Final, on January 11th, and it bares extra significance for Fletcher as it presents a golden opportunity for a first piece of silverware in his pro career.
A dominant run in all competitions has seen the 2012 Cup winners book their place at the Barclaycard Arena showpiece, and victory against Glasgow Rocks in Birmingham would be ‘huge’ for Fletcher.
Confidence is undoubtedly high, and winning teams forge great bonds, just look at the San Antonio Spurs.
“The team bond is really tight,” Fletcher said. “We go out and play for one another, not for ourselves.
“Everything we do in training or in games is for the team’s benefit.”
A Cup Final dress rehearsal draws the curtain on 2014 on Sunday, and Newcastle will be looking to take their win streak into the new year to cap another strong 12 months.
Image credit: Memories Photography
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