- National Teams
Drew Lasker made his television debut as a pundit on Sky Sports last Thursday, just a short time before stepping on the court and playing for Newcastle Eagles.
The 16-year BBL veteran took double duty to a new level – as did Sheffield Sharks captain Mike Tuck – in combining punditry with playing as part of the double-header to open the BBL Championship regular season.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with, Lasker took his daughter to and from nursery either side of a two-hour session at Gateshead Academy – one of four per week in his role as head coach.
There was time for a brief nap in the afternoon following a film session and shootaround before arriving at the Eagles Community Arena – two and a half hours earlier than usual – for the build-up to the game between Sheffield and Cheshire Phoenix.
“It was so mentally stressful,” Lasker told Hoopsfix. “I’m going to London on Friday and I feel like I will be even better since the role will have all my attention.”
Lasker was part of a star-studded lineup of BBL pundits with retired GB Olympian, Kieron Achara MBE and Leicester Riders head coach Rob Paternostro, while Anthony Rowe joined Dan Routledge on commentary.
“It was something I’ve never done before, and it’s different when it’s live TV,” he said. “Not knowing what to expect was the difficult thing.
“You have your earpiece with everyone talking, being told where to stand and there was just so much going on.
“My respect level has gone up tremendously for everyone involved in that industry.”
From giving analysis on the court straight into being analysed on the court as Lasker quickly got into game mode, even feeling inspired to roll back the years and test out his athleticism.
“If anyone tells you it’s a normal game, they are lying,” he laughs. “There are fresh haircuts, all the players know.
“I even tried to dunk in the pre-game and haven’t done that all year.
“It’s a different vibe and an opportunity to showcase your talents. You always want to show the best version of yourself and even more so when the cameras are in town.”
Lasker still plays a pivotal role on the court for the Eagles with his vast amounts of experience and title-winning pedigree a huge bonus for the team, and a second-year BBL head coach in Ian Macleod.
The 38-year-old is still dedicated to his profession and the desire to continue, but has welcomed new opportunities within the media and sees a future down that avenue having set up roots in Newcastle.
“I’ve always admired from a distance but never had an ambition, but was always curious if I could pull it off. It’s just happened really fast,” he explained. “The opportunities have presented themselves and being asked to take part is a humbling feeling with all the work I put in being recognised.
“Now that it’s here, my mindset has changed. It might not have been a childhood dream or something I even thought about a year ago, but maybe it could make a nice transition post career.
“We’re here to stay [in the UK] after buying our own home so it would make sense to take advantage of that for a future role.”
Lasker has become a central figure in regards to the BBL coverage this season, after heading up the league’s first podcast ‘The BBL Show’ alongside former Plymouth Raiders player and head coach, Jay Marriott.
The Texas native also handles the production side through his media company ’21 Media’ having first set up the ’21 Podcast’ with co-host Yvonne Harris during the summer before things fell into place with the BBL.
“Yvonne had been pushing me for the past 18 months. I was apprehensive at first, but when the pandemic hit, it felt like it was the perfect time.
“We had a major player out the gate which gave validity in our channel and things happened pretty fast from there.
“During the pandemic, everyone was doing podcasts and Jay was doing one. I went on and got invited back for a second time and I felt the connection and camaraderie between us.
“He pitched the idea about doing a BBL podcast together and I took it to the league. I’d recently built the relationship with the BBL after taking over their IG account for a basketball clinic and they were all for it.”
The BBL Show has already had a wide-range of guests since starting up in pre-season and while Lasker is keen to distance himself from being called ‘an expert’ he feels they are able to offer something different, and that has been well received from fellow players.
“Players read, hear and see everything when it’s about them,” he said. “I can’t say how many players actually listen, but it’s more for the community and the vibe from the players is respect.
“With Jay & I, there is a different level of respect because we’ve played in the league. People can’t say we don’t know what we’re talking about, because we do.
“It’s just our opinion, I always stress that. We may be more educated, but not always right. Overall, the response has been positive.”
Arguably, one of the things that British basketball lacks as a whole are talking points and rivalries within the sport that appeal to the wider public.
That is something that Lasker recognises and looks to create conversation through the BBL Show, believing that more is needed when it comes to growing the league.
London Lions’ Kevin Ware caused a stir on social media in pre-season after labelling Sheffield Sharks ‘trash’ even after losing to them and is a prime example of the kind of talking points that attract more attention to the BBL.
“Storylines are key,” Lasker stressed. “When we pitched to the league, we said that it’s not just about the games.
“You need to create villains – guys that love to be hated – as well as superstars. You can’t just rely on the product.
“Die-hard fans might watch all the games. I have and you can’t depend on every game being great but that gets ignored if there are other things to talk about, more so now than ever.
“There’s so much content out there, and you don’t hear people talking about a game often. That’s how sports work now, you watch clips, highlights but have to jump on the storylines.
“The same goes with the Lions. With their budget and all the hype, we are putting them on a pedestal – it creates a ‘David versus Goliath’ situation and players around the league want to prove they can beat them.”
That’s exactly what Lasker’s Eagles did in the opening game of the season, and Newcastle went on to win four from six in the Cup to top their group to advance to the quarter-finals.
They earned another win over the Lions on Sky Sports before dropping to 1-1 in the league with a tough 77-76 loss after making the long trip to face Plymouth Raiders.
Rahmon Fletcher has been a standout performer, quickly forming an exciting back-court partnership with Cortez Edwards, while Justin Gordon and Evan Maxwell have hit the ground running and Rex Pflueger earned a call-up to the GB Senior Men’s squad.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything better in winning the ‘Group of Death’,” Lasker said. “And, then a tough road trip on the first weekend of the [regular] season, going against two teams expected to be in the top four.
“I said we’d be happy to come out 1-1, but felt we needed to be 2-0 to put a statement out on the title race.
“The Plymouth trip is tough, the travel is so difficult to contend with. The Pavilions is a fortress to the home team so it’s a very difficult place to come home with the W.
COVID-19 implications provide the league and its clubs with a different challenge this season, though only two scheduled fixtures have been effected so far when Bristol Flyers forfeited their opening two Cup games.
And, Lasker knows all too well of the effects it can have on an individual having contracted the virus in pre-season, and believes it will have an important say in the outcome of the season.
“There’s a different feel this year,” he concludes. “I think it will come down to the best organisation. Not only the team, but everything off the court. We’re in a pandemic so the protocols need to be in place and making sure everyone is kept safe.
“It’s tough. It took me 3 weeks to feel like myself again. So, that’s the team that manages everything right that will win this year.”
The BBL action on Sky Sports continues tonight as London Lions host Plymouth Raiders, with Lasker part of the pundits before Newcastle visit Manchester Giants, on Sunday.
Check out more over at drewlasker.com