You’ve been in Newcastle for a long time now. Does it feel like home?
Where I’m from helped to define me as an individual but where I am now has shaped me, too. I’m a present-day type of person so when I’m in New York then that’s home and when I’m here, Newcastle is my home.
In the two decades you’ve been in the UK, have you seen the interest in basketball grow?
Yes and no. The interest has always been there but it remains an interest for most people. In the UK, football is king. Basketball doesn’t have the heritage and culture the way sports like cricket, football, rugby and tennis do in this country. In the 1980s, there were a lot of teachers’ strikes and basketball was one of the sports that was cut back on in schools. The result is that there wasn’t a pathway in basketball for youngsters like there is in other sports. This is changing now and basketball is the second most-watched sport in the Olympics after athletics in the UK. Basketball remains the number one indoor sport in the world and it is playing catch-up here. That’s part of the reason why I’ve stayed here to play and do what I’m doing.
What players did you look up to when you were growing up?
To be honest I got into basketball quite late but I grew up in the age where the New York Knicks were very good, as were the Boston Celtics. The top players included Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. As well as Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks, who was known as The Human Highlight Film. It was the golden age of basketball with Shaquille O’Neal, too. But I didn’t want to be those guys. I wanted to be me but to do all of the different things they were each good at.
You’ve spoken in the past about your tough upbringing in the Bronx. Do you get to go back for Christmas?
Christmas is an important time to be training so, as much as I’d like to, I can’t miss out on the valuable training time. Most sports people don’t get a break at Christmas. It’s part of the job. I just think if I’m training then that’ll give me the edge.
What was it like playing basketball in New York?
I was from the East Coast so as a street-ball player you learnt to play hard. If you lost you were off the court and had to go and find a different one. We played first to 40 points and in order to win you had to have the best players. This was my first experience of building a team, which I still hone in on. To win you also had to play all of the time. Literally from sun up to sun down – particularly over the summer.
There have been many rivals over the years but Newcastle Eagles have remained top of their game for so long. What has been the driving force for you?
Currently our rivals are Leicester. But rivals are always changing. Five years ago it was another team and five years before it was another. I hear whispers that my Newcastle team is getting too old but to stay at the top you have to keep creating different teams and each team takes on its own identity. Most players like me only have one-year contracts so you have to stay motivated. I don’t fear losing my job as I concentrate on what we can do and try to be the best at it. Building teams is a process and because of that there’ll be times where we’re very successful and times when we aren’t quite so much. Climbing a mountain is the easy part, maintaining it is difficult. Once you become the hunted, it is a different challenge altogether.
You’re renowned for your high standards…
I do have high standards and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’m a talker and a communicator but I also like to give people choices. You can be in or you can be out and I’ll respect you either way. Sacrifices need to be made to achieve success and working hard is its own reward. We all have days in the team where we don’t feel like working but that one day matters so I lead by example. The players know I’m relentless at times but I believe to reach your potential, you have to be challenged and that’s a big part of my coaching.
“I’m heading to the top and the bus is leaving; if you’re getting on then let’s go.”
You’ve created quite a legacy here in Newcastle; you must be proud…
Winning games don’t tend to bother me that much. It’s the moment we get a trophy when I think the job’s done. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy winning and I enjoy watching the players enjoy it, but I’m already plotting what’s next. Of course I am proud of what the team and I have achieved but I just don’t feel I have time to look back. I stay in the moment as I know what I’m doing now will take care of the future.
On January 15, Newcastle Eagles’ winning ways continued when they lifted their latest BBL Cup with a 91-83 victory against Glasgow Rocks in Birmingham. But speaking to Fab, I know he wont have lingered on the win for long. He’ll already be thinking about the next trophy.