Basketball: Home-grown crop lured by Games

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The Independent Online

The catch? As the campaign moves to its climax at the beginning of March they will disappear for a month for the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Normally the best English talent chases bigger bucks on the continent. But French, German, Belgian and Spanish clubs would not release English players in mid-season for the Commonwealth Games.

Funding from Sport England helped to lure them back by supplementing BBL pay deals. But, as the England and Sheffield Sharks coach Peter Scantlebury is keen to point out, it is not just a question of extra cash. "Funding has obviously helped, but the chance of playing in the Games has been just as big a lure."

Steve Bucknall was certainly tempted by the Games rather than a bumped-up salary package. The 39-year-old veteran was a Los Angeles Laker in the days of Magic Johnson. After playing successfully and lucratively on the continent for a decade, Bucknall has teamed up with Karl Brown, his former England colleague and now coach to Leicester Riders.

Scantlebury said: "Steve called me and he wants to be part of the programme. He'll be taking part in the training camps."

Bucknall, with 1,390 points England's leading scorer, and internationals such as Andrew Sullivan, Perry Lawson, Dru Spinks and Rod Wellington are spread around the League. Their Games absence makes it hard to predict who will claim the silverware.

In last night's opening game of the season Newcastle Eagles, last season's BBL Trophy and Play-off winners, stamped their early authority over League champions Chester Jets with an emphatic 84-69 home win at the Metro Radio Arena.

Despite losing American Damien Argrett, who returned to the States on Thursday, Eagles raced into a 32-9 first quarter lead with a 17-2 run in which Jeremy Hyatt hit 14 points, including four three-pointers. Hyatt led all scorers on 25 ahead of 22 from England international team-mate Andrew Sullivan.

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