Joe Chapman has always been the go to man for the Newcastle Eagles, but now the reigning MVP is more than happy to be creating chances for his team-mates after taking on a new role this season.
“I’ve had to be more of a leader and assist and it’s been great making others better. It was challenging learning a new role, but it was fun at the same time!” the 28 year-old admitted.
The adjustment has certainly not restricted Chapman’s scoring prowess. Just ask Newcastle’s play-off opponents, Sheffield. They were on the receiving end of an incredible 41 point display back in January after the Eagle shot 10-16 from 3-point range. Probably the best example of how productive the new role has been, was Chapman’s triple-double – a rare sight in the BBL – after an impressive stat-line of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against Durham.
Chapman finished the regular season with 489 points at an average of 15.3 points per game, behind Charles Smith (21.2) and Darius Defoe (15.7) in the team scoring charts, while BBL rookies Kareem Maddox (15.1) and Damon Huffman (14.7) both also averaged 10+ ppg. As well as being a reliable and consistent scorer, Chapman dished out 176 assists at an average of 5.5, bettered only by Surrey Heat’s Chavis Holmes.
The American guard was given a well earned rest in Newcastle’s final league game and the Eagles will hope their star man will return ‘fully charged’ ahead of their play-off clash with Sheffield this weekend. The defending BBL Play-Off champions have been plagued with injuries throughout the season, but Chapman has stepped up for his team, competing in over 1,000 minutes on court.
Looking ahead to the battle with the Sharks, Chapman is expecting a tough game and insists his side have to improve on their home form if they are to progress.
“Sheffield are a good team in great form at the moment so it’s important we play with a sense of urgency and play well at home on Friday which is something we haven’t done all year.”
Newcastle had a poor run of games at Sport Central in February and March when Cheshire, Surrey and Plymouth inflicted three straight home defeats on Fab Flournoy’s men. Sheffield lost in their only visit to Tyneside in January but will return full of confidence following a rewarding transformation having began their campaing with just two wins in their opening 10 league games.
Atiba Lyons was awarded the coach of the month award for March after leading his side to the BBL Trophy title and sealing a play-off spot before finishing the season with a 17-16 record. The Sharks claimed an 80-70 victory against the Eagles last week in a play-off dress rehearsal and also bolster two former Eagles, Andrew Bridge and Olu Babalola amongst their ranks, who will know full well what response to expect from the Eagles come crunch time.
“They play with a lot of energy and we have to match that! They also have a few players that have played for our organisation so they know our plays pretty well and it will come down to our energy,” added Chapman.
Since 2005, Newcastle have won 17 titles including the play-offs on five occasions but failed to win anything in 2010-11 and will want to avoid a repeat this season. Chapman feels it is unfair to compare last year’s achievement of the clean sweep with this year and praised his side for their efforts in a tough campaign.
“We have a few new guys who have never been champions before so going 26-8 is great. With injuries and only playing 11 games together as a whole unit, I think we did pretty well.”
Darius Defoe and Anthony Martin were the only two players to feature in every game with Smith, Huffman, Maddox and Flournoy all missing several games due to injury while Chapman was rested against Leicester on Sunday.
Leicester Riders completed the clean sweep over Newcastle with a win on the final day and were also victorious in their battle with the Eagles to win the BBL Cup. Rob Paternostro’s men completed the season with a perfect 17-0 home record whilst winning 30 games in total. Chapman acknowledged their achievements and gave his verdict on who he feels should be given the BBL League MVP award.
“Leicester has had a great season and what I like about them, is they share the ball and play great defence. Their whole team deserves MVP recognition because I believe team success brings individual success but there can only be one so I’d give MVP to either Drew Sullivan or Jay (Couisnard) because they have both played great in big games.”
Chapman also paid tribute to his 37 year-old team-mate Smith, who he described as still being one of the best in the league whilst recognising Alex Owumi’s great season in Worcester.
Do you agree with Joe Chapman’s verdict, who would get your vote for MVP?
And will the Eagles, as Chapman desires, be the last team standing with the Play-Offs trophy aloft at Wembley Arena on April 28th?