Basketball: Danum Eagles will be powered by local pride

Danum Eagles.  Back l/r Nana Jumah, Phillipe Valencik, Liam Knapp, Matt Wilson, Sam Speight and Mathew Martin.  Front l/r Paul Walsh, Arron Price, George Colwill, James Brough and Robin Hewson.   Picture: Malcolm Billingham
Danum Eagles. Back l/r Nana Jumah, Phillipe Valencik, Liam Knapp, Matt Wilson, Sam Speight and Mathew Martin. Front l/r Paul Walsh, Arron Price, George Colwill, James Brough and Robin Hewson. Picture: Malcolm Billingham
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Danum Eagles will be powered by local pride as they attempt to bring the basketball glory days back to Doncaster.

Almost two decades since Doncaster Panthers pulled out of the BBL, Eagles’ opening Men’s National League fixture against Birmingham Mets II on Saturday will not just mark an exciting new era for the sport in the town.

Danum Eagles.  Coach Ross Stafford.  Picture: Malcolm Billingham

Danum Eagles. Coach Ross Stafford. Picture: Malcolm Billingham

But it will also represent an official homecoming for several players born and bred in Doncaster.

The likes of Paul Walsh, Tom Hodson, George Colwill and Aaron Price all grew up playing for the Eagles, a club up to now that has been renowned for its first class junior basketball programme.

They collectively flew the Eagles’ nest to continue playing the sport at a senior level, but just could not wait for the chance to come back and represent their hometown in national competition.

And it is that sense of local pride that has got Eagles officials excited ahead of the club’s biggest day in their history.

“There’s such a rich basketball heritage in Doncaster, this day has been a long time coming,” said Eagles secretary Jim Walsh.

“We got everybody together - people like Eleanor Hammill (the founder of Danum Eagles) and Rob Clark (sponsor/admin for now extinct Doncaster Eagles) - and said ‘we’re either going to do this, or we’re not’.

“For me I didn’t even think about the money side of things. I’d have paid it out of my own pocket. I just wanted us to be in the National League.

“The night we sent in the application to join the league - even though we hadn’t yet been accepted - the likes of Tom, Aaron, Paul and George were so happy.

“When we got in it was an unbelievable feeling.

“These lads are just desperate to play for their hometown and to play for Bob Martin [the head coach]. They’ve known Bob since they were three or four-year-old.

“I know it’s what they want. They want to play men’s basketball for Doncaster.

“We’ve made it clear these lads are representing Doncaster. They’ll be very proud to do that.”

Eagles begin life in EBL Division Four but they don’t plan on staying there long.

The club, who are based at Danum School but have held talks with Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust about playing out of the Dome, plan to reach Division One in the quickest time possible.

Tentative remarks about applying to join the BBL have also been made. Danum Eagles are thinking big.

“This first year will be a learning curve but I think we’ll do all right,” said Jim.

“If we’re not among the top teams we’ll definitely be pushing them this year.

“Hopefully within four years we’ll be in Division One.

“It’s been bred in these guys that they’re winners,” he added.

“They’re all Doncaster lads, they’re all mates with each other and they understand what the club is all about. Bob will get the best out of them.”

For head coach Martin, a former Panthers coach and player, Saturday’s game will mean even more than most.

The American has made it his mission to put Doncaster back on the basketball map ever since the plug was pulled on the Panthers - and has appealed for basketball fans in the borough to support the Eagles.

“We’re playing in Division Four and if we never get out of it that’s our own fault,” he said.

“But if we play well we can move up and keep on bringing better basketball back to the area.

“We just need people to come out and support us. Men’s basketball is demanding financially so we need backing from the community, so we can continue to grow.”

Martin, too, is excited about the return of several familiar faces.

“Lads have dropped down a level to play for us,” he said.

“We’ve told them we’re going to run this like a BBL club. We want to put a good product on for the people of Doncaster.”

Tip-off on Saturday is 1.30pm. Entrance is £1.50 for adults and 50p for children.