Iron man Turner ready for one more battle
Swords Thunder and Killester are set to lock horns in the Irish men's basketball cup final
Jermaine Turner has a chance to make a bit of basketball history he didn't even know about on Saturday night.
“Fab's still playing,” the Killester big man roared excitedly. Fabulous Flournoy, the 43 year-old player coach of Newcastle Eagles, won the British Cup a couple of weeks ago.
Turner used to play with Flournoy – and, yes, Fabulous is his real name – in New York when both men were a lot younger. The 42 year-old Killester man can make it two cup titles for two 40 plus players in two countries in the space of a month.
Age is always among the first things mentioned when Turner comes up. Despite being the elder statesman of the Irish Superleague, Turner continues to record astonishing statistics.
“When you get to my age, you don't get many chances to play at this stage. I remember watching the cup final the first time I arrived in Ireland and I spent my whole career trying to get to that moment. We won it in 2010 and since then I've been trying to re-create that moment,” said Turner.
“The young guys on the team like Ciaran Rowe, Paddy Sullivan, and Al Casey, keep me motivated. I'm not as athletic as I used to be, the guys get on me in practice, but my game has evolved. I'm more of an outside shooter than I was before, I've never taken this many threes in my life.”
Those threes played a big factor in Turner's extraordinary performance in Killester's semi-final win over UCD Marian and the diversity in his game is going to be crucial for Killester on Saturday night. Turner is going to taking on players who aren't just a lot younger than him, he's giving up a serious difference in height. Jose Gil Narbon, on Killester's opponents Swords Thunder, is 6'10” while Turner is a comparitively under-sized 6'5”.
“It's always a challenge when you are going against a guy like Narbon, he's 6'10” and athletic. I've always played against bigger guys so I've learned to adjust my game,” said Turner.
Narbon has similarly high views of Turner's game. The Spaniard has battled the American veteran a few times now and sees plenty to respect about the way Turner plays.
“He's a really good player, it's tough to play against him. In the last game, he was defending me. He's older but he has a perfect physique, he jumps, he can shoot, he can do everything. It's going to be difficult but let's see what happens,” said Narbon.
The chance to go up against players with the size and strength of Narbon with silverware on the line drives Turner to keep going so late in his career.
“This is what we play for. Last year in the locker room, after we lost the semi-final, I was in an emotional state because I felt I'd let the team down. All of the time since then has been focused on getting here. We're 40 minutes away from winning now.”
The Killester team has been through a few changes on the road to the cup final. Paddy Sullivan began the season as a starter but is now used in more of an impact sub role off the bench.
“I enjoy it because it's a bit different. I was starting a bit before Christmas but I changed to this and it's worked out well for us,” said Sullivan.
He’ll definitely be divided. He bleeds black and orange, he loves Killester and I’m sure he wishes he could be here
Those adjustments proved critical in getting Killester to Saturday's decider. “If you look at the Marian game, we came out and made our first six or seven shots to give us a good start,” said Sullivan.
Killester had gone into that game as slight underdogs, with their ability to keep pace on the scoreboard under scrutiny. For Al Casey, that performance proved the doubters wrong.
“We knew they were going to focus in on Jermaine, people had said we weren't a good shooting team but if you look at our guards I think we're one of the better shooting teams,” said Casey.
“Most of us have been together for four of five years, we know each other well, we get on great, and we're looking forward to Saturday. In my first two years, we made the final, and we always expected to get there but it's been a while,”
“The early cup stages, the semi-final weekend, no matter the round – it's the prestige. Your non-basketball friends, it's the competition they ask you about at work.”
There's one significant connection between the sides. Isaac Westbrooks was on the Killester side that won the league title in 2014 before switching to play with Swords Thunder.
“I know the [Killester] lads well, I’ve played with a lot of the players there and I was even coached by Jonathan Grennell who is on the team. Saying that, I couldn’t care less who we came up against, once you put on the Swords jersey it’s us against the world,” said Westbrooks. The long family ties for Westbrooks is going to leave at least one relative biting his nails on Saturday. Isaac's brother Michael, living in Houston, is going to have to watch his brother play against a team he has logged a lot of hard yards with. Despite the dilemma, the younger Westbrooks expects his brother to be rooting for Swords in the decider.
“He’ll definitely be divided. He bleeds black and orange, he loves Killester and I’m sure he wishes he could be here and play the game himself. My family is very close and he’ll go blood over club, he’ll be divided but he’ll be cheering for us,” said Westbrooks.
When Westbrooks switched to Swords three seasons ago, the club was a new arrival in the Superleague. With players from Spain, Ukraine, the United States, and, naturally, Ireland on the roster the team is one of the deepest sides on the island.
“It's tough to manage at times, it's all about consistency. It's about seeing who is having a rough game or a good game early enough and going with it,” said Thunder coach Dave Baker.
After losing last year's final, in just their second season in the top flight, the Thunder enter this game as big favourites. Baker isn't letting that label affect his side's preparations.
“It doesn't add any pressure. We try not to pay any notice to it, we don't care if we are favourites or underdogs. We've beaten them twice in the league but in the cup we've seen a few upsets this season,” said Baker.
“Killester have a lot of different pieces. Jermaine is there inside, Ciaran Rowe is a solid guard, Cian Nihill is dangerous from outside, and Peder Madsen could get going.”
The Irish basketball cup finals are on TG4 this weekend. Coverage of the men's final begins at 7.50pm on Saturday with coverage of the women's final between Liffey Celtics and Glanmire starting at 4.15pm on Sunday.