Duke Shelton, in his second outing in Riders red, is set to walk into his old building in a win-or-go-home game against his former club.
The American forward suited up for the Newcastle Eagles between 2021 and 2022, and is well accustomed to the historic rivalry these teams hold. Shelton knows all too well the environment that is waiting for the Riders in the North East.
“It’s a highly anticipated game, and there’s been a bit of heat between the teams in the last couple of games,” said Shelton. “Everybody is going to be up for it, and we know it’s going to be rowdy in there.
“We’re two of the most winning teams in the country. It’s definitely a rivalry, and you feel that when you play in these games. There’s definitely more energy, focus, and will to win when these teams play.”
The American, born in Florida, signed last week, and impressed in limited minutes on his debut in the Riders’ 104-88 win. He appreciated the chance to take to the court and impact the game where he could.
“I felt comfortable, and really at home. I didn’t play a whole lot because I had just arrived the day before, but overall, I think I gave good effort and energy, and it was a good team win.
“I’m trying to bring energy, rebounding, communication and running to the team, and I think I did that during my time out there.”
Having been with the team for just over a week, Shelton can already see the makings of a team ready to make a run in the Trophy.
“We have all the potential in the world. We are a pretty balanced team in all positions, and we have good team chemistry, so we just need to keep rolling. The Giants game was a good win, so we need to pick up where we left off.”
The Eagles, too, are coming into this one after a confidence-building win. They went into Bristol to play the Flyers, and got it done in the clutch to set up this knockout-style matchup against the Riders.
It was Shelton’s former teammate Darius Defoe who hit the go-ahead bucket from the elbow with seconds on the clock, and he thinks the veteran forward will have a say in the proceedings on Friday.
“Darius is huge for them. You saw that last time out in the clutch- that was his signature shot.
“He’s got a lot of experience, so everything he does is second nature. It’s huge to have a guy on the floor with you like that, especially on the defensive end. He can get guys in their spots and communicate- he’s the quarterback. He’ll play a huge role in the game.”
But despite the presence of the most decorated player in league history lining up against the Riders, they enter the game with confidence, having already gone into Newcastle and coming away with a win earlier in the year.
“We match up pretty well against them, so we’ve got to come out and play team basketball. The atmosphere is going to be great, we know that, so we have to stick together and not get sidetracked by anything that’s not basketball. We can’t focus on anything that’s outside of sidelines.”
To fight for silverware so soon after signing is an exciting prospect for Shelton. With his new team, he’s ready to go to battle and help bring the Trophy to the East Midlands.
“It would mean everything to win the Trophy. It’s what basketball is all about, and what every player is dreaming of. To have the opportunity, and be a part of a team that has to potential to win it is a great feeling, and we’d love to bring that to reality for the fans.”
Want to see Shelton in action?