The North-East was yesterday established as the heart of basketball development in Britain when Newcastle Eagles unveiled new boss Tony Garbelotto and announced a ground-breaking coaching partnership with the sport's National Academy in Durham.

Garbelotto, a 31-year-old Londoner who just completed a two-year stint with Icelandic side KFI, grabs the reins of a club which failed to make the play-offs last season.

He replaces Craig Lynch, who moves into a full-time director of coaching role for the Eagles and the Academy which is located at East Durham & Houghall Community College.

The Academy, offering a two-year programme for 16 to 20-year-olds, had 27 full-time basketball residents last year. That number will increase to 65 next year.

It is also well positioned to be a home for the national teams, offering housing and basketball courts.

It is a significant development for the game in Britain, which has lagged far behind other European countries because of poor organisation, a lack of finance and half-hearted commitment to national players.

Eagles managing director Paul Blake said: ''One year ago the club had no real structure for development but now it has a comprehensive development structure the likes of which is unparalleled in the UK for basketball.

''I would encourage other organisations to come and take a look at the set-up to see what can be achieved in partnership.''

Brian Calder, the coach at Northumbria University who will have a chance to coach Academy graduates if they enrol at his college, said: ''These people are all pulling together to create an avenue for young talent to come through.

''Had this academy been started 20 years ago our sport would have been much further along.''

On the court Garbelotto has warned opponents they will face tough defensive pressure whenever they play the Eagles.

He even fired a barb in the Press conference by saying ''there aren't many teams in the league who play good defence''.

Garbelotto was an assistant both at London Towers from 1992-94 and for England coach Laszlo Nemeth, as well as coaching the England Under-23s before leaving for Iceland. ''The thing that strikes me about Tony is first and foremost he's a very organised and disciplined character, which off the court is essential,'' said Blake.

''But he also brings an understanding of the English game. As a businessman with an eye on the future, I'm setting my stall out with a coach who has a knowledge of all the British networks of basketball talent, whether they be in the UK or in the States or in Europe.''

Garbelotto will have 7ft centre Ian Whyte back after the club announced yesterday he had agreed terms to return to Newcastle. Whyte has been on the summer tour of New Zealand with England.

''The best set-up in this country four or five years ago was London Towers and we didn't have a situation like this off the court,'' said Garbelotto.