The 2016 National Basketball League begins tonight when Lindsay Tait and the James Blond Supercity Rangers take on the Wellington Saints.
Wellington Saints v James Blond Supercity Rangers (Live streamed at www.nzherald.co.nz/basketball)
When: Thursday, March 10, 7pm
Where: TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
Referees: Melony Wealleans, Yalla Edwards, Hayden Pipe
Last year’s runners up Wellington Saints will host the semi finalist Rangers and it will also be the debut of Lindsay Tait who faces his former team Wellington where he played seven seasons and won three titles. Tait will be forming a back court former team mate Eric Devendorf who won a title with the Saints in 2010. The Rangers probably boast the strongest guards in the competition with the additions of Brook Ruscoe and Marco Alexander. After winning a title with the Sharks last year Kevin Braswell will debut as head coach and his back up Shea Ili will now have a chance to lead the Saints at the point guard position in place of Tait. It will be unsure if Breakers team mates Tai Wesley (Saints) and Mika Vukona (Rangers) will be playing on Thursday, but if available then expect a battle upfront. Wesley was last years forward of the year averaging 18.1 points and 9.4 rebounds, but the Rangers will have the likes of experienced forwards, Dillon Boucher and Casey Frank. Rangers new import is Terrence Roberts, a 6’9” forward who was a team mate of Devendorf’s at Syracuse. Roberts also played with Saints swingman Leon Henry in Romania under former Tall Blacks coach Tab Baldwin and was a notable athlete before a knee injury put him out for the last few seasons. Roberts will hopefully be back to full help giving the Rangers some grunt inside. The Rangers have won the last three games against the Saints in Wellington/Porirua, but did have trouble against last year’s MVP Torrey Craig who had 38 points and 17 rebounds in their last meeting at TSB Arena. Expect a high tempo contest, as both games in Wellington over 200 points were scored in each
Canterbury Rams v Mike Pero Nelson Giants
When: Friday, March 11, 7pm
Where: Cowles Stadium, Christchurch
Referees: Raewyn Willocks, Gavin Zimmerman, Elliot Duncan
The Canterbury Rams have steadily improved each season since returning to the NBL two years ago, but one team they have yet to beat in the last two seasons is the Giants who have won all four meetings. The Rams finished fifth last year with a 9-9 record, but will be aiming for their first semi final berth since 2002. They have already made their intentions clear by releasing Amercian Nick Wiggins for forward Desharick Guidry, who is a notable rebounder. Giants will have a solid back court with guards Jarrod Kenny and American Raymond Cowels, but will also have the all time games leader Phill Jones who plays his 22nd NBL season and add to his 388 games, potentially being the first player to reach 400. Rams have replaced small forward Richie Edwards with naturalised player Marcel Jones, who last played in the NBL for the Rams in 2014. Jones is a notable scorer and rebounder with career averages of 20.3 points and eight rebounds. Rams have replaced retiring point guard Jeremy Kench with American Jamie Adams who is expected to play despite a foot injury. Adams should be one of the leading scorers in the competition as evidenced by his college career at Florida A&M where in his last season he averaged 17.2 points.
SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks v Mike Pero Nelson Giants (Live streamed at www.nzherald.co.nz/basketball)
When: Saturday, March 12, 7pm
Where: ILT Stadium, Invercargill
Referees: Sean Cronin, Matt Bathurst, Marty Davison
The defending and two time champion Sharks open the season against last years semi finalist Nelson Giants. Southland will try to extend their NBL league record of 16 straight wins, their last loss was on April 18th last year. Southland will have a totally new squad from last year’s title team with a new starting five and head coach in Judd Flavell. The lone player from last year’s starters is Duane Bailey who will still be playing in England until April. New coach Flavell returns to the league, last coaching the 2012 Auckland Pirates to the NBL title. Flavell will be familiar with star signings Alex Pledger and Thomas Abercrombie, being an assistant coach for the NZ Breakers. Pledger last played in the NBL for the Pirates, and should put up much bigger numbers than his career averages of 12.3 points and 9.7 rebounds. It as been a longer absence for Abercrombie who last played in the competition back in 2011 for the Waikato Pistons, playing 53 games averaging nearly 19 points. Nelson will also have a new look squad with two new imports and the loss of key veteran Mika Vukona. Nelson’s marquee local signing this season is Jarrod Kenny, who will be fresh off returning from the Perth Wildcats championship. Kenny will be in the back court alongside Raymond Cowels, who played at four years at Santa Clara University, also the college NBA legend Steve Nash attended. Giants will also miss last years rookie of the year Josh Duinker who is currently playing in Hungary. Replacing Duinker is American Ben Strong who is a 6’11” forward from North Carolina. Strong has recently played in the D-League and has played under Nelson head Coach Tim Fanning.
Indigo Hawks v Wellington Saints
When: Sunday, March 13, 3pm
Where: Pettigrew Green Arena, Taradale
Referees: Miguel Gallardo, Apai Apai, Jason McCabe
Last season was a tough one for the Hawks, who had injury issues and released their head coach Liam Flynn halfway through the season. Hopefully they will be more stable this season under the leagues first ever women’s head coach Kirsten Daly, and improve on their 6-12 record. Daly has added kiwi veterans Matt Te Huna, Arthur Trousdell and Aidan Daly to the Hawks roster. Paora Winitana will return for his 19th NBL season and is currently eight games away from 300, but won’t be playing this round due to the game being on Sunday. Hawks have added another experienced campaigner to the roster in American Chris Porter who is 6’7’” forward who was drafted 55th in the 2000 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. Porter is 37 years and had played both in Europe and Asian league. Hawks have retained Darryl Jones, Luke Aston and Alonzo Burton who all can space the floor. Wellington has had the upper hand in recent history winning 12 of last 16 meetings. Wellington shooting guard Dion Prewster had a career best season with the Saints, averaging 14.3 points last year beating his previous best which was with the Hawks in 2013 where he averaged over 13. Hawks will need to contain the likes of Prewster and Leon Henry on the outside, both player shooting over 40% last season.