The New Zealand National Basketball League (NBL) tips off this week, with the promise of another great season of high quality basketball, with increased coverage and media interest reflecting the surge in the interest in all levels of the game from New Zealanders.
The NBL sees the same seven teams return for a tilt at the title, with Basketball New Zealand resisting (for now) overtures for further teams to be added, something that is however clearly on the table for future seasons, with Tauranga putting a strong case for inclusion over the off-season and increasing talk out of both the Manawatu and Otago that they too might be keen to return to the fold at some time in the future.
All eyes for now however are on the 2017 NBL and the seven contenders, beginning this Thursday night with two of the traditional powerhouse in the game going head to head at one of the league’s best all round venues, with the Southland Sharks hosting the Nelson Giants at ILT Stadium Southland. The game will be live streamed via the NZ Herald website, with delayed coverage on Maori Television going to air on Saturday.
That coverage reflects the plan for the entire season, with at least two games per week live streamed by NZ Herald on BasketballTV.co.nz and one game shown live on Maori Television on Sunday afternoon, as well as one game replayed on Saturday afternoon.
The hugely popular Final Four Weekend will be broadcast live in both formats, giving fans around the country the chance to see the best teams in the league battle to find the 2017 champion.Chief Executive of Basketball New Zealand, Iain Potter, says this unique media partnership recognises the growth of basketball in New Zealand, as more participants and fans are tuning their televisions and devices to the game.
“It's an exciting agreement to have two strong media partners with big audiences recognising that their viewers are increasingly tuning into basketball. It's sensational for the NBL and Basketball New Zealand, as our players, teams and brands are building on the increasing upsurge of Kiwi fanaticism in basketball." says Potter.
The quality of the teams is also a reflection of the growth in the league in recent years, with a number of teams boasting rosters that would not be out of place in the Australian League.
As always imports will be a talking point, with players coming from Great Britain, Kenya, Australia and the usual supply line out of the United States. Their ability to lift those around them and lead their teams at both ends of the floor will likely be critical to the outcome of many games.
But so too will the locals as experienced players like Dillon Boucher (Super City Rangers), Lindsay Tait (Super City Rangers), Everard Bartlett (Bay Hawks), and Hayden Allen (Southland Sharks) keeping the younger brigade honest while imparting their years of experience and knowledge on team mates, and perhaps at times, schooling the opposition with their wily ways.
Look too for that next generation to make their mark. After a breakout campaign with the SKYCITY Breakers, Finn Delany (Nelson Giants) will look to light up the league with his high energy game, while Derone Raukawa (Southland Sharks), Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury Rams), Shea Ili (Wellington Saints), Sam Dempster (Nelson Giants) and Jordan Ngatai (Wellington Saints) were amongst those to gain selection to the New Zealand Select and Tall Blacks teams last year after superb NBL campaigns.
The 2017 NBL season will run for 14 weeks and finish with the Final Four weekend, 15-17 June, with the venue yet to be confirmed for that weekend of finals action. The opening game will tip off this Thursday, 16 March, between perennial powerhouses the Nelson Giants and the Southland Sharks in Invercargill.
Where to Find more: For all information on the NBL, links to team websites, live streaming, schedules and statistics click here.
NBL Round One
Thursday March 16 SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks v Mike Pero Nelson Giants, ILT Stadium Southland 7.00pm, live streaming, delayed Maori TV (Saturday)
Friday March 17 Wellington Saints v Taylor Hawks, TSB Arena 7.00pm, live streaming
Saturday March 18 James Blond Supercity Rangers v Canterbury Rams, Trusts Arena 7.00pm, live streaming Mike Pero Nelson Giants v Taranaki Mountainairs, Trafalgar Centre 7.00pm
Sunday March 19 Taylor Hawks v Canterbury Rams, Pettigrew Green Arena 3.00pm, live streaming, live Maori Television
Canterbury Rams TAB ODDS: $5:50 2016 result: 1st regular season, beaten in semifinals by Super City Rangers Head Coach: Mark Dickel Imports: Jeremy Kendle, guard (USA); William Neighbour, forward (GBR)
Roster: Derek Albertsen, guard; Quinn Clinton, guard; Maxwell Darling, forward; Max de Geest, guard; Jordan Lindbom, guard; Hamish McDonald, guard; Joshua Petermann, guard; Ethan Rusbatch, guard; Tohiraukura Smith-Milner, forward; Marcus Alipate, guard: Hayden Collier, forward; Marcel Jones, forward; Marques Whippy, forward.
On key players this season: There's no reason Marcel (Jones) couldn't be the best rebounder in the league if he wanted to be. The way we're going to play is going to give him more and more room to be able to attack the basket. You just can't guard him when he drives to the basket. He can take the ball off the glass and bring it up and initiate the offence [like a point guard]. I see him being interchangeable all over the court. I think Marques Whippy is in the best shape I've ever seen him. I'm sure he's going to play as well as he's ever played this year. I really anticipate him playing well because he's done the work and got himself in great shape.
On imports: (Neighbour): He'd be a surprise for people on this side of the world, but if you speak to people in America about him, they could tell you who he was. If he comes out here and plays the way he's capable of, he can play anywhere (in the world). You're either a big man, who can post up, or you're a perimeter player that can guard the other big men. I think he can do a little bit of everything.
Key Losses: McKenzie Moore
Wellington Saints TAB ODDS: $2:40 2016 result: Champions. 2nd regular season, def Southland in semifinals, def Super City Rangers in final Head Coach: Kevin Braswell Imports: Aaron Valdes, guard (USA)
Roster: Benny Anthony, forward; Nico Buckrell, guard; Joshua Duinker, forward; Damien Ekenasio, forward; Leon Henry, forward; Shea Ili, guard; Isaac Letoa, guard; Jordan Mills, forward; Jordan Ngatai, forward; Elliott Stubbins, guard; Jackson Stubbins, guard; Corey Webster, guard; Tai Wesley, forward; COACH'S COMMENTS
On keys to success this year: First key is the togetherness of the group, getting on the same page and understanding it is a ‘we’ not a ‘me’ attitude. We have talent, I don’t think scoring will be a problem for us, but we need a strong defensive approach and guard against any complacency. We have to focus at all times, and make sure we are following all of our rules and instructions.
On import: Aaron is a freakish athlete, at University of Hawaii he had great numbers. This is his first year out of school so he is learning a lot. Having players like Corey and Leon and Jordan around – he is learning from those guys who have been there and done that, he is a quality young athlete, but he is learning for sure. On goals for the season: We take things week by week. The goal of the club is obviously to win a championship – and for me. But for me it is a weekly process to get to that championship, build good habits week by week. I want all of these guys to stay healthy and for all of them to grow as players and young men during the season. Key Losses: Torrey Craig (USA), Deon Prewster (to Nelson)
SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks TAB ODDS: $3:00 2016 result: 3rd regular season, beaten in semifinals by Wellington Saints Head Coach: Judd Flavell Imports: Mitch Norton (AUS), Nick Kay (AUS)
Roster: Hayden Allen, guard; Luke Aston, guard; Duane Bailey, forward; Connor Coll, forward; Tom Cowie, guard; James Hunter, forward; Jordan Murphy, forward; Alex Pledger, centre: Derone Raukawa, guard; Oliver Smith, guard; Reuben Te Rangi, guard; Andrew Wheeler, guard.
On the keys to success this year: The backbone of the team is our defence. The players we have enjoy playing defence and that will be a key for us, our constant. We have size in the group – you have that anytime you have Alex Pledger, but across the board with our guards Reuben and Duane – both are big guards. Add in Hunter and Kaay it gives us good size across the floor. Rebounding will be huge for us too. Strength in these areas give you a great base to work from. Shots will be made at times, but if you are working hard on defence and getting the boards it gives you a shot at winning. On Imports Norton and Kaay: Most think of imports getting points per game or carrying a heavy scoring load, but for us these two are guys that can do multiple things on the floor. They have a super high work rate and enjoy getting stuck in on the defensive end. They have a skillset on the offensive end when needed to get us baskets, but both are known for being part of a team and being unselfish in their approach. In that way we are perhaps going against the grain with imports, but these two will lead us from the front in key areas. On goals for the season: We are here to win this league, we have recruited a team that ere here last year, we are looking to build on that continuity in what are short seasons. The challenge is finding consistency quickly, having the majority back again has us already working on a strong foundation.
Key Losses: Everard Bartlett (Hawks), James Parangitai, Jordair Jett (USA)
James Blond Super City Rangers TAB ODDS: $7:50 2016 Result: 4th in regular season, def Canterbury semifinals, lost to Wellington Saints in final Head Coach: Jeff Green Imports: Nnanna Egwu (USA/NIG), Mitch McCarran (AUS)
Roster: Nicholas Barrow, centre; Dillon Boucher, forward; Samuel Everitt, guard; Hyrum Harris, forward; Linus Jakszt, forward; Brook Ruscoe-Taiaroa, guard; Judson Seumanu, guard; Lindsay Tait, guard; Rhys Tupe, guard; Earnest Ross Jr, forward; Christopher McIntosh, guard
On keys to success this year: We must be able to play some defence, we have to stop people. Offensively we can foot it with the best of them, at the end of the day it is about whether we can stop anyone. That means we have to rebound as we are quite small. The responsibility falls on everyone, play good ‘D’ and box out and offensively everyone knows what we want to do, run and negate other teams height.
On imports: Both will bring defence, Egwu is a true 6’11”, a true centre, he can rebound and block shots which is what we want first and foremost. With Mitch he is a great defender, a typical Australian guard with a defensively mentality about him, he is tough and hard nosed. On goals for the season: The way the league is set up, we are not too concerned about where we finish as long as we are in the playoffs. Once you get there it is two games to win the title, you can finish fourth as we did last year and beat the top seed and find yourself fin a one off-game to win the championship. It is having good wins at home and picking up the odd road game here and there, the regular season is not the priority though, it is making that top four.
Key Losses: Eric Devendorf (USA), Mika Vukona, Reuben Te Rangi (Southland), Corey Webster (Saints)
Mike Pero Nelson Giants TAB ODDS: $16:00