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Southland Sharks swot for 2017 NBL opener

The Southland Sharks resemble a university student swotting frantically for an exam at the moment.

The Sharks will open the 2017 New Zealand National Basketball League season against the Nelson Giants in Invercargill on Thursday night.

Bit by bit over the last couple of weeks the Sharks players have arrived in Invercargill to prepare for the Giants and beyond.

The last piece of the puzzle was the arrival of Australian duo Nick Kay and Mitch Norton on Monday.

Fresh off a strong ANBL season with Illawarra the pair quickly linked with the Sharks for training on Monday night.

Southland will squeeze in about three full team trainings together to brush up on their systems before game one on Thursday night.

Coach Judd Flavell is comfortable with the build up.

Considering last season he had players arriving in Invercargill on the day of the first game, four days together probably feels like plenty of time.

But it is the continuity in the roster which has eased Flavell's nerves heading to the start of the season.

A large chunk of the 2016 team has returned for a shot at the 2017 title with the Sharks.

"We've got continuity of players and coaches, therefore we are building on last year. Where last year when we came together it was all completely new.

"I'm also down a week earlier than last season so those extra days have been good, and we've needed them.

"We are still a long way away but there is a different feel coming into this season because we've got that continuity," Flavell said.

"People come and go and you've always got a new roster but my goal was to get the majority of the team back.

"We were good last year but not good enough. We hit our straps late in the season and that was a bit of reflection on the stability of our imports and Mitch [Norton] coming back in."

Expect the Sharks to try to suffocate teams at the defensive end of the court this season on their way to winning games.

Flavell said last season's campaign was about grit and effort and that is expected to flow into 2017 with the first priority on making it difficult for teams to score.

"Last year we were able to play with grit and in tough moments were able to grind it out.

"This team this year I think has even more ability to play with that toughness. I would like to think we'll be one of the top two defensive teams in the league, if not the top."

At the attacking end of the court, the 2017 Sharks team haven't a couple of standout scorers who jump out - a Kevin Braswell type player from the past who would be expected to do a bulk of the scoring.

Flavell was more than comfortable for that responsibility to be spread throughout the roster.

"We don't have anyone who just hangs their hat on scoring. We've got guys who can play multiple roles and we will have a different scorer step up each night, depending on how it unfolds.

"But what I'm loving about the makeup of this group is we've got guys who will bring it defensively every night."

Thursday night's game between Southland and Nelson will tip-off at 7pm.

Article and images courtesy of The Southland Times

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