The Southland Sharks basketball team’s number one priority is National Basketball League wins.
Having tasted victory with historic NBL titles in 2013 and 2015, the 2017 version would like nothing more than a third banner to hang in the ILT Stadium Southland rafters.
But, along the way, there is another focus that rates highly when you dig below the surface at Sharks’ HQ.
Developing the region’s young basketball talent is a key focus for the SIT Zero Fees-sponsored franchise. Just ask Head Coach Judd Flavell.
“It’s something we take a lot of pride in, seeing these young guys really step up to the mark,” Flavell said.
“If you take a look at this season with Tom Cowie or Connor Coll or Josh Aitcheson who we brought in, these guys are going up against current and former Tall Blacks and Australian NBL players nightly. For them to have that experience and exposure, they can’t help but improve and develop,” he said.
Cowie, long-heralded as one of the country’s brightest basketball prospects, fills a development player spot on the 2017 Sharks roster and his coach has been suitably impressed.
“Obviously, I’ve heard a lot about him but for a kid that has just turned 16, he belongs at this level with the ability he has right now,” Flavell said.
“More than anything, what I’ve seen in youngsters is they can have the talent and have the physical attributes but unless they have the right attitude and are really committed to it, they won’t go on.”
“I’m really excited for these youngsters and for the region. When the next Tom Cowie is coming through the ranks, (Basketball Southland Development Officer) Dan Peck will find them and keep feeding them up.”
“For me as Sharks Head Coach, it’s important we play a role in helping these kids get to where they want to go in the sport, whether it’s to college in the States, through a basketball pathway here in New Zealand or into the Sharks,” Flavell said.
“We’ve definitely got something special here.”
He gets no argument from Sharks General Manager Jill Bolger.
“The connection between Southland Basketball and the Sharks is an integral one in providing the pathway for our young players,” she said.
“We are fortunate that Dan and Judd have a great relationship and speak often about our local talent and who Judd should keep an eye on.”
“Tom, Connor and Josh are very good examples of that forward planning and Mac Stoddart is another who is benefitting from the Sharks environment at a time when he has been recognised by Basketball NZ at age group level as a player with a great future.”
“We are excited about what we are able to offer those with basketball aspirations both on and off the court,” Bolger said.
The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks face the Nelson Giants at ILT Stadium Southland on Saturday night. Tip-off is at 7:00pm.