Sitting court-side after last weekend’s local derby in the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks Summer League, Andrew Wheeler realises he’s been playing the game of basketball longer than all but one of the other talented locals on-court have been alive.
And he has no plans to stop any time soon with confirmation Wheeler will line up for his tenth season with the Sharks in this year’s Sal’s National Basketball League.
And even if it might be a milestone number, it’s not one he was chasing.
“I’ve never had a number, it’s just been year after year. I think I’ve told my girlfriend I’ve been retiring for the last five years, so she knows it’s coming now and it’s not a surprise any more.”
Since suiting up for the Southland unit in it’s debut season in the league, Wheeler has been easily the longest-tenured Shark.
“Being a part of this group has been a massive part of my development through my twenties and I’ve come across a lot of successful people and basketballers and I’ve enjoyed being around them and pushing ourselves to achieve a goal as a team. It’s awesome to share memories and obviously we’ve won a few championships and lost some close ones which is all part of the journey. I love playing and I’ll keep coming back as long as the body will let me,” he said.
The body isn’t showing signs of stopping him and at age 32, he is in some of the best physical shape of recent years.
“I guess when you get older you shift focus a little bit. I’m not quite as quick as I once was so I’ve tried to focus on my conditioning, dropped some weight and by doing that have probably got a bit quicker and am able to go for longer periods now.”
“I’ve been doing some early morning sessions with Leytz (Sharks assistant coach Leyton Haddleton) and Connor (Coll) so we are getting consistent training coming in and the Summer League is really good and I can’t wait to the start of the season and everyone getting here,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler credits the revamped Summer League, which this season has added teams from Central Otago and Dunedin, as a key part of the NBL preparation.
“We’re getting a mixture of different styles. The Central Otago side has got some big boys who are a bit older and play their style so we have to play one way and the Otago guys are all early 20s, young and fast and get out and run and athletic so we have to learn to play at pace as well. It’s been great timing in the New Year as a lead into the Sharks’ season.”
Like most, Wheeler is also excited by the group that new Head Coach Rob Beveridge has assembled.
“Obviously, there’s a few boys I’ve played with over the years and it’s great to have them coming back and I know the level they hold themselves to. They train at a high level and have great ambitions so its great just to be around them. And the new guys like Dane (Brooks), Alonzo (Burton) and Sunday Dech, I’ve played against them over the years and they all have a lot of talent so I’m sure they will come into this group and feed off the environment. We train hard, we push ourselves to try and achieve individual goals but obviously the team goal is to win a championship every year. I know it’s going to be another awesome year, hence why I’m back,” Wheeler said.
For Beveridge, experienced heads like Wheeler are a vital component of his squad.
“I am really thrilled to welcome Wheels back to the Sharks. He has incredible passion for our team and as a veteran, he will bring great leadership and experience and I’m excited to have him as one of the leaders of the team,” Beveridge said.
Wheeler will lead the Mako Sharks in the final of the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks’ Summer League against the undefeated Dunedin Barbarians on Saturday at 4pm at ILT Stadium Southland. The Tiger Sharks face Central Otago in the early game from 2pm.