Another chapter in an eventful off-season for the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks has been written with the signing of American power forward Josh Cunningham for the upcoming Sal’s New Zealand NBL basketball season.
Cunningham replaces fellow American Daniel Alexander on the team’s 2021 roster after recently advising the team he was unable to travel to New Zealand due to family circumstances.
Whilst last minute roster changes are not unusual in the basketball world, due to the current global environment, this occasion presented some unique logistical challenges for Sharks’ team management.
“We are sad Daniel can’t join us but fully support his decision and to get someone of Josh’s calibre and character at short notice is a brilliant result,” Sharks’ General Manager Jill Bolger said.
“I must admit I am relieved that he is cleared to jump on a plane tomorrow and I’ll be even happier when I see him and Courtney (Belger, the Sharks’ other American import) here in Invercargill in a few weeks after their quarantine,” she said.
Once Alexander’s situation became clear, Head Coach Rob Beveridge immediately set to work on securing Cunningham’s signature. Bolger then had to confirm Critical Worker exemption from Immigration New Zealand, along with a spot in Managed Isolation upon arrival.
“We were confident because it was a replacement situation for someone who already had the necessary clearances and it was a smooth process in the end. The real challenge was lining up the timing for Managed Isolation. I spent a week refreshing the MIQ booking website, trying to find a spot and then randomly one appeared on the exact day we had planned to bring Josh in. It was just meant to be,” Bolger said.
The situation is bitter-sweet for Beveridge who was set to fulfil a long-term goal of coaching Alexander, but he is delighted to attract Cunningham to Invercargill in his place.
“We completely support Daniel’s decision to stay in the USA to support his family and wish them all the very best. However, after reaching out to some of my contacts, I feel extremely fortunate to secure Josh Cunningham,” Beveridge said.
“He is a 6’8, 110kg power forward and highly credentialled player who most recently played for Westchester Kings in the NBA G-League. Josh has a great pedigree where he played his college career out of Dayton in the very strong Atlantic 10 Conference.”
“He is an extremely physical player, an excellent rebounder who will bring some toughness to the team. As a three-time captain of Dayton he will also bring great leadership to our team,” he said.
Cunningham is also delighted that New Zealand is his next basketball destination.
“Even before I knew I was coming out, everyone I talked to about New Zealand would always tell me how beautiful a country it is. I had a few options on the table but for me this was the best chance to take the next step in my career,” Cunningham said.
“I’ve talked a few times to Coach Bevo and I’m already learning so much from him. I can see how much better he will make me on and off the court. He’s a coach who really gets to know you and really cares about us as human beings.”
“We’ve got a very similar mindset. My ultimate goal is always to do what I can to win us a championship. I know if we buy-in to what Coach has planned, we can accomplish that goal,” he said.
First however, there is the small matter of a 14-day quarantine to navigate.
“I’m excited to get to New Zealand but I’m not as excited about quarantine,” Cunningham said.
“But I’ll be ready. It’s a short turn-around to our first game when we get out so I have a person I’ve been working with here in Chicago so I’ve got a lot of different exercises I can do. I’ll do whatever I have to do to stay in shape and stay ready. I’ll run shuttles wall-to-wall in my room every day if I have to,” he said.
The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks open the Sal’s NBL season on the road in Nelson on Monday 26 April with its first home game at ILT Stadium Southland against the Taranaki Mountainairs on Thursday 29 April at 7:30pm.