The 2021 National Basketball season may not have ended the way Alonzo Burton had hoped, but he is using his late season injury as fuel ahead of his 2022 return to the Southland Sharks.
Burton was forced to sit out the Sharks’ NBL semifinal loss to Hawke’s Bay in July as a broken finger put paid to the sharp-shooters’ campaign a game early. Instead of confining that experience to the history books, the man affectionately known as Zo has used what he called a “humbling experience” as motivation for the upcoming season.
“I'm 100% now and ready to go. All I've been doing is training so I'm really looking forward to getting back on court, getting down south and getting started,” Burton said.
“I remember going to the finals week and I made sure to take lots of photos and videos just to remind me of the vibe and the atmosphere. I've watched the semifinal game back almost every other day which fuels the fire and keeps me motivated. You’ve got to search for the extra edge and what gets you motivated so I love rewatching stuff like that, then it just fuels me,” he said.
Burton averaged over 13 points per game in orange last year with his return completing the trifecta of Sharks’ 2021 kiwi starters, alongside Dom Kelman-Poto and Brayden Inger who have all recommitted to the southern franchise for 2022, together with Liam McRae.
That team continuity made Burton’s decision a straight-forward one.
“I really loved it last year. I think just the team chemistry on and off the court, the organisation and everyone involved made me feel like I was really at home. I didn't feel like it was my first year there.
I felt like I'd been there for years with the family vibe and the culture there made it an easy decision to come back,” Burton said.
“I've said for quite a few years that Southland is the hardest place to play just because it feels like the whole city is in that stadium and when you're in the opposing team it sucks. But last year playing for Southland and having the crowd backing behind you is something you can't really explain. You make a shot, or someone makes a good play, and it just erupts and as a player you really feed off it. You love to be in an environment like that,” he said.
Burton’s signature is a vital one for next season’s returning Sharks’ Head Coach, Rob Beveridge.
“Zo has had a tremendous National League career to date and has proven year after year to be one of the premier shooters and scorers in the league. I know that he is super hungry to come back after being injured late in the season and no doubt will continue to be a great leader for our team both on and off the court,” Beveridge said.
Burton will visit Invercargill later this month, partnering teammate McRae as guest coaches at Southland Basketball’s boys’ and girls’ development camps from 18th to 20th January and he has some very clear plans for the basketball year ahead.
“I want us to go one better, well, two bitter I guess by winning the championship. But for me individually I guess I'm at the age now where I'm just going to take things as it comes. Obviously, I'd love to wear the black singlet whether it's Tall Blacks or 3X3, but for me it's just continuing to get better, make sure I'm a sponge and learn off my teammates, Bevo and everyone else involved. But honestly, I'm just looking forward to getting back on court. That's the main thing,” Burton said.
The 2022 Sal’s National Basketball League tips off on 7 April with the Sharks starting their campaign at home at ILT Stadium Southland against the Taranaki Airs on Saturday 9 April at 5:30pm. Season tickets will be on sale next month from ILT Stadium Southland and online via Ticketek.