Basketball: Abercrombie the man they all look up to

By Steve Deane

Tom Abercrombie has improved all-round but dramatically so in three-point shooting. Photo / Getty Images
Tom Abercrombie has improved all-round but dramatically so in three-point shooting. Photo / Getty Images

He doesn't much like the idea, but Tom Abercrombie is now the main man at the Breakers.

Last week's double-overtime victory over the Tigers proved that. The 24-year old shot, dunked and blocked the Tigers into submission. Most importantly, a player who has always been a candidate to foul out early was still on the court to work his magic.

That suggests Abercrombie has discovered the maturity to go with the increased potency of his outside shooting. He may have a superb supporting cast, but the fact is Abercrombie is the North Shore boy who is now "The Man". In reality, he has been for a while.

"I don't think that would ever sit comfortably with me," he said ahead of tonight's showdown with the greatly-improved Gold Coast Blaze. "I'm very much a team guy. I don't want to be known as the guy who leads this team. We don't have a captain in this team for a reason and that's because we all want to take on equal leadership roles."

Fair enough. Abercrombie is undoubtedly wise to preach the team-first philosophy, but all teams have stars, and membership of the club is hardly voluntary. What was once Kirk Penney's team has become Tom Abercrombie's team, like it or not.

"When people say that, all I can say is I am my own player," Abercrombie said. "I'm completely different to Kirk. He was a great player for us but I feel like I do things differently. My scoring is coming along and I am getting better in that area but I like to think I contribute in other areas, too, like defensively."

The likes of CJ Bruton may have talked about "Tom's team" but coach Andrej Lemanis doesn't exactly play ball when pushed as to whether Abercrombie has filled the void left by Penney.

"I don't mean to be a pain in the arse but Kirk was Kirk and he is not going to be Kirk. He is his own man, he is his own player."

Penney's departure has been a huge factor in Abercrombie taking his game to a new level. His playing time has increased by eight minutes a match.

His productivity has gone through the roof across all key categories. The biggest improvement has come in three-point shooting, where Abercrombie is striking at 48.9 per cent - a Penneyesque number.

Quick to point out his side has many leaders, Lemanis at least concedes Abercrombie is one of them.

"I think he's started to grow into that role," Lemanis said.

"The classic one for me was two years ago it was a close game [against Melbourne] and Tom had the chance with a wide open shot and you could see he didn't want to shoot it. He wants to take those big shots now and has hit them all year."

Off court he may not be comfortable being considered the man, but any discomfort on the court has disappeared.

"I have been around for a while now so I think it's just a comfort factor," he said. "I feel like I have earned the right to be someone on the court at the end of the game and taking those sorts of shots. I have done all the hard work so to be in that sort of position is great. Those shots in the last game were just a product of our offence. I wasn't trying to take it upon my shoulders to take over the game."

Games aren't won at one end of the court, with Abercrombie just as likely to make a key contribution at the defensive end.

"I think he is the best defender in the league," Lemanis said. "Having that available is very useful down the stretch.

"Certainly [last Friday] was the best performance I have seen from Tom over an extended period. He is good enough to keep giving us that."

If he does, it won't matter what he says. Abercrombie will be the star all right.

SHOWDOWN

* Breakers v Blaze.
* North Shore Events Centre, 7.30 tonight.

- NZ Herald

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