Basketball: Three-peat shot won't come easy

By Steve Deane

Breakers player Corey Webste. Photo / Greg Bowker
Breakers player Corey Webste. Photo / Greg Bowker

Three-peats aren't easy.

In the Aussie NBL, the feat has only been achieved once, by a Sydney Kings club that snared three straight titles between 2001 and 2004.

Even shots at the rare feat don't come along often. You've got to win back-to-back titles - something that has happened only six times in the league - just to get to a have a crack, so the Breakers have done a good chunk of the hard yards already.

Doubters will point to the loss of Gary Wilkinson, the ginger-headed American forward who was a mainstay of the two title runs. A heavy scorer with a fine inside-outside game, Wilkinson possessed an ability to pour in the points right when his team needed them most. He could muscle his way to the hoop for a lay-up to kill an opposition run, and land the big three-pointer when a change in momentum was desperately required.

The only apparent reason Wilkinson hasn't returned to lead the three-peat charge was that he would have been standing in the way of local product Alex Pledger's further development.

At the Breakers, that's reason enough. Since the ill-fated days of Carlos Powell, the imports have always been there to complement the locals. At most of their rival clubs, it's the other way around.

Those who wonder whether the hole left by Wilkinson will be adequately plugged should be reminded that the same question was posed last season, when Kirk Penney departed the scene.

The club changed the way they played after Penney's departure, improving significantly on defence, while the absence of the team's leading scorer simply resulted in the ball ending up more often in the hands of new star Tom Abercrombie. Even though Abercrombie was all but wiped out for the grand final series after a dastardly foul by Peter Crawford in the final seconds of the semifinal series, last season's triumph came easier than the first.

The Breakers had too much depth for Perth, the club that again projects as their major rival in a competition shorn of a team since the demise of the Gold Coast Blaze.

This season's Breakers may be without Wilkinson but they have regained Corey Webster, the offensive sparkplug who sat out a year after lighting up some fake cannabis. It will be intriguing to see if Webster's game has progressed as far as his attitude appears to have.

The reports on new import forward Will Hudson have been positive, while the surprise return of the sublimely skilled point guard Cedric Jackson should have resulted in a Breakers side that has posted a 51-17 mark over the last two seasons being installed as favourites. Naturally, this being an Australian competition, it hasn't. Aussie oddsmaker Sportsbet fancies the Wildcats ($3.50) followed by the Breakers ($4.25) and Cairns Taipans ($5). The big movers have been perennial cellar dwellers Adelaide, who have come in to $7 from a starting price of $10.

Much as they were last year when they shrugged off not even being rated a top four side by the bookies, the Breakers won't be fazed by the lack of favouritism. And just like last season - when they eschewed all talk of defending their title in favour of the pursuit of a new one - the Breakers are unlikely to be drawn in by the talk of a three-peat.

But there's no skirting around it - that is what's on the table. The Breakers are chasing history. Time to sit back and enjoy the ride.

How the teams are shaping up

Adelaide 36ers
Titles won: Four
Position last season: Ninth
Players to watch: Adam Gibson, Luke Schenscher
Prospects: Could make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons after significantly beefing up their roster.

Cairns Taipans
Titles won: Nil
Position last season: Fifth
Players to watch: Cameron Tragardh, Jamar Wilson
Prospects: Signing Tragardh might help push Cairns back into the playoffs after they missed out on percentage last season.

Melbourne Tigers
Titles won: Four
Position last season: Sixth
Players to watch: Adam Ballinger, Seth Scott
Prospects: New coach Chris Anstey will need to get his revamped roster gelling quickly if the Tigers are to end their three-season finals drought.

New Zealand Breakers
Titles won: Two
Position last season: Premiers
Players to watch: Tom Abercrombie, Cedric Jackson
Prospects: A powerful proven roster should go close to winning a third straight title.

Perth Wildcats
Titles won: Five
Position last season: Second (losing grand finalists)
Players to watch: Damian Martin, Kevin Lisch
Prospects: Bidding to make the finals for an amazing 27th straight season, have the talent to win it all.

Sydney Kings
Titles won: Three
Position last season: Seventh
Players to watch: James Harvey, Darnell Lazare
Prospects: Coach Shane Heal will need big contributions from his Australian and overseas recruits to offset the losses of Julian Khazzouh and Anatoly Bose and keep Sydney in finals contention.

Townsville Crocodiles
Titles won: Nil
Position last season: Fourth
Players to watch: Gary Ervin, Peter Crawford
Prospects: The late acquisitions of classy imports Ervin and Larry Abney should have the Crocs finals-bound for a seventh straight season.

Wollongong Hawks
Titles won: One
Position last season: Eighth
Players to watch: Adris DeLeon, Lance Hurdle
Prospects: Import guards DeLeon and Hurdle need to fire if the Hawks are to return to the finals.

- AAP

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