Basketball: Breakers begin with big win

By Kris Shannon

Mika Vukona looks to get a pass away during the Breakers' season-opening victory over the Hawks. Photo / Getty
Mika Vukona looks to get a pass away during the Breakers' season-opening victory over the Hawks. Photo / Getty

Breakers 92
Hawks 73

For all the upheaval experienced by the Breakers in the Australian NBL offseason, some things seemingly never change.

The three-time defending champions made a typically successful start towards making it an unprecedented four in a row, dispatching the Wollongong Hawks 92-73 with a minimum of fuss at Vector Arena tonight.

The Breakers began with Dean Vickerman on the sidelines - the first time since 2005 it has been someone other than Andrej Lemanis carrying the clipboard - and a host of roster changes, but made light work of last season's semifinalists.

In the absence of Cedric Jackson, with last season's MVP having departed to Slovenia, the Breakers demonstrated their roster is still packed with enough power to make them serious contenders to extend their reign.

With Dillon Boucher's No 24 retired before tip-off, it was a reminder of what was missing from the Breakers but, as Daryl Corletto explained post-game, the champs know what it takes to recover from personnel losses.

"We don't care about that,'' he said. "Every year I've been here, I've heard, 'No Kirk Penney, you're not going to win it; no Gary Wilkinson, you're not going to win it; no Dillon and no Cedric, you're not going to win it'. It doesn't mean anything, really, as a player. We just focus week-by-week on sticking together.''

New point guard Kerron Johnson certainly showed enough evidence he can be the guiding hand the Breakers needed to replace Jackson, adding five assists to his 14 points. The 22-year-old's ability to create either his own shot or one for a teammate means he cannot be guarded towards one or the other, while his speed in the lane will manufacture mis-matches.

Corletto and fellow shooting guard Corey Webster hinted at a huge season to come from the Breakers' two-spot, combining for 33 points, while Tom Abercrombie notched 19 and looked back to his springy self after battling an ankle injury all last season.

Not even new rules clamping down on physical defence inhibited the Breakers, though it took only four minutes of the new season for the officials to hear the first boos rain from the crowd.

There was plenty of whistle in a disjointed opening quarter which, with 54 points, would have pleased league bosses and their mandate for higher scoring. The Hawks led by as many as nine, finding particular success from the perimeter as the Breakers struggled defensively, before the home side closed to within two by the first break.

The second period saw Johnson enjoy success in transition, twice showing slick moves to get to the basket before kicking out a pass for Corletto to make one of his three triples in the half. The Australian sharp-shooter may be one of the biggest benefactors from the space afforded by the rule changes and his 16 points saw the Breakers take a seven-point advantage to the major break.

If the only concerns for the Breakers heading into the second half were fouling and some loose defence, they soon tightened both. After nine first-quarter fouls, they were pinged on only 15 further occasions, while the Hawks were limited to 29 points in the final two periods.

Mika Vukona fouled out late in the game but his 14 points saw five Breakers reach double digits - always an encouraging sign.

"We're confident inside that we want to get this four-peat,'' said Corletto. "We've spoken about it and it's our goal. It's a four-month process and step one was pretty good tonight.''

Breakers 92 (Abercrombie 19, Corletto 19, Johnson 14)
Hawks 73 (Clarke 20, Davidson 12, Gruber 12)
HT: 51-44

- APNZ

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