Basketball: Rams aim to be like Hawks

By Anendra Singh

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Coach Dave Harrison (glasses) lays it out to his homegrown Canterbury Rams who play the Hawks tonight in Napier. PHOTO/GAMEFACENZ
Coach Dave Harrison (glasses) lays it out to his homegrown Canterbury Rams who play the Hawks tonight in Napier. PHOTO/GAMEFACENZ

Without ramming home the point too much, the Canterbury Rams look like an old packaging but there's a new product promising to emulate the feats of a franchise from the yesteryear.

"We are harking to the glory days of the Canterbury Rams so we're trying to get back to that," says Canterbury coach Dave Harrison before they tip off at 7pm today against the IMS Payroll Hawks in Napier.

Harrison, in his first foray as coach of a Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) team, emphasises the Rams from the rampant 1986-94 era have set the benchmark for his predominantly young charges to follow.

"We have a team that want to contend to be very much like Hawke's Bay are right now," reveals the 41-year-old primary schoolteacher before the game at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.

An NBL foundation franchise, the previous Rams regime bowed out at the end of the 2008 season, after they played in seven grand finals and won four of them in the halcyon days.

The Christchurch Cougars took over for the next two seasons but bowed out in 2011 following the earthquake that crippled Christchurch.

The Cougars caused a stir here when they successfully recruited Hawks captain Paora Winitana and former Hawks player/coach Paul Henare when the Bay franchise had got caught up in a financial doldrum of its own.

Harrison, who has served as assistant coach of the former Rams franchise and the Cougars, is in his first year as head coach.

"I'm loving every minute of it," he replies when asked how he's finding it as the Rams are among the bottom four teams on the NBL ladder, who only have a victory each this season, jostling to clamber up a rung.

Having established a model of sustainability, the new Rams have built a rapport with sponsors in an "ongoing battle".

"It's a positive thing for our community and we've been sold out at every game," he says of the newcomers who play at Cowles Stadium.

Former Rams, Hawks and Tall Blacks coach Keith Mair presented the uniforms to this year's squad members before the start of their season.

However, it's a double header for the Cantabrians who must do the job with former Hawk and captain Jeremy Kench tonight before sucking it in the next day on the other side of the Gorge against the Breakers Manawatu Jets.

Needless to say Harrison is happy with his troops and hasn't got any unrealistic expectations from his players.

"We have mostly home-town players who we are trying to develop and we're giving them a chance. It's a tough ask but we're young and it's a brand new franchise," he says, listing guard Ethan Rusbatch as a young player who has made the starting five.

The Rams' latest signing, ex-Jets small forward Marcel Jones, only arrived in Christchurch yesterday and was at his first training last night.

Harrison says he will definitely play but not necessarily start although that's a decision they are likely to make after US-born naturalised Kiwi Jones has another shooting session at the PG Arena late this morning.

"He's pretty keen. I've just met him at the airport so he's long overdue for a Tall Black berth for the World Cup."

He considers the Rams lucky to have at the helm veteran Kench, a four-time NBL title-winning point guard who has 164 games under his belt.

However, the third-placed Hawks are on a roll at home, with five wins from seven outings and both overtime losses were incurred on the road.

The Tab Baldwin-coached Hawks seem to be hitting their straps just as they approach the half-way mark of the NBL.

Having run the gauntlet in the rigorous double header in the Deep South last weekend, the hosts will be bracing themselves for what will seem like a back-to-back double header because they will hit the highway again for a match against the Advice First Waikato Pistons.

"It is a double header but only one day after another," Baldwin said last night soon after training.

The Pero Cameron-coached Pistons are in fifth place on the ladder but will be smarting after gifting Good Home Taranaki Mountainairs their first win, 71-69, in the last round.

The sides will tip off at 3pm at the Hamilton Boys' High School gym.

Baldwin said US import forward Kareem Johnson and forward Darryl Jones were still not 100 per cent but were chalked in to play unless they look worse for wear today.

While ritualistically paying respect to the Rams, the former Tall Blacks coach emphasised it was a must-win game in terms of playoff aspirations and the difficulty of winning on the road.

The Hawks have a pretty strong offence but if they shored up their defence and muscled up on rebounds then they could beat anyone on their day.

Kench is an established little general.

"They [Rams] are not the deepest roster in the league but some of the kids on the bench look good on the video," Baldwin said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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