Basketball: Opening with a laugh

By Anendra Singh

It seems the jokes have started well before the opposition have crossed the Manawatu Gorge to play tomorrow night's opening basketball match in Palmerston North.

"We couldn't answer your phone calls because the coach is taking a training session. How else are we going to beat you guys?" says Janet Thompson, the jovial acting general manager of the Manawatu Jets, before the 6pm tip-off at a temperamental Arena Manawatu.

"What would you like to know? We're going to beat you guys by 50 points," Thompson says with a laugh as the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) begins.

Enter new Jets coach Mike Kalavros, acknowledging he got the job because of new HBS Bank Hawks coach Tab Baldwin.

"Not only am I thankful but my whole family in Greece is," the former Greece age-group head staff member says.

So you wouldn't mind letting the Paora Winitana-captained Hawks win the first game then?

Laughter before Kalavros replies: "Look, Tab wouldn't want me to do that. He'd want me to fight to the end because he recommended me for the job so he'd want me to win."

Nevertheless, in a noble gesture of reciprocity, Kalavros recommended Belgrade-born Darko Cohadarevic, who will make his debut as the first Hawks European import.

Would he have preferred the 27-year-old centre?

"Who wouldn't? He's a great guy and a top basketballer who I've coached but I'm also very satisfied with my guys."

While in Porirua a fortnight ago, Kalavros says he didn't see much of the Hawks but expects them to be tough.

"We didn't play them but they play hard and smart."

The Jets have signed American import Garrius Holloman because Marcel Jones is still playing in Romania. Ex-Hawk playmaker Josh Pace is with the Nelson Giants this winter.

Just as "most coaches like to hide their best weapons", Kalavros isn't keen to name his starting five or even his bench until game time.

Baldwin feels Palmy North has always had the reputation of a giant-killing venue.

"It's a funny place where you can go and beat them and make them look like a high school side.

"The next year, they'll run you out of the building with the same players."

The former Tall Blacks coach says the Hawks will treat all 16 NBL games with 100 per cent effort every time.

2006 NBL champion coach Shawn Dennis fired a US import each, John Thomas and Jamil Terrell (unnervingly bearing the same initials), after season-defining losses to the Jets in successive seasons.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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