Hawks v Sharks
NBL Rd 2
PG Arena, Napier
THE MINUTE his flight lands on the tarmac at Hawke's Bay Airport, Paul Henare will know he's home, albeit fleetingly.
His whanau will be at the airport to greet him, including his two children who live in Napier, but Henare has tailored his expectations.
"I'm hopeful my kids will support their dad but in the past they have always been true-blue and loyal Hawks supporters," says the former Tall Black, who switched allegiances as coach to the Southland Sharks last year after a new franchise took over for the HBS Bank Hawks' campaign.
"Look, I wouldn't expect anything less and I sure don't expect that to change because the Bay crowd always get behind their team," says the former New Zealand Breakers captain who led the Australian National Basketball League (ANBL) franchise to a historic victory for the second title.
A former marquee player under new Hawks coach Tab Baldwin in Auckland Stars NBL championship sides as well as the Tall Blacks, Henare says he's settling in well at Invercargill for his maiden Bartercard National Basketball League for the new franchise in the Deep South.
"It's been good down here. I'm in my shorts and T-shirt, although it's not the usual Bay," he says before tomorrow's tip-off against the Paora Winitana-captained Hawks at the Pettigrew-Green Arena in Taradale, Napier.
Baldwin echoed Henare's sentiments, adding his experience as a visiting rival coach the region's army of fans turned out in droves to support the Hawks, especially when the games were staged at the Centennial Hall in Napier, but also mindful that support had started dwindling a couple of seasons ago.
"I know what a passionate Hawke's Bay crowd gives to this team.
"Our team will give back to the community an effort never seen before," he says, in what has been billed as the match of round two.
Baldwin says the players' dedication to the community also extends to visiting myriad schools in the province to teach youngsters the basic skills of basketball.
"Players are always doing activities with every spare time they have so we're no elitists.
"We're definitely elite players but not an elitist community."
For Henare, whose Sharks are coming off a 3-0 loss at the Porirua pre-season tournament, they didn't play the Hawks but he did see them overwhelm the Saints.
"They were a good lot of players and the two imports stood out, too," he says of Serb-born power forward/centre Darko Cohadarevic and American swingman Brian Greene.
"Cohadarevic is your usual rugged European kind of player, and no doubt he's everything Tab is expecting him to be, and Brian is a very versatile player."
It didn't escape his attention that the Hawks had built their squad around a core group of regulars such as Winitana, point guards Jarrod Kenny and Aidan Daly, Perth Wildcats shooting guard Everard Bartlett, who has arrived to begin the NBL campaign, former Sharks and Tall Black Dion Prewster.
He shrugged off a schedule that pits the Sharks against the Hawks in just the second round as "it was always going to happen at some stage, so why not sooner than later".
That may have an eerie feel for Baldwin and his boys after they lost the opening round last night 74-71 to the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North.
"It'll be my first time against Tab as a coach, who is a wily old customer who packs all sorts of tricks up his sleeve," says Henare, who was co-captain with Winitana under Australian coach Shawn Dennis when they won the Hawks' only NBL title in 2006.
"There'll be no advantages because he knows me, too," he says, comfortable in the knowledge of what core Hawks players bring to the court and the absence of Winitana on Sundays.
For the Sharks, St Louis University player Brian Conklin is in a competitive line-up that boasts former Breakers point guard Kevin Braswell as the other import, Breakers impact bench player leon Henry and captain James Paringatai.
"He [Conklin] is great, a tough player and handy outside as well," he says, although revealing he had rolled an ankle and was bracketed for last night's opening-round clash against newcomers Waitakere Rangers, making a return to the NBL since going into exile in 1995.
Having led the Hawks to the minor premiership championship title in last year's NBL, Henare endured the pain of dipping out in the semifinal last season.
His three seasons for the Hawks have included another semifinal and a grand final berth.
When he left, talented young forward Morgan Natanahira followed him.
Henare has also lured another rising talent in small forward Reuben Te Rangi.
Loathe to resort to cliches, Henare is keen to take the Sharks to the NBL play-offs after they finished second-last on the ladder.
"Only four teams can get there so we don't want to get too far ahead of our ourselves," Henare says.
He is mindful that the Southland franchise has only made only one playoffs and that was in the days when the top six sides qualified.
"We'll give all the teams their due respect before concentrating on what we can do to get there. It's a long way to get."
Henare endured pain with the Hawks last winter with a semifinal exit.