Hawks v Sharks
PG Arena, Napier
SO YOU think you know Tab Baldwin.
Then think again, long and hard, because the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) coach isn't the same man.
No, not the Baldwin whose conviviality is second to none if you turned up at his doorstep where equally affable Greek wife Efi will whip you up a thirst-quenching lemon squash on the rocks.
We're talking about the bloke on the court of contention after the NBL tipped off last night for the HBS Bank Hawks against the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North.
Tomorrow the Hawks play their first home game against the Southland Sharks at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, at 3pm.
It scarcely matters that former professional and new Sharks coach Paul Henare played under Baldwin at NBL and international level.
The Hawks coach, who has bagged five NBL titles with the defunct Auckland Stars, is embracing a different philosophy of "pressure basketball".
"From that standpoint no one knows me here ... it's a byproduct of a lot of what I've learned in the Northern Hemisphere," Baldwin says in his first season with the Hawks, seeking their second NBL title.
As much as former star pupil Henare is adroit in basketball, he will have to let his blokes in their oversized shorts and tank tops do the job.
"I'll go to my grave saying the most important aspect of coaching is selection.
"You select players to what you are," he says, mindful Bay-born Henare is also in his first stint with the Sharks after leaving the Hawks unexpectedly last year.
While most people relate to "pressure basketball" simply on the foundation of hanging their hats on defence, Baldwin stresses it begins at both ends of the court.
"Do players relax in sport?"
Physically and mentally they do but, he'll argue, that courtesy doesn't extend to their oppositions.
"You keep the game moving and flowing at high intensity where you challenge the skills of all, including ours.
"Our players relax when they are subbed so that's where a deep bench comes in."
Imposing that pressure from the starting five means ultimately the benches have to kick in and that's where the game will be won and lost.
With centre Kareem Johnson, 32, awaiting clearance from the Immigration Department since last season to become a resident, new imports Darko Cohadarevic and Brian Greene have become the most plausible cogs in the wheel.
"It's a confusing situation, really, because not only have we had to factor him into all the decisions but also in case he isn't a citizen," Baldwin explains.
A sharp blocker with good rebounding skills, Johnson's experience as a "process player" is invaluable but not necessarily the ingredients for an up-tempo brand of game considering his impact outside the perimeter isn't innate.
"Kareem can play that type but it's not his strength."
For Baldwin, captain Paora Winitana not playing on Sundays because of his religious beliefs is always an issue.
The 36-year-old Mormon bishop's unavailability in previous seasons, especially in playoffs, has ruffled the feathers of some fans
As far as Baldwin is concerned it's simply a case of fronting up with or without Winitana on any given day.
"It's a critical situation not to play him so we just have to prepare for when we can't play him.
"That is, having an identity without him as with him."
In the new floor constitution, former Tall Black Jarrod Kenny, who captains tomorrow, is the point guard but his role is diminished in the presence of versatile guards and big men.
"It's not the byproduct of one player to signal to everyone how to organise themselves," he says, adding a collective command will see the death of the "little general" in his reign.
Former Shark guard Dion Prewster will make his debut for the hosts in a bid to make the Tall Blacks.
A great kid with potential, Baldwin expects him to work hard. "He's the first in to train and the last to leave so I hope he has a chip on his shoulder because he should be permanently playing for New Zealand and not just be one of the guys but that's for him to prove that."
It's hard to get past last year's semifinals when hosts Wellington Saints effectively bullied the Hawks off the court in what resembled a bar room brawl with Damien Ekenasio, Mike Homik and Casey Frank leading the assault and battery.
Primarily Baldwin sees himself initially leading the counter pack this season, albeit from the sidelines.
When the call comes from Homik to ruffle the Hawks' feathers, with New Zealand Breaker Dillon Boucher gleefully getting under their skin or Nelson Giants and Breakers skipper Mika Vukona just being an "out-and-out animal" that'll be the defining moment for Winitana's men who were top qualifiers last year but settled for third place after the playoffs.
"I'll be the first one to recognise that and call on the blitz," Baldwin says, adding he'll be breathing down the referees' neck, too.
After a "sloppy" start against Waitakere Rangers in the pre-season rumble in Porirua recently, the Hawks had come right against the Saints.