Days after helping the New Zealand Breakers retain their Australian NBL crown, Alex Pledger returns to defend another title with the Auckland Pirates.
The towering 2.13m centre, who won the award for the Most Valuable Player last season, will debut for the Pirates on their South Island road trip this weekend, suiting up against the Southland Sharks in Invercargill on Friday.
Pledger and Breakers teammate Dillon Boucher arrive just in time to log up the five games they need to qualify for the playoffs later this month, but Pledger isn't sure how much time they'll spend on the court during the next couple of weeks as they recover from a demanding ANBL season.
Pirates coach and Breakers assistant Judd Flavell is carefully managing their integration into his rotation, while also allowing them enough time to come down off the high of a successful summer campaign.
"I haven't been to any practices yet," Pledger admitted. "Juddy's told us not to practice this week, although I think Dillon got bored and went anyway.
"But I've been to all but one of their home games and, from what I've seen, they're playing pretty well. They're second on the table, they've got two pretty good imports and, historically, teams with Lindsay Tait in them are pretty good."
Tait's presence and Pledger's arrival unites the league's last two MVP winners, an honour the 25-year-old achieved with the Waikato Titans last season. When Waikato decided not to enter the competition this season, he was inundated with offers to relocate.
"Juddy was somebody I wanted to play for and, since we were missing so much of the season, I didn't want to have to uproot myself from Auckland for a month or less. It was an easy decision, especially when I saw the roster he was putting together."
"We have a lot of guys around 6ft 6, but we don't have a true 'big' around 6ft 10 or above. I hope that's something I can bring to this team."