Basketball: Pledger bounces back

By Kris Shannon

Alex Pledger of the Breakers lays the ball up during the round two NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Adelaide 36ers. Photo / Getty Images.
Alex Pledger of the Breakers lays the ball up during the round two NBL match between the New Zealand Breakers and the Adelaide 36ers. Photo / Getty Images.

After an underwhelming initial effort replacing Gary Wilkinson as the Breakers' starting big man, Alex Pledger faced a choice.

The seven-footer was held without a rebound in the defending champions' embarrassing opening loss to Perth as the Breakers appeared to sorely miss their departed American import.

With Pledger's performance deemed "unacceptable" by coach Andrej Lemanis, the 25-year-old knew he could do one of two things.

"I copped a lot of deserved criticism during the week," Pledger said. "You can either go sit in the corner and have a little cry or you can use it to motivate you.

"The position I'm in, being a starter this year, I can't really afford to sit in the corner and have a cry. So I used it to help me play better."

It worked. Pledger set the tone early in the Breakers' 14-point victory over Adelaide on Friday, grabbing three boards and a pair of blocks in the first five minutes.

He demonstrated the defensive intensity that was largely lacking last week, finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks as his side held one of the most potent offences in the Australian NBL to just 59 points.

With the Breakers' own offence still showing signs of early-season rust, it was just as well Pledger prevailed at the other end. The Breakers had scored only 46 points with 10 minutes to play, but a fourth-quarter explosion blew away the 36ers to level their season ledger.

"I certainly think [Pledger] was a little grumpy about last week's effort," Lemanis said. "When Chief's playing well, that's when he's really active at the defensive end. He can be the backstop for everyone else."

That backstop was absent as Perth ran riot last week, leaving some to wonder whether casting aside Wilkinson and promoting Pledger was the right move.

The centre, aware of such murmurs, was determined to make amends.

"I didn't make the greatest start to the post-Gary Wilkinson era," Pledger said. "Quite frankly, getting zero rebounds was embarrassing. When you're a seven-footer and a starter, to come up with a donut is, an Andrej put it, unacceptable.

"My effort level wasn't really high last week. I wanted to play harder and with more intensity."

He succeeded in that desire and, if it becomes a trend, Pledger will soon alleviate any longing for his predecessor.

- APNZ

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