Basketball: Ton of potential for Pledger

By Steven Holloway

Breakers centre Alex Pledger. Photo / Getty Images.
Breakers centre Alex Pledger. Photo / Getty Images.

When watching Breakers centre Alex Pledger hustle across the hardwood floor, it's impressive to see how much he has grown.

The 25-year old stands at 7'1', and has sprouted into the tallest professional sportsman in New Zealand, but it's his on-court progress with the Breakers this year which has really caught the eye.

Pledger has established himself as one of the leading 'big men' in the NBL this season and will be rewarded with his 100th cap tomorrow night when the Breakers take on the Cairns Taipans at the North Shore Events Centre.

Pledger has made a successful transition from integral player off the bench last year, to starting centre in this campaign, and currently leads the league in blocks per game (1.5) and offensive boards (75).

Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis has invested a lot in Pledger's career and the former American college player was widely tipped to be a game-breaker since joining the Breakers in 2009/10.

But it wasn't until this year, when two-time NBL champion centre Gary Wilkinson was released, that the door really opened for 'The Chief', and Lemanis' faith in the young star was rewarded.

"Just to see his growth over these 100 games is very pleasing from a coach's perspective and also a club perspective," Lemanis said.

"We've invested in him as a young player and he's come through, he's improved and now he's delivering and has a bright future in-front of him."

But Lemanis still sees plenty of room for Pledger to develop, and believes solutions to some issues surrounding his game - like the struggles he displayed with his offensive footwork in Thursday night's 104-74 win over the 36ers - can be ironed out with experience.

"It's a continual process of getting better and improving and I hope that's true for everybody, I hope I'm still getting better as well.

"The more he plays, the more practice he gets through and the more comfortable he is with what his moves are going to be in those situations, the better player he is going to be. He's a pretty good one now and the improvement is going to be exciting."

Pledger was caught unaware of his impending 100th cap, but is proud of his achievements in a Breakers singlet.

"I didn't know that it was 100 to be honest, I figured I was close but it is an achievement I am proud of," said Pledger.

"I feel like the first half of the season for me was a little inconsistent but since the New Year I have been solid and with Will (Hudson) being out as well I am happy with how things are going with the extra minutes I am playing."

The Taipans are in hot-form following back-to-back wins over the Townsville Crocs and the Perth Wildcats, but Lemanis noted that a number of teams come to New Zealand in good form, but leave with a loss.

"Adelaide was on the back of a two game winning streak when they came here and were playing with some confidence too, so I actually like that we need to continue to be challenged going into the playoffs.

"We've got teams coming in who are desperate, desperate for their playoff positions and it's good for us to be playing at that intensity at this time of the year."

The Breakers are confident their club record 13-game win streak, like their big centre, will continue to grow.

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