Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Basketball: Big Red returns in reshuffle

Coach Dean Vickerman says Gary Wilkinson (in poster) will provide a huge boost. Photo / Richard Robinson
Coach Dean Vickerman says Gary Wilkinson (in poster) will provide a huge boost. Photo / Richard Robinson

The NZ Breakers' hasty roster changes are part of their continuing scramble to adapt to the new rule interpretations that have thrown the Australian NBL into a tailspin.

The three-time champions yesterday announced they have axed import Darnell Lazare just four games into the season and will welcome back Gary Wilkinson, a crowd favourite during his two seasons with the Breakers from 2010-2012.

Jeremiah Trueman is another casualty, with the young Tall Black placed on a waiver to make way for Wilkinson under the points cap.

Breakers general manager Richard Clarke said it was a difficult decision to make knowing they'd have to cast two players aside, but it was a necessary move brought about by a "unique situation".

The team's three title wins have been built on their energetic, in-your-face style of defence, but over their first four games it has become clear they will have to overhaul their gameplan this season to adjust to the stricter policing of the foul rules.

The new interpretations, introduced by the league in an effort to produce a more attractive product and more high-scoring games, restrict physical contact, particularly the use of defenders' hands.

"It's an adjustment to how the game's been played. We signed most of the roster back in May and were only made aware of the [rule changes] in September," said Clarke.

"We are now having to redefine a little what Breakers basketball is, we can't keep playing the game how we have over the last three or four years and the coaches have made the call to say we need something a little bit different."

After a tough start to the season, in which they've returned just one win in four outings, Breakers coach Dean Vickerman said the addition of Wilkinson, affectionately known as "Big Red", gave the squad a huge boost with his leadership on and off court.

"He's a competitor every day at practice and he's going to lift the intensity of the games and he's another guy that wants the basketball down the stretch and wants to take the shots and I think we need that," said Vickerman of the Utah native.

Wilkinson is also renowned for getting the crowd involved in the games with his chest-thumping demonstrative style. The power forward has been playing in Puerto Rico for the past two seasons, where he has averaged about 17 points a game, and six rebounds.

Vickerman is confident the 31-year-old, who arrives in Auckland today, will be match fit and capable of making an immediate impact for the team in Thursday's home game against the Adelaide 36ers.

Having only made initial contact with Wilkinson a week ago, the changes to the roster have come about extremely quickly. Vickerman and his coaching staff now have a bit more time to consider what they will do with their 10th spot on the roster, vacated by Trueman, who was a casualty of Wilkinson's superior points rating to Lazare.

Development player Duane Bailey is the most likely candidate to take Trueman's place in the travelling roster, but Breakers management are also eyeing options in Australia.

- NZ Herald

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