Basketball: Aussies absent as team turns to homegrown talent for new season

By Kris Shannon

The Breakers playing the Brisbane Bullets in Napier earlier this week. Photo / Warren Buckland
The Breakers playing the Brisbane Bullets in Napier earlier this week. Photo / Warren Buckland

They've always been known as the New Zealand Breakers but this season that moniker will assume extra meaning.

The four-time champions are for the first time heading into the ANBL campaign without an Australian on their fulltime roster, a 12-man squad comprising of 10 Kiwis and two American imports.

And that local theme even extends off the court, where Paul Henare has become the Breakers' first homegrown coach since their inaugural season, joined by two compatriots in his coaching staff and Dillon Boucher in the general manager's chair.

The absence of Australians is meant as no slight to their neighbours across the Ditch. Men from the lucky country played an integral part in putting the club where they are today, from Tony Ronaldson introducing a winning culture to Andrej Lemanis producing the first championship.

But now, with almost the entire roster and backroom staff possessing New Zealand passports, the Kiwi culture is at an all-time high.

"First and foremost, we want to develop New Zealanders, because that's what this club is all about," Boucher said. "I certainly think the depth of New Zealand right now is really strong.

"It's a byproduct of the talent we have in the development players and the progress they've made. I don't think it was deliberate from Pauli's side."

Indeed, Henare revealed the first contract he offered as coach was to an Australian, with the eventual Kiwi-heavy hue a happy accident rather than calculated strategy. But it certainly has its benefits.

With Henare at the helm of both the Breakers and Tall Blacks, the North Shore club resembles a shadow national team, with only Steven Adams (Oklahoma City), Isaac Fotu (CAI Zaragoza) and Jarrod Kenny (Perth) counting as Kiwis playing professionally offshore.

And boasting athletes who have long competed alongside one another, who can foresee their team-mates' footsteps, must only help these Breakers mould into another successful team.

"One of the benefits to having Pauli as Tall Blacks coach is he has the ability to watch these guys play and develop," Boucher said. "The chemistry they have together and the camaraderie they build on those long tours they go on is something he sees first-hand."

American pair Ben Woodside and Akil Mitchell are the only unfamiliar elements in that chemistry equation. Tall Blacks Kirk Penney and Rob Loe have returned home, joining Kiwi stalwarts Mika Vukona, Tom Abercrombie, Corey Webster and Alex Pledger, while Shea Ili, Jordan Ngatai and Finn Delany round out the locals on the roster.

And although Ili will miss the start of the season, replaced on a short-term basis by Australian point guard Isaih Tueta, the graduation of that trio from the development programme is especially pleasing for Henare.

"As the roster began to be completed, for those last spots we wanted to look locally and we felt that if there were guys who were up for it we'd prefer to take Kiwis over Australians," Henare said.

No number of Kiwis could prevent the Breakers from continuing their winless start to pre-season, though, as minor injuries for Penney, Webster and Abercrombie allowed Brisbane to complete their three-game tour with an 86-77 victory yesterday.

- Herald on Sunday

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