Basketball: Breakers face big test from Jackson

By Kris Shannon

Cedric Jackson drives at the Sydney defence in 2014. Photo /
Cedric Jackson drives at the Sydney defence in 2014. Photo /

Paul Henare's teams have always been built on defence but the rookie Breakers basketball coach could hardly have received a tougher initial test of that principle.

Amid all the changes for the Kiwi club ahead of the new Australian NBL campaign, the commitment to focusing on defence first will be the same as throughout the four-time champions' most successful years.

But whether the Breakers find any success in their opening game depends on their ability to corral a rather familiar face.

Because it will be Cedric Jackson leading Melbourne United at Vector Arena tomorrow night, spearheading the competition favourites and seeking to upset fans who for so long idolised the point guard.

When it comes to selling seats, the match-up is about as good as it gets. When chasing a winning start, however, Henare would be forgiven for wanting to face anyone else.

Yet with all the uncertainty surrounding these Breakers, from a rejigged coaching staff to an overhauled roster, their commitment to excel without the ball should remain unbowed.

Henare has been an integral part of teams who triumph by shutting down their opponent's best and, according to Tom Abercrombie, that would again be true.

"A lot of us have played for Pauli in the Tall Blacks and nothing much has changed from the way he runs those teams," the swingman told Radio Sport.

"The hallmark of Pauli's teams has always been on the defensive end and that's something that we want to be: a great defensive team. We were pretty good last year and we want to continue to improve on that."

Indeed, the Breakers reached last season's grand final while riding the second-ranked defence in the competition, ceding an average of 80.8 points per game.

But that was with Jackson in their ranks and, while the American could be mercurial defensively, his ability to hurt his former side will surprise no one.

"We know them pretty well," Abercrombie said of a group that also includes one-time Breaker Tai Wesley. "It's always fun playing against ex-teammates. Once we get on the court those competitive juices come out and we just want to beat each other up. So it's going to be great out there - we couldn't ask for a better way to start."

Whether the Breakers will be saying the same come Saturday remains to be seen. But, as soon as Jackson had his head turned, this match-up was of course inevitable. And running into such a formidable foe in the first week, insists Abercrombie, is only representative of a revamped competition as a whole.

"The talent in the league this year is as good as it's ever been," he said. "It's really quite impressive how every team has recruited this year and made themselves better. There's no team in there that you could chalk up as a win - every game is going to be incredibly tough."

- NZ Herald

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