The New Zealand National Basketball League (NBL) tips off this week, with the promise of another great season of high quality basketball, with increased coverage and media interest reflecting the surge in the interest in all levels of the game from New Zealanders.
The NBL sees the same seven teams return for a tilt at the title, with Basketball New Zealand resisting (for now) overtures for further teams to be added, something that is however clearly on the table for future seasons, with Tauranga putting a strong case for inclusion over the off-season and increasing talk out of both the Manawatu and Otago that they too might be keen to return to the fold at some time in the future.
All eyes for now however are on the 2017 NBL and the seven contenders, beginning this Thursday night with two of the traditional powerhouse in the game going head to head at one of the league's best all round venues, with the Southland Sharks hosting the Nelson Giants at ILT Stadium Southland. The game will be live streamed via the herald.co.nz, with delayed coverage on Maori Television going to air on Saturday.
That coverage reflects the plan for the entire season, with at least two games per week live streamed by The NZ Herald and one game shown live on Maori Television on Sunday afternoon at 3pm, as well as one game replayed on Saturday afternoon at 3pm.
The hugely popular Final Four Weekend will be broadcast live in both formats, giving fans around the country the chance to see the best teams in the league battle to find the 2017 champion.
Chief Executive of Basketball New Zealand, Iain Potter, says this unique media partnership recognises the growth of basketball in New Zealand, as more participants and fans are tuning their televisions and devices to the game.
"It's an exciting agreement to have two strong media partners with big audiences recognising that their viewers are increasingly tuning into basketball. It's sensational for the NBL and Basketball New Zealand, as our players, teams and brands are building on the increasing upsurge of Kiwi fanaticism in basketball." says Potter.
The quality of the teams is also a reflection of the growth in the league in recent years, with a number of teams boasting rosters that would not be out of place in the Australian League.
As always imports will be a talking point, with players coming from Great Britain, Kenya, Australia and the usual supply line out of the United States. Their ability to lift those around them and lead their teams at both ends of the floor will likely be critical to the outcome of many games.
But so too will the locals as experienced players like Dillon Boucher (Super City Rangers), Lindsay Tait (Super City Rangers), Everard Bartlett (Bay Hawks), and Hayden Allen (Southland Sharks) keeping the younger brigade honest while imparting their years of experience and knowledge on team mates, and perhaps at times, schooling the opposition with their wily ways.
Look too for that next generation to make their mark. After a breakout campaign with the SKYCITY Breakers, Finn Delany (Nelson Giants) will look to light up the league with his high energy game, while Derone Raukawa (Southland Sharks), Ethan Rusbatch (Canterbury Rams), Shea Ili (Wellington Saints), Sam Dempster (Nelson Giants) and Jordan Ngatai (Wellington Saints) were amongst those to gain selection to the New Zealand Select and Tall Blacks teams last year after superb NBL campaigns.
The 2017 NBL season will run for 14 weeks and finish with the Final Four weekend, 15-17 June, with the venue yet to be confirmed for that weekend of finals action. The opening game will tip off this Thursday, 16 March, between perennial powerhouses the Nelson Giants and the Southland Sharks in Invercargill.
NBL Round One
Thursday March 16
SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks v Mike Pero Nelson Giants, ILT Stadium Southland 7.00pm, live streaming, delayed Maori Television (Saturday)
Friday March 17
Wellington Saints v Taylor Hawks, TSB Arena 7.00pm, live streaming
Saturday March 18
James Blond Supercity Rangers v Canterbury Rams, Trusts Arena 7.00pm, live streaming
Mike Pero Nelson Giants v Taranaki Mountainairs, Trafalgar Centre 7.00pm
Sunday March 19
Taylor Hawks v Canterbury Rams, Pettigrew Green Arena 3.00pm, live streaming, live Maori Television