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But for a series of enormous growth spurts, Ben Pepper might be pulling on a pair of tartan trousers this morning and setting off for the golf course.

Instead, the 2.13m Breakers centre will be waking in a hotel somewhere in Cairns in preparation for tonight's Aussie NBL showdown against the Taipans, who, at sixth position, sit one place above his team.

Pepper, one of the success stories of the Breakers' revival this season, was once so smitten with golf that he dreamed of walking the fairways for a living, bagman at his side, and crowds at the 18th.

His genes apparently had other ideas, however, because by the time he was 16 years old he was literally growing out of his swing and starting to realise that his height - or rather his wingspan - would probably count against him.

"I was pretty handy early on and was thinking of taking it seriously," Pepper said yesterday. "I wanted to pursue it but I started getting really tall and when I looked around, I couldn't see many successful 7ft golfers.

"The swing arc was getting so big that I guess there was just a greater margin of error. I don't want to brag but I did hit a long ball. I always enjoyed my driving and could tear off 300m - although sometimes the radar was a bit faulty."

The man who leads the league in field-goal percentage (60.00) grew up in Geraldton, north of Perth, surrounded by bush, desert, surf, big reds (kangaroos), and a sports-mad community.

Pepper recalls a "terrific" childhood in which he spent most of his time outdoors in blazing West Australian sun, either making use of coastline for surfing or fishing, or playing sport with his schoolmates.

Named in the NBL's Aussie All Star side this month, the 31-year-old might even have been poached by cricket had anyone latched on to to his potential as a pace bowler.

"I was an opening batsman when I was young but if I hadn't given it away I can see that I would have developed into a pace bowler," he said. "I was just starting to bowl when I called it quits, but my height could have been useful."

The interest in the flannelled game hasn't entirely been shelved, however, as Pepper said he couldn't wait to see the start of the Ashes series (Australia v England), and particularly the first test at Brisbane next week.

"Bloody oath, I'll be watching as much of it as possible," he said. "To be honest, I'd really got over the Aussie cricketers for a while there; I thought they were a bit too cocky and arrogant.

"But now England's knocked them over, all the interest has flooded back and it should be a good series. I can't wait to see it start."

As for tonight's game, Pepper said there wasn't a tougher venue to play at than the Cairns Convention Centre, where the 6-4 Taipans have reigned unbeaten since the start of the season.

The Snakes crashed to a 104-85 loss to Wollongong midweek, while the Breakers have come off impressive back-to-back wins against the Tigers and the 36ers.

"We've been playing pretty well for most of the season but weren't getting the results. Now we're getting the wins and it feels much better, but I'm not sure if we're playing any better," said Pepper.

"We're happy at the moment but we're also wary that's there's a long way to go and that we've got a lot of work to do. We just have to keep it going.

"It's always very tough up in Cairns and that's where our minds are right now. They're always one of the toughest road games; the crowd is very intense and very passionate, and you come out of it knowing that you've been in a contest."

Pepper was battling a sprained ankle this week, but said yesterday he was feeling better and was looking forward to making an impact tonight.

"I'm reasonably happy with my form but there's always room for improvement," he said.

Ben Pepper

Age: 31
Height: 2.13m
Weight: 112kg
NBL debut: 1996
NBL teams: Newcastle Falcons 1996-97; North Melbourne Giants 1998; Victoria Titans 1999-2001; Wollongong Hawks 2002-2003; Victoria Giants 2004; New Zealand Breakers.
NBL Grand Finals: 1999, 2000

How they line up
Breakers: Paul Henare, Brian Wethers, Oscar Forman, Carlos Powell, Ben Pepper; Aaron Olson, Mika Vukona, Tim Behrendorff, Adam Darragh, Brent Charleton

Taipans: Darnell Mee, Anthony Stewart, Aaron Grabau, Martin Cattalini, Kevin Owens; Luke Martin, Gary Boodnikoff, Robert Rose, Kane Oakley, Matt Smith