Oh, don't worry, the irony certainly isn't lost on Hawks basketball coach Zico Coronel and his Wellington Saints counterpart, Paul Henare.

Coronel is in Napier with the Taylor Corporation-sponsored Hawke's Bay franchise team but home boy Henare, who lives in Central Hawke's Bay, is at the helm of the Cigna-sponsored Saints in the capital city this season.

In the second term of his head coaching stint with the Hawks, Coronel has 13 years of a stellar career deputising which had earned him a Sal's Pizza National Basketball (NBL) crown — his fifth — under former Wellington coach Kevin Braswell in 2017.

However, the 35-year-old, who gave up a school teaching career to not only gauge his worth but also realise a dream reserved for a few, hastens to point out that isn't the only paradox in the NBL when juxtaposing him with the former Hawks stalwart Henare.


"We have a league where the resources and the budgets aren't, you know, where you all start with an nth amount of money," says Coronel in an eloquently measured manner that only he can before the Hawks open their NBL account this season against the Saints in a 7pm tip off at the TSB Stadium, Wellington, today.

"Yes, there are quite a few differences between being a coach of the Saints and the coach of the Hawks."

Coronel, of New Plymouth, makes it clear he enjoys the trappings of Wellington as a city but, hypothetically, not worth considering in terms of trading places with Napier.

Frankly, from where he is perched, the Hawks franchise gave him an opportunity to take his career to a higher plane and, in return, he had, hopefully, made incremental gains in the way it operates when compared with the way it did before his arrival.

"In my previous five seasons they've made the playoffs once and, obviously, last year we made the playoffs."

Coronel reckons the Hawks possess a "dangerous" squad. While the NBL will be competitive this winter he suspects his men have shown enough encouraging signs that they will be there at the business end.

"Wellington is a great city and Nick Mills is a phenomenal owner so I'm sure Paulie's going to love his time down there," he says.

Basically, in his opinion, the Saints want for nothing and even their supplementary resources, such as vehicles and accommodation, is impressive.


Coronel feels, on paper, the hosts have, as they have traditionally, quality players to roll out on the floor so to have Henare presiding only adds impetus to their incentive to perform.

However, he points out the Hawks trio of Jarrod Kenny, Ethan Rusbatch and Dion Prewster will only add to Henare's headache in selecting players for the Fiba World Cup this year.

"I think all three of those players are going to make it very, very hard on Paulie to decide who he ultimately wants to take and Paulie will be equally thrilled to have those problems because when you're a national coach you want things to be difficult to pick your team because there are so many people that you want to take as opposed to scratching around trying to find enough people."

Conversely, Coronel likes to believe players outside the Saints' mix have more responsibility than just playing minutes — that is, becoming an integral part in helping mould a protocol to ensure fluidity on court.

"Of course, there's only one basketball and some of those responsibilities some may not get to partake in so there are all sorts of pros and cons to either situations so each player will have to make his best decision."

Coronel notes it'll be the first game the Saints will play since Wellington basketball stalwart Justin Toebes died in August last year. The lawyer, fan and administrator of the Saints lost his battle with motor neuron disease.

"He was a champion man and sacrificed a lot of his own money to help different youth players and never asked for any recognition for that.

"He's been a great Saint," he says of the late Toebes who also is Coronel's cousin.

As a mark of respect, the Hawks mentor will don the Thomson tartan of his grandmother as memorial to Toebes, even though he was a Saint. Toebes' mother and Coronel's grandmother are sisters.

"He did so much for New Zealand basketball so, irrespective of what team you are supporting."

Napier-born new Wellington Saints coach Paul Henare says if coaches are lucky they can have a base they can call home and do the job they are needed to do. Photo/Photosport
Napier-born new Wellington Saints coach Paul Henare says if coaches are lucky they can have a base they can call home and do the job they are needed to do. Photo/Photosport

Henare says it's just one of those things for a coach whose profession demands he moves to where the work is.

"If you're lucky you can have a base you can call home and do the job you need to do," says the 40-year-old Napier-born who captained and coached the Hawks among other NBL franchises.

Henare, who went on to win ANBL crowns as player/captain of the New Zealand Breakers before coaching them, is looking forward to his stint with Wellington.

"For the last three years I've been looking from the outside in as a spectator watching players and their coaches go about their business whereas now I'm a little bit more involved with an inside view from the point of view of players in my team against opposition teams," he says, relishing the scouting role and the increased investment that comes with it.

Henare is aware of the Hawks acquiring the services of Australian import Daniel Kickert, of the Sydney Kings, and American counterparts EJ Singler and Brandon Bowman, who is playing in Israel. Another American, Shaquille Thomas, is a temporary import.

"I have a fair idea but we'll have one eye on the Hawks and the other on mine," he says.

It hasn't missed his attention that Coronel has been doing an "amazing job" with the visitors who made the NBL semifinal last year in registering 12 wins, considering the team had won a combined 10 in their previous three seasons.

Henare has been back in the country for three weeks and their two imports arrived last Sunday and another on Tuesday so their first full-team scrimmage was on Wednesday.

"It's not an unfamiliar thing because a lot of teams tend to start late with recruits arriving late so we're focusing on ourselves and how we want to play and, hopefully, come up with a recipe that'll get us to a good start," he said, after deputising for Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman in the 2018-19 ANBL season.

As someone who has shouldered the collective parochialism as an outsider to Wellington, Henare is looking forward to experiencing what it's like to have the fan base behind him.

"It's good to have been here [Wellington] with the Tall Blacks when we played our qualifiers against Korea and Syria so it's got that familiar home feeling already."


Wellington Saints: No 55 Shea Ili (point guard), 11 Jordan Ngatai (small forward), 7. Reuben Te Rangi (forward), 2. Nick Kay (power forward), 14. Rob Loe (centre).

Bench: 15. Leon Henry (forward), 3. Sunday Dech (guard), 13. Anzac Rissetto (centre), 9. Theo Johnson (forward), 21. James Cawthorn (guard), 8. Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones (guard), 6. Finn McClure (guard).

Coach: Paul Henare.
Ast coach: Kenny McFadden.
Manager: Phil Hartley.
Physio: James Belesky.

Hawks: 6. Jarrod Kenny (point guard), 13. Dion Prewster (swingman), 12. Ethan Rusbatch (small forward), 25. EJ Singler (power forward), 14. Daniel Kickert (centre).

Bench: 3. Nick Fee (guard), 5. Everard Bartlett (guard), 27. Shaquille Thomas (forward), 21. Clifton Bush III (forward), 7. Darryl Jones (forward), 11. Jamal Mikaio (forward), 9. James Levings (guard).

Coach: Zico Coronel.
Ast coaches: Morgan Maskell, Rob Hartley.
Manager: Jordan Wise.
Physio: Kerry Raynor.