Forget for a second the origins of the term "the luck of the Irish" and you'll find the Hawke's Bay franchise are onto a winner in the National Basketball League next season in appointing new coach Daniel Nelson.
In an exclusive interview with Hawke's Bay Today, franchise board chairman Keith Price announced the appointment of Nelson, who hails from Dublin, to helm the Taylor Corporation Hawks for their 2020 campaign starting in April.
"He interviewed very well with his CV and referees," says Price, revealing the selection panel had gone through a thorough process with good testimonials from overseas to endorse his appointment.
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The 35-year-old came through after eight candidates were whittled down to three, including the only New Zealander in the running with the overseas candidates.
"We had interviewed a few percentage of them and then we picked who we thought should have been the top three," says the Napier city councillor, disclosing the CVs of the trio were submitted to Basketball New Zealand for its perusal.
Price says the panel — comprising wife Amy, former Hawks player/coach and Tall Black Benny Hill, himself and assistance from Natu Taufale, of the Basketball NZ — had then consulted three high-profile basketball coaches for their input before rubberstamping Nelson as a prudent choice.
"He's got the same philosophy as what we've had and what we continue to keep in our style of the game."
Price says the board had impressed on Nelson the cultural attributes of what the franchise embraces and found the new coach adheres to them.
The Hawks have only won one NBL crown, under former Australian mentor Shawn Dennis in 2006. They lost to the Wellington Saints in the grand final last year under the tutelage of Zico Coronel who, after two seasons as head coach following more than a decade of NBL stints as an assistant, is now with the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian NBL.
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Coronel had taken the Hawks to the semifinals in his debut year but had lamented the disparity of resources when juxtaposed with elite franchises as the biggest hurdle to claiming another NBL crown.
Nelson was previously a carpenter in Dublin but put his saw and spirit level away to channel his collective energy into basketball 17 years ago.
"So he's just been chasing his basketball dream."
Nelson's last gig was with Parma Basket Perm in the VTB United League, the elite professional tier of the men's competition in Russia. He was assistant coach of the Parma
1 side but head coach of Parma 2 during the 2018-19 season.
His previous coaching stints include spells with the German Bundesliga and NBBL at the helm of the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and Porsche BBA sides.
He's whipped out clipboards for huddles along the benches of the Pro B team, Giants Nördlingen, in Germany. He has coached in the United Kingdom BBL with Leeds Force as well as the ANBL and Women's SBL with the Perth Wildcats and the Cockburn Cougars, respectively.
Nelson has performed myriad roles including head coach, assistant coach, development manager, coach educator and video scout. His multiple coaching licences are a testimony to that.
He has also been involved in international basketball, as a video scout with the Australian men for pre-season training camps in Perth, friendly games against China and for pre-season preparation games in Croatia, Lithuania and Slovenia. He has served assistant coach with Irish national teams.
In Australia and Ireland, Nelson has volunteered his time with state teams and national talent identification programmes. Establishing junior development and player pathways are close to his heart.
He has spent the past four Northern Hemisphere summers testing the athletic abilities and physical measurements of the top 50 American and top 50 International NBA Draft prospects in Italy and the United States.
Price says the board is hoping Nelson will arrive in Napier in mid-January. It intends to seal a two-year contract but may instead settle for a year with a provision for an extension.
"He's in Russia at the moment but he'll go to Ireland for Christmas and then come here."
However, he says the mentor had started work already to establish a rapport with players and fine-tune structures.
Price says Nelson will appoint his lieutenants on arrival but the board will be liaising with him.
"Obviously with New Zealand players we have better knowledge than him in some areas but, bear in mind, I'm not a purist basketballer and he is," he says with a laugh.
The NBL has implemented a $200,000 player salary ceiling for next season. It will feature eight teams with the Franklin Bulls as the newcomers under the "Competitive Balance System".
"You can pay below it but not above it," says Price with a chuckle, adding coach salaries, travel and accommodation expenses are separate. "I think we'll represent ourselves pretty well."
He endorses the NBL board gesture on the salary cap and is indebted to Hastings Pak'nSave for its pledge to back the Hawks next season as another major corporate backer.
"I think a rich person can't just go buy a team and dominate the league."
The Hawks open their campaign against the Saints on Thursday, April 9, in a 7.30pm tip off at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.
The NBL will culminate with the Final Four from July 17-19 before the grand final from July 24-26.