• A contingent of Hawks faithful will be on the flight to help boost the support Ethan Rusbatch finds in his hometown of Christchruch for the Final 4 tomorrow.
• Canterbury Rams coach Mick Downer says they'll be hanging their caps on the cornerstone of defence against a rampant three-point heavy Hawks in the semifinals.
For those fans who have been watching THAT space in the hope Australian import Daniel Kickert was going to call everyone's bluff to return from Sydney for the Final 4 tipping off in Christchurch tomorrow — don't despair.
No the former Boomer centre isn't coming back after an AA appraisal on his niggly back injury but that doesn't mean the Taylor Corporation Hawks side can't get the job done in their National Basketball League (NBL) semifinal.
"I spoke to him this week and he was definitely trying to come back, but his body won't be ready for this weekend," says Hawke's Bay franchise board chairman Keith Price, who confirms the chief naming sponsors for the Hawks are back on board for another season next year.
Price says about 30 Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, faithful were scheduled to jet off late this morning to watch the second-placed Hawks tip off against the third-placed Canterbury Rams in the second semifinal at the Horncastle Arena at 6.30pm tomorrow. The province has only claimed one NBL crown, in 2006 under the tutelage of Aussie mentor Shawn Dennis, although a pre-NBL team did win a club nationals title in the late 1970s.
"Ethan Rusbatch's mum is with us there and he's got lots of followers there who are a pretty loyal crew," he says, of the Hawks swingman from Christchurch who switched allegiances two seasons ago to improve his chances of making the Tall Blacks equation with the Fiba World Cup beckoning in China in September.
Perennial favourites Wellington Saints face off against defending champions Southland Sharks at 3.10pm. Both the playoff matches will be televised live on SkySport 4 and Prime.
The Zico Coronel-coached Hawks lost 89-81 on the road to the Rams in round four of the NBL in early May but bounced back with a 77-71 victory in the final round-robin game in Napier last Saturday.
Kickert and American power forward Brandon Bowman were notable absentees in the defeat as the Jarrod Kenny-captained Hawks were still in the throes of a teething phase of fine-tuning their roster. The victory also paints a distorted picture because neither team had revealed too many trade secrets because they had already secured a semifinal berth against each other regardless of any ensuing outcomes.
However, Coronel believes he and Canterbury counterpart Mick Downer may have played their tactical cards close to their chests but feels the match had been played in a competitive spirit.
No doubt, the hosts boast the best defensive record in the NBL and the Hawks have the offensive bragging rights, although the latter are the third best in putting up the storm shutters.
"Both teams actually shoot threes quite a lot," he says, rating Brisbane Bullets shooting guard Cam Gliddon world class with former Hawk Luke Ashton also a dangerous sniper from outside the arc.
If you take a close look at the keys team stats from across the season, the match up is one of two very contrasting styles of engagement — the offensive arsenal of the Hawks against the strangling defence of the Rams.
While rebounding has been an issue for the Hawks Coronel is satisfied the Hawks clinched that department against the Cantabrians last Saturday so replicating that will add value to their cause.
He agrees the absence of Kickert makes massive difference not just on his physical presence but he also sees the Aussie as, arguably, the best shooter in New Zealand and Australia.
"He's shooting at 60 per cent on threes — that pretty much can't be described as any other way but ridiculous for any position."
Coronel says big men of the ilk of Michael Karena (Rams) and Alex Pledger (Sharks) tend to gravitate towards the rims to find some love so that puts Kickert's prowess in perspective.
On the flipside, US import small forward EJ Singler hasn't played in the last few rounds while recovering from a rib injury, but the medics cleared him for scrimmages on Monday.
"Barring any incidents he should be healthy to play this weekend, so it's something that can happen to any player."
While every player will have some form of niggle at this juncture of the NBL, Coronel expects his squad to be itching to close the season with some intent.
Downer tells NBL the game will be about angles, timing, spacing, skill, confidence and a dose of luck.
With some good pass marks in the mock exams at the PG Arena, he also notes some below-our-best facets but says Canterbury are ready for the rematch.
"Guarding the three-point line, particularly the corner three, is a key as well as the up-tempo 'fire-away' mindset the opposition bring," he says. "The defensive end has been our staple all season and we must hang our hats on the that end of the floor."
However, Downer says a "simple and aggressive" menu is imperative.
■ HAWKS (starting five): Jarrod Kenny (c, point guard), Dion Prewster (shooting guard), Ethan Rusbatch (swingman), EJ Singler (small forward), Brandon Bowman (power forward).
Bench: Nick Fee (guard), Everard Bartlett (shooting guard), Jamal Mikaio (guard), Darryl Jones (forward), Dominic McGovan (guard), Clifton Bush III (small forward).
Coach: Zico Coronel
Ast co-coaches: Morgan Maskell, Rob Hartley.
Team manager: Jordan Wise. Ast manager: James Levings.
Physiotherapist: Colin Tutchen.
■ CANTERBURY RAMS (starting five): Emmett Naar (c, point guard ), Cam Gliddon (shooting guard), Tony Tolovae (swingman), Isaiah Wilkins (forward), Michael Karena (centre).
Bench: Taylor Britt, Sam Smith, Luke Aston, Jonathan Janssen, Alex Talma, Toby Gillooly, Brent Fisher.
Coach: Mick Downer.
Ast co-coaches: Terry Brunnel, Piet Van Hasselt.
Team manager: Raewyn Britt.