HAMISH BIDWELL
When you're watching tonight's final Hawks home game of the season against the Manawatu Jets and Paul Henare is driving down the lane and dishing to Adrian Majstrovich to drain a hot from the outside, spare a thought for who may not be on the court.
Because while Derek Moore is pulling down a defensive rebound and throwing a quick outlet pass for Paora Winitana to streak away and dunk at the other end, a group of unsung heroes will be living every play from the bench and nervously waiting for coach Shawn Dennis to throw them into the game.
They're the bench mob, the forgotten role players who give the 0800 Easy LPG Hawks valuable spurts, the guys who simulate the opposition at practice and who help make the team's starting five the players they are.
It's a thankless task, one that rarely gets the recognition from the media and fans, but it's a role that is hugely appreciated by the team's starters and coach Dennis. Not to mention the guys themselves.
Take guard Dwayne Davies. The 22-year-old played just 12 minutes last season, but this year he averages about 10 minutes a game, which he puts down to the hours he spends opposing Henare and Winitana in practice.
"I always look to mark up against them," Davies said.
"I think Paora is the best one-on-one player in the league, so if I can stay with him in practice, then it makes the games easier."
Fellow guard Henare O'Brien and forward Jon Cartwright echo those sentiments, adding that they take great pride in making life as hard as possible for the starting five at practice.
"We're trying to make them better and that motivates us," O'Brien said.
"Yeah, we're always trying to make practice tougher than the games," added Cartwright.
Their effort at practice means they've garnered the respect of the team's stars, which translates into the team approach on court. There's no suggestion in this Hawks team of the imports hogging the ball and open bench players being ignored by a star who would rather put up a low percentage shot.
"That's probably the best thing about this team," said Cartwright.
"The best example was our last game against Waikato. There's no egos in this team and when we went into overtime, they blew up mentally and went off on their own tangents.
"We're all on the same page and we all get along."
"And you can see that on the bench," said O'Brien.
"Dusty Rychart was sitting next to me and he was the first to jump up and start screaming and yelling. That's great because a lot of imports might just sit there and start sulking because they were on the bench."
The Hawks' bench has had its critics at different times this year and O'Brien is more than happy for people to underestimate them. He says last weekend's 90-83 overtime win against Waikato, where bench warmers like Aidan Daly, Willie Burton, Everard Bartlett, Cartwright and himself were to the fore, showed that the team is far more than a five-man band.