Hell, it's not easy never mind how delicately it's put but the harsh reality is elite athletes, as they say, always die twice.

The first time, no doubt, they perish through the dreaded retirement process of a high-octane sporting environment.

Ben Hill jnr says the mind is willing but the body tells you when it's time to retire.
Ben Hill jnr says the mind is willing but the body tells you when it's time to retire.

Just ask former Tall Black Ben Hill jnr who hung up his basketball boots four years ago under the reign of former Hawks coach Tab Baldwin.

"You can't beat father time because he catches up with you sooner or later so that's why I retired," says the 37-year-old former professional basketballer when asked to take stock of what his overview is on the hapless Indigo Hawks in a winless National Basketball League (NBL) to date.


"It is time to see what the young guys are made of," says Hill who ended his career with the Hawks and is a father of two in Napier where he works at Panpac's IT help desk.

In his eyes, keeping it in a "positive reinforcement" mould for the final home game today in the 7pm tip off against the rampant James Blond Supercity Rangers is crucial.

"A win's got to come at some point but it may not be this year so you have to look at the younger guys for next year," he says as coach Kirsten Daly-Taylor and her men face their ninth consecutive loss at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale.

Unless captain Aidan Daly and his troops win tonight, they will have clocked a dozen defeats on the trot for a winless season and on track to wear the cellar dwellers' collar on the seven-team table.

In echoing the sentiments of NBL stalwart Willie Burton, Hill says the likes of Jaxson Macfarlane, Wilfred Dickson and Mataeus Marsh need to be "chucked into the deep end".

"Some of the older guys won't be back next year."

Sure, the young will make mistakes, even howlers, but therein lies the vicious cycle of expose or remain devoid of court savviness.

Because he coached the Bay second division team, Hill says his name was automatically thrown into the equation as a candidate to coach the Hawks this year.

The four-time NBL title-winning forward with the defunct Waikato Pistons was a three-point clutch specialist who former Hawks coaches Shawn Dennis and Paul Henare used to ruffle the feathers of opposition big men.

Accepting retirement, he says, isn't easy but the signs are hard to ignore. "The body tells you when it's time.

"Mentally you're fine but you've got to listen to the body," says the bloke who at the cusp of his retirement felt Baldwin spurned him because it had more to do with the the former franchise's perception of his worth fiscally rather than his weighty issues.

Hill says it's not simply a case of just walking away from basketball but a huge shift in the axis of an elite player's life.

Countless years of regimented training at the expense of financial, academic and personal/social relationships are some telling factors in delaying the inevitable.

Just the thought of it can be incomprehensible never mind if they have reached the pinnacle of their sport.

A sense of emptiness creeps in where once an adrenaline fix from games or time on the road was the prescribed elixir.

"It's a major change. The first few months can be really hard."

He believes former Olympian and Tall Fern Daly-Taylor has done all she can with what she has at her disposal.

"The money side of things has always been an issue with the Hawks so we haven't really had marquee players."

About four to six winters ago the former franchises were able to secure the services of young Tall Blacks and lanky American imports.

The proof, he says, is in the incumbent franchise's inability to replace injured veteran US import forward Chris Porter a few rounds into the season.

"You need two Americans to do the job. They [the franchise] have limited resources and everyone knows that."

The other US import, veteran Kareem Johnson, has been the best of the Hawks, averaging 19.2 points and 10 rebounds in the past five matches.

But that aside, Hill reckons Johnson is the only genuine big man in the side.

Darryl Jones and Arthur Trousdell fall in the "small forward" category.

"But DJ plays his heart out. He is the only one who plays with his heart and injury has taken its toll," he says, although Jones and Daly were conspicuous in their absence for a good part of the second half of last Monday's game through injuries.

Guam point guard William Stinnett is another who "puts his body out there".

One department misfiring, he suspects, can have an impact on the other considering the Hawks' "defence is not great".

"You need to stop the opposition from scoring.

"It's hard to explain but the D wins you games."

The Hawks are haemorrhaging a league-high 98 points a game and the Rangers are next on 96 but, as Daly-Taylor alluded to last Monday, her counterpart, Jeff Green, adheres to a philosophy of scoring more than the opposition to win games, full stop.

Who can argue with that against a side tonight that fields a Tall Black/NZ Breakers-type starting five and bench and offensively boasts a league high 97.2 points a game.

"It's the mind set with the young guys," Hill says of the Hawks' brittle effort in putting up the shutters.

With the anaemic shooting, he feels it simply boils down to practising.

"A lot of it is done outside normal practice time on your time but not a lot of them do it," says Hill, pointing out NBA star Stephen Curry often racks up eight to nine hours a day honing his skills.