When Dion Prewster was last sporting Hawke's Bay tribal colours the province was humming amid anticipation of big things with the arrival of distinguished coach Tab Baldwin and his burning desire to impress on his proteges the then newfound full-court press European brand of basketball.

That 2013 season turned into a winter of despair as the Hawks finished in seventh place in the nine-team NBL with five wins from 11 games.

But fast forward from Prewster's forgettable debut to tonight where he'll assume the mantle of "comeback kid" this season and you'll find he still believes it's still not too late to conduct a post mortem on what went wrong.

"It was unfortunate because there were high hopes for us. We didn't perform to our capabilities," says the 28-year-old before the Taylor Corporation-sponsored Hawks host SIT Zerofees Southland Sharks in a 7pm tip off at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, to signal the start of the Sal's National Basketball League (NBL) season.


He sees the irony in Baldwin leading the Hawks to the NBL championship final the following year.

"Maybe it was me who was the problem or something, I don't know," says the former Tall Black with a laugh as he embarks on a season with new Hawks coach Zico Coronel.

On a serious note, Prewster believes it's an opportune time for the players who were with him — Jarrod Kenny, Kareem Johnson and Everard Bartlett — to put the wrongs right.

The 1.94m tall swingman from Wellington has returned from the ProA second-tier league in Germany having plied his trade for Uni Baskets Paderborn, which finished 13th out of 16 teams in the 2017-18 season.

Last year Prewster played for the Nelson Giants and three seasons before he played for his formidable hometown franchise of Wellington Saints.

He sees some similarities but notes the major changes with the coaching staff, including the front office management.

"I've always enjoyed my time here in the Bay and, obviously, playing with some of the guys previously — like Jarrod, Kareem and Everard — it's very, very calculable for me."

So how has Prewster grown from then to the specimen he has evolved into now?


"Just humbled more than anything," says Prewster whose evolution has been more mental than anything else in playing in Germany.

"You always think like, 'Oh surely I've seen it all', in learning different styles of play and different concepts on how to guard things.

"Going against stronger opposition kind of helps you grow in other ways where probably your weaknesses are highlighted more, so you just come back on those things to try to work on them and be better."

Fundamentally he found out Germany places more emphasis on team play rather than individual one-on-one action where the game is free flowing but structured.

"I think they start their systems at a very young age, teaching kids how to play team basketball. They see the game very differently so it's very hard to explain."

He laughs when asked if some of that has rubbed off on him.

"I hope so [because] we're going to find that out [tonight]. I'm just happy to be here and happy to be a Hawk."

Staying home in the capital city is always the desire but Prewster says it didn't work out for him but a former Saints connection struck a chord.

"Knowing Zico in my time in Wellington, I've had a relationship with him so when I heard he'd got the job here and he approached me I was pretty keen," he says of the 13-season assistant coach who is embarking on a head coach role on debut with the Hawks.

"Everything else started lining up and it felt just right," he says after four seasons with the former high schoolteacher.

Prewster sees it as a win-win situation with Coronel "wanting to grow" just as he does.

"I see it more as an opportunity to step up and learn more from him in a different perspective as a head coach as opposed to an assistant."

He sees Coronel as a passionate bloke, diligent and immaculate in his methodical way of paying attention to details.

"I think he understands strategy but also, I think ... he's grown a lot in terms of maybe his basketball philosophy as opposed to perhaps just his numbers so I definitely think he deserves the role that he has now."

Dion Prewster is keen to grow his game under coach Zico Coronel. Photo/file
Dion Prewster is keen to grow his game under coach Zico Coronel. Photo/file

Prewster suspects Coronel, in his trip to Spain at the height of the southern summer, is trying to implement some of those European principles here.

"Hopefully I can help guys who aren't accustomed to that here as well," says the former Sydney Kings player after arriving in the Bay a fortnight ago.

It was a pleasant surprise for Prewster to find teammates taking ownership in a structured environment.

He puts the sudden arrival and departure of Australian import No 4 David Barlow as one of those many unorchestrated things that happen in sports, akin to injuries.

"The only things we can focus on is what happens inside the lines when we're training and when the game time comes around.

"It's obviously sad but, at the same time, we have to move on so all the best of luck to David because we have to try to get ready for [today]," he says of the 34-year-old former Boomer who helped his Melbourne United franchise team win the ANBL crown on March 31.

"There's no right time to leave but if you're going to pick and choose I suppose now is as good a time," says the American-born player whose mother Ana Hunt is Samoan and father Norvell Prewster hails from Long Beach, California.

Prewster says the Judd Flavell-coached Sharks will be tough tonight with "big bodies" on the inside on the platform of a few Tall Blacks.

The match will be an ideal litmus test for the Hawks, impressing home games are godsend but it's imperative to take advantage of them.

"We've got to get the community behind us and put out a good product so people will want to see us ... play winning and exciting basketball."

Prewster says anytime there's a new team formed the element of continuity will be missing so growing pains will be a given.

"The thing with this league is the team that is going to adjust quickly and find chemistry early will find that it pays off because it's a short window and then the playoffs will be here."