EJ Singler isn't the type who ticks boxes but it's safe to say the Hawks should mop up the Pettigrew-Green Arena floor with the Taranaki Mountainairs in Napier tonight.
Sure, there's always the propensity to trip up against a foe — the Airs winning 90-84 here in extra time in June last year — who have yet to register a win in the National Basketball League (NBL) this season.
After all, desperation makes the underdogs do incredible things — Manawatu Jets beating Southland Sharks last week, for argument's sake — but from where the Hawks like to roost, an upset in the round five tip off at 7pm will say more about captain Jarrod Kenny and his men's constitution than about the Airs pulling themselves out of a mind swamp.
Yes, it's borderline arrogance — or confidence, if you're the type who goes straight for the jugular — but the law of the sporting jungle dictates tanking up on confidence is imperative when entering a domain where a fight or flight mode is prevalent more often than anyone likes to admit.
"I've never approached any opposition as a given so, for me, I've never gone into a game acting like, you know, you're going to win because it's a quick way to get you in a bad position," says Singler as a key member of the Hawks who have three wins and two losses to date.
Instead, the American import small forward, in his debut with the Taylor Corporation Hawks, prefers to adopt a mentality of what the hosts have to do. Put another way, the Hawks like to preen their feathers knowing they have had to earn the right to claim maximum points.
"We have to go into each and every game looking like we're the underdogs so that's the way we should play," he says, after the Hawks beat Taranaki 97-88 on the road two rounds ago. "I think with that mentality good things happen."
Singler feels the Hawks are talented but, encouragingly, they have been taking the court without injured Australian import centre Daniel Kickert.
However, US import Brandon Bowman arrived on Thursday and is expected to play after his stint in Israel. Interim import and compatriot Shaquille Thomas has been deregistered and has returned to the US.
"I think we've had a good start but we'll get better and better, especially when all of the guys are here," says Singler.
No doubt he believes the "sky's the limit" in a game where adapting in a short, smart time reaps rewards.
"I think a player like Bowman will come in and settle perfectly."
Singler finds coach Zico Coronel's borrowed three-point philosophy suits his style of game although he is mindful all mentors tend to embrace a method they like to run with.
"I've definitely played in the style that is up and down and shooting a lot of threes," he says. "I think it's the brand of basketball is played in the States under the D [NBA Development] League."
The 28-year-old from Medford, Oregon, who was the D League 2014 three-point contest champion, feels they have the right ingredients in the squad to provide the wind beneath the Hawks' wings this season.
The Hawke's Bay franchise, who were losing semifinalists last year, are out to claim a second NBL crown for the province. Australian coach Shawn Dennis was at the helm when the Hawks — with the likes of Paul Henare, Paora Winitana and incumbent Everard Bartlett — won the maiden title in 2006.
How quickly they have been trying to grasp the new game plan is a credit to Coronel, he says.
"He has a great way of breaking down the game and making it easy to learn [was well as] translating it to some of the younger guys during practice."
Singler says the Canterbury Rams, who beat the Hawks 89-81 in Christchurch last Thursday, were hard to guard in transition but had put up the shutters better than the visitors.
"The biggest thing I found out on the score sheet was the shots, like they had 15 or 20 more than us, so that's the game right there."
The Hawks, he says, were a little sloppy with the ball and not putting up stops but while their communication is improving the defence is a never-ending process. It primarily boils down to practising what they preach in practice, considering they are taking the floor a little undersized although Kickert and Bowman should bring some parity.
"I think Kicks is a global 4 or 5 player [power forward/centre] for us and I think he'll fit in so he's been practising this week and just from what I've heard and seeing in practices he can shoot the ball."
He isn't familiar with power forward Bowman's blueprint but suspects he is an allrounder who'll park at the low post to prevent the opposition foragers from spinning or backing down near the basket below the foul line — a portfolio the Hawks haven't filled adequately yet.
Singler, whose college accomplishments for University of Oregon stick out in his profiles, brings a cultured presence to the floor and exhibits undeniable court savviness.
But what makes him stand out even more, apart from his head band to keep the long locks in place, is his zeal.
Adopting an underdog mentality doesn't mean he's allergic to prevailing.
"I always view myself as a winner so what that means to me is doing anything on the court to make the team win."
Scoring, rebounding, screening, assisting but gamesmanship, too, Singler?
He laughs, clarifying he's an "overall basketball player" whose mental game forms the nucleus of his tensile template to do "whatever it takes" to get the job done, even foul.
"I mean nothing illegal," he says with a chuckle. "Anything over a legal player I don't want to do."
Still trying to find their identity under coach David Bublitz, the visitors are anticipating point guard Derone Raukawa, returning from injury, will bolster Chris Early who peeled off nine triples last round. They are on a double-header round.
Singler's father, Ed, represented Oregon State as a quarterback between 1978 and 1982, while mother Kris played state basketball from 1973 and 1976. His older brother, Kyle, also is a professional basketball player.
So why not follow dad's steps into football, boys?
"Oh man, I was going to play football in my college career but the more I looked at it the more I thought I'd try to take a better avenue for me to go down to have a longer career than a football player because a lot of those guys have short careers or get injured," he explains, agreeing the boys made mum happy.
Kyle, who turned 31 last Saturday, has been a role model in Singler's life. The younger brother tried to replicate the older one's game.
Plying his trade for Monbus Obradoiro in Spain, Kyle was a four-year starter for the elite Duke college team and was instrumental in their 2010 NCAA championship run, earning most outstanding player of the final four.
"Competitiveness would come out but I always wanted to be that younger brother wanting to be like his older brother," says Singler of Kyle who played for the Detroit Pistons.
For the younger brother, who wanted to stay close to family and friends at Oregon University, the Raptors 905 team, an affiliate of the Toronto Raptors in the NBA, is the most special outfit.
"Just the talent levels were incredible," he says, revealing the D League winners were "unbelievable" under coach Jerry Stackhouse with some players going on to forge careers in the NBA and Euro League.
Singler says a beefier Kyle also has a 5cm advantage over his 1.98m, 98kg frame despite playing in a similar mould.
Enjoying the excursion with wife Bryn, who celebrated her birthday here on Thursday, Singler accepts he's missed the NBA train after the Portland Trail Blazers and Raptors spurned his advances despite signing him up.
"I would definitely love to play in the Australian [NBL] because I see that league really growing and becoming elite or playing in the Euro League would be unbelievable."
Bolstering his resume and focusing on the NBL here is his immediate focus while Bryn runs her business remotely as a graphic designer on their globe-trotting mission.
"She's got a really good eye for making stuff look really pretty," he says before they settle down to have children although not sure where or when. "We're on this basketball travelling ride right now but we'll try to do this as long as my body holds up."
Singler is happy to put his tool kit down to channel their collective energy into what Bryn wants to do after that.
"We'll just try to follow her dreams to see whatever she wants to accomplish in her life as well."
The couple have had an amazing time in New Zealand and have found its outdoors quite bewitching with hikes and hot springs.
"The Hawke's Bay and Napier area is amazing and the people are also great so we've really enjoyed ourselves."
A jovial Singler says a permanent resident's visa will definitely influence them to settle down here.
■ HAWKS (starting 5): 6. Jarrod Kenny (c, guard), 13. Dion Prewster (guard), 12. Ethan Rusbatch (swingman), 25. EJ Singler (small forward), 14. Daniel Kickert (centre).
Bench: 3. Nick Fee (guard), 5. Everard Bartlett (shooting guard), 7. Darryl Jones (forward), 11. Jamal Mikaio (forward), 21. Geoff Heather (forward), 18. Clifton Bush III (forward), 9. James Levings (guard), 15. Brandon Bowman (forward).
Coach: Zico Coronel.
Ast co-coaches: Morgan Maskell, Rob Hartley.
Manager: Jordan Wise.
Physio: Colin Tutchen.
■ MOUNTAINAIRS (starting 5): 14. Alonzo Burton (shooting guard), 7. Houston O'Riley (point guard), 5. Xavier Shaw (forward), 21. Chris Early (power forward), 22. Aaron Bailey-Nowell (forward).
Bench: 22. Latrell Teka-Wall (guard), 6. Justin Cousin (guard), 2. Oscar Roberston (guard), 10. Dane Brooks (guard), 8. Derone Raukawa (guard), 20. Thane O'Leary (forward), 26. Morgan Trott (forward).
Coach: David Bublitz.
Ast co-coaches: Andrew Green, Shay Haira.
Manager: Bevan Seddon.
Physio: Mick McBeth.