The Sky Sport Breakers' Australian NBL playoff hopes remain on a knife edge in the final round this weekend, but whatever the outcome the season has turned from chaos into a vibrant success story.
At first, it seemed that old glories in the Australasian league would remain just that for the Auckland-based basketball club.
But with a nightmare, injury-plagued start well behind them, Dan Shamir's coaching revolution under new American owner Matt Walsh appears to be establishing foundations for a great new future.
To steal a basketball phrase, New Zealand sport is in transition. And Israeli Shamir, who has coached big clubs in his homeland and Russia, could be at the centre of it.
The 45-year-old Shamir, who arrived here with wife Sahar and their three kids aged seven to 14, sounds like a man in it for the long haul as he chats to the Herald.
How tough did it get when the Breakers began badly this season?
Many coaches would have been fired (in other parts of the world) with our start. I told interviewers from Israel you would still think it was a winning team. The meetings are constructive. We are moving forward. It's not always like that in other places.
What is it like in other places?
It gets very violent and stupid. Fans can wait for you outside, rock your car, not let you run practice. That didn't happen to me because I was lucky to have quite good success.
But when I coached in Jerusalem and we lost I couldn't walk my dog. Or I would put a hoodie on, and take a route where people won't see me. I wouldn't leave the arena until 1am. It gets crazy in the media, in the stands. It can get very emotional in many European places.
What is your coaching mantra?
It is a philosophical thing about how I live my life. Every person needs to be very good with the average things. This is also how I grow my kids.
You don't need the smartest idea or spectacular play. If you have it, great. But I don't like elaborate play. I like things to be done in a very specific way. Everything needs to make sense to me.
We defend without gimmicks. We don't run a lot of zones. We play tough, solid man-to-man defence. I don't coach to take away the one crazy play - I want our defence to stop the basic stuff.
We have a few basic reads in offence…make the simple passes and simple reads at a high level. But my teams don't play the same way for the whole season. There are constant adjustments.
What was your own playing record?
I was never a player at this level - I played juniors until I was 17.
I'm a five foot eleven guy. The game looks totally different when you are a six foot six guy in the moment, in front of the fans, in the action. I acknowledge that every day.
I watch slow motion replays, back and forth. I'm watching the game all the time, learning all the time, using numbers, statistics, analytics. Every day I pick up something.
I love basketball - I started playing when I was six — but all my life I have seen the game through this (pointing to a screen). I always tell my players they are the owners. Sport is the players' game.
Is there an example of how your analysis has changed a particular Breakers player?
Tom Abercrombie is the kind of player who doesn't have the ball in his hands a lot. Guards like Corey Webster, Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry create a lot of shots from dribbling, driving, pick and roll. Players like Tom and Finn Delany either shoot or drive in simple plays when they are left open.
But we've started using Tom more, he's been making a lot of shots, making a lot of plays. He's been doing great with it.
We had looked at one of the best players in Europe - Juan Carlos Navarro - who is a retired Barcelona shooting guard. They would hide him somewhere, he would not look interested in the game (then pass to him). We started running these types of play for Tom and discovered he can do so much more for us.
You've had challenges here — top NBA draft prospect RJ Hampton was not a total success and headed home early.
I prepared a long time for him, the first time I had coached someone so young and for a short period. But there were mutual benefits.
He was very slim, with an 18-year-old's body. It was tough for him to stay in front of the tough guards in this league, like Casper Ware and Melo Trimble. He played only 15 games, and four were after injuries. It was hard to draw conclusions.
Did you have prior New Zealand links?
I was an assistant at Maccabi Tel Aviv at 27 where I was with (coaches) David Blatt and Pini Gershon. It was during the best era for the club, and we influenced a lot of people around the world including New Zealand basketball.
(Ex-New Zealand coach) Nenad Vucinic is a Serbian guy influenced by a lot of European things which he brought here, which we started in Maccabi. We were a very offence minded team…a lot of people copy-catted us, our transition, our flow, our actions. In my third season, I brought (Tall Black/Breaker) Kirk Penney to Maccabi. He brought a lot of our stuff back here. So this has been a very interesting circle of life for me.
Do you come from a sporting family?
I'm from a very simple family in Jerusalem. Some of my family is from an ultra religious background — these very religious Jews are not a big portion of Israel, maybe only 10 per cent. All they do is religion. My parents had started moving away from this extreme and I grew up in a secular environment but none of my family was into sport. I took a very independent route.
When did you discover the coaching bug?
Many people grow up without knowing what they are going to do. It was totally different for me. My friends called me 'coach' when I was in high school
How did you break into it?
Straight after my military service I flew to Kentucky to learn more about basketball at university. I picked up as much as I could. I watched, went to some practices, contacted coaching staff and went to other schools.
Did you learn any life lessons in the military?
I was not in a fighting unit although I did one military operation in Lebanon. I got to see what it looks like during war.
Israel is now relatively peaceful. But in the past there were a lot of suicide bombings. My wife and I would sit in the apartment and hear an explosion in Jerusalem followed by a lot of sirens. It happened a lot, people died. This is the kind of life you may lead in the Middle East.
Military life isn't comparable to anything else. People make the mistake of trying to translate it. And in basketball we don't give commands to anybody.
Which coach inspired you the most?
My main influence was Ettore Messina at CSKA Moscow. He is one of the greatest coaches in Europe, now with Milan, and he has been a San Antonio Spurs assistant under the greatest coach of our times (Gregg Popovich).
Ettore thinks about every detail. This is also the curse of the work. I heard all the struggles of how hard it is to play for him. Aaron Jackson, a very established player on $2m, told me he initially forgot now to play under Ettore. Every dribble he took he was thinking 'what is Messina thinking?' Messina was not easy on him, but after six months Jackson got it. He told me his life would have been very different if he had been coached by Messina earlier.
Messina is much worse than me in how hard he is on himself and his players. But the game is played with a 24 second shot clock and you have to be very efficient with everything you do.
Do you have a favourite player?
I relate to a very specific type of player…this is so easy to say but over here it is a player like Tom Abercrombie. Who wouldn't like him? I like my players to be humble and very serious, not about themselves. I like us to go into every game thinking it is going to be hard.
Some coaches are not like this. They are about ego, they like macho guys. That can work for teams. But I don't see basketball as chaos. I see it as structured, everybody working together. I don't gamble. The process must be organised.
Do you feel settled — was it a tough move to make?
We had moved around quite a lot and decided not to do it anymore but my wife said "New Zealand - we are going to look at that".
When we were not winning here life was not good for me. But my family was so happy…being here is a perfect situation for all of us. It was such a smooth transition, the schools are great, the place is so beautiful, the people are nice.
You may not realise…this is the best place in the world.