It’s exciting times in the basketball world right now, promising young players are eagerly removing their ill-fitting coats of adolescence in exchange for the imposing presence of tailored, grown-ass, franchise player power suits. At the same time, older, wiser players are humbly trying on cardigans, ready to retreat to the porch for long and lazy discussions on how things were in their day. Dare I say, this is a time of transition. And it’s happening now.
Of course, I’m not talking about the NBA playoffs. I’m talking about New Zealand’s very own version of the NBA, the NBL!
We’ve discussed the economic woes plaguing sports at DeadBall before, but perhaps no league is feeling this more than NBL. It costs 5,000 dollars to enter this league, not that high, some of you in Parnell are thinking, but it’s enough to throw those poor souls in Otago out of a team and force the glorious Canterbury Rams to be replaced by the shockingly titled Cougars. They must be hoping to reach an untapped and infamously desperate market.
As witnessed on Friday, the North Harbour Heat are fighting the economic pressure in a curiously creative manner. They’re running a childcare centre and a basketball game simultaneously. It’s no exaggeration to say that 70% of the small crowd gathered at the furnace were under the age of seven. You know your club has gone off the rails when the loudest cheer of the night is for a lolly scramble.
On the one hand, this is good news for the future of basketball in New Zealand, kids are being exposed to the game at an early age, witnessing some gifted players, and not so gifted ones, and presumably forming alliances to players that will last a lifetime. I’ll never say a bad word about Chris Tupu as long as I live. On the other hand, it’s kind of annoying if you are over the age of seven. I did manage to get a lolly, but returned it to the child I stole it from after a less than impressed glance from a parent.
So how is the quality of basketball in the NBL? From the match up between the North Harbour Heat and Nelson Giants on Friday, it’s fair to middling. Phill Jones of Nelson, clearly in the twilight of his career, still manages to knock down threes in a typical streaky manner. Unlike the Australian league, defence in this game was less than intense and I’m not sure Jones actually broke a sweat.
However, the player I really came to se see was Corey Webster, the young point guard for North Harbour. Much has been made of the impressive batch of young point guards coming through in the NBA. Derrick Rose is playing well beyond his experience, Chris Paul is undeniable, Deron Williams is a focused leader and Brandon Roy isn’t bad too. But what about New Zealand’s young point guards? We have Dickell, who’s just a little too old now and never seemed to develop the jump shot that would have made him ten times better. Paul Henare should not be mentioned in any list of New Zealand’s leading point guards, it’s just depressing. So really, Corey Webster and Lindsay Tait have an opportunity to take over the reigns. Tonight was an opportunity to see one of them play.
I was impressed with Webster’s outing for the Tall Blacks against Australia last year and was interested to see how he ran a team when he’s expected to play minutes. While not blessed with a high-level of speed, he is strong and has a knack for creating space for his shot. In a tight game, he remained calm, picking his spots and knocking down pull up jump shots in a mature fashion. Unfortunatley, as the game came down to a close finish, his calm demeanor began to look like laziness on the defensive end.
The last five minutes saw him outplayed and out-hustled by an older opposing point guard who just wanted it more. Worrying signs for a young player, he should have taken that game by the neck and ripped any hope from Nelson’s throat. Instead he sat back and let his team lose. His Dad is the coach of his team and I think words should be had. Right now, he’s one of the few hopes we have at point guard in this country and he should realise he has an opportunity to guide New Zealand’s basketball destiny for the next seven years. On a side note, I’d love to see a match-up between Tait and Webster, it’d be like a poor man’s Chris Paul vs. Derron Williams.