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Wellington Saints unlikely championship

Basketball is a team game.  Roles must be filled – ball handling, screening, driving, shooting on offense – on defence, playing tight on the shooter, switching onto drivers, boxing out on rebounding, and nowadays banging bodies to prevent free movement – and a group of individuals must learn to play as a team.   The Saints championship in the National League is a satisfying example of this.

In the early days of the National League a few outstanding import players from the USA were the key to championships as the local players did not have the skill level to match.  For the Saints, Kenny McFadden and Kerry Boagni were early stars who led championship teams.  In recent years New Zealand talent has improved and top imported players perhaps less available, so the roles must be more carefully filled.  Long time Saints owner Nick Mills has earned a reputation for signing and frequently dismissing imports looking for the right combination.  This is often a frustrating experience as it also takes time to develop cohesion and time is not usually available in the short NBL season.

This year seemed to be no exception with two new imports (Bryan Davis and Brandon Bowman) being brought in half way through the season after the Saints in mid-season had been unable to sustain their early 5-0 start under new coach Australian Shane Heal.  Then the improbable happened.  Davis provided the dominant rebounder and defensive role playing “above the rim” like no other.    Bowman brought both size and quickness and was able to overcome a seemingly awkward 3-pt shooting style with great concentration.  That added to point guard Lindsay Tait’s ability to attack the hoop and find the open man, Corey Webster’s uncanny ability to shoot the ball  like no one else, and Damien Ekenasio’s banging of bodies, somehow without fouling, as he does best.   Suddenly it had all come together.

Much credit must go to coach Heal, though I suspect his typical cheeky personality has been subdued a bit with a layer of awe at the way it panned out, even humility.  Also I’m guessing owner Nick Mills may be uncharacteristically at a loss for words for a while.   Davis and Bowman, probably on a plane out of Wellington as fast as they came in, might in a few weeks time begin to wonder if it had all really happened.    And finally, Tab Baldwin, master basketball coach of the league table topping Hawks, must have mixed feelings of appreciation and “why me”.

This development of the chemistry required to win the 2014 championship by the Saints was an uncommon scenario and should be acknowledged and remembered by all basketball fans.

19 July, 2014

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