Giants uncover rough diamond in Fannon

TIME TO SHINE: Rory Fannon is relatively unknown in national basketball league circles but is keen to carve a niche with the Fico Finance Giants.
TIME TO SHINE: Rory Fannon is relatively unknown in national basketball league circles but is keen to carve a niche with the Fico Finance Giants.

Rory Fannon has had enough of being basketball's best-kept secret.

The North Shore centre is the latest signing for the Fico Finance Nelson Giants and will be a 25-year-old rookie in the national basketball league next season.

Giants fans could be forgiven for seeking Google guidance but Fannon is the first to admit he has had a low profile in New Zealand basketball.

"I've been away for five years while my best friends, guys like Tom [Abercrombie] and Corey [Webster], were making their names," Fannon said. "I feel like it's time to try to catch up, to get to where they already are."

Fannon, a 2.06m centre, was a high school team-mate of both Abercrombie and Webster at Westlake Boys High, the national secondary schools champion in 2005. But, while the other pair flirted briefly with the US college system before returning to New Zealand to carve out careers with the Breakers and Tall Blacks, Fannon spent five seasons in Orem, Utah.

The big Kiwi was recruited by Utah Valley University, a Division 1 college with a roll of more than 33,000 students. He sat out his first year as he tried to fill out his frame and his game, then played four seasons with the Wolverines.

His numbers there, a single point and rebound a game, do not paint an accurate picture of Fannon's input.

"I loved Coach [Dick] Hunsaker to death, but we didn't see eye-to-eye and I didn't get a whole lot of opportunities," he said.

"I still won the award as their best post defender and I had an awesome time. I am really happy with the knowledge I took away."

On returning to New Zealand, Fannon renewed old friendships, working out with the Breakers and making the New Zealand universities team under Breakers assistant coach Dean Vickerman, playing alongside Giants Josh Bloxham and Sam Dempster.

The unheralded big man was back on the basketball radar.

Defending NBL champions, the Auckland Pirates, were interested, as was Fannon's home team, the Harbour Heat. Sharks coach Paul Henare wanted him in Southland.

Then Liam Flynn, the Giants new coach next season, entered the conversation and secured the services of the young centre.

"Liam sold me on his vision for Nelson," Fannon said. "There were great reasons to go with Auckland and Harbour and Paulie in Southland, but Liam had this overwhelming enthusiam and a step-by-step plan to run a professional outfit that is fun to play for, develops talent and wins games.

"As a player, those factors are powerful motivators."

Flynn, who is the assistant coach with Townsville in the Australian national league, knew what he wanted in a post player.

He said Fannon was a great communicator on defence, a physical presence in the paint, he hit the glass hard at each end, could defend the low post, be a solid pick and roll defender and finish plays at the rim.

Giants fans will also love his hustle.

"I'll be the first one on the ground to recover a loose ball, I'll dive through the front row of chairs if it means my team gets another possession," he said.

The Giants' other significant off-season signing, guard Brook Ruscoe, concurs.

"Rory's an intense guy, he is hard out on every play."

If that sounds familiar to Nelson fans, that is because his style of play is strongly similar to that of Giants assistant coach Tony Rampton.

"Tony is another great reason for me to come to Nelson ... he played basketball with all his heart and never let an opposing big man get through without knowing he'd been in a game and feeling it for the next week," Fannon said.

"That's what I would like to bring to the Giants, that passion and physicality, a positive edge that rubs off on everyone."

The Nelson Mail