Josh Pace wasn't just on the Nelson Giants' shopping list, he basically was the list.
The Griffin, Georgia basketballer has become the Fico Finance Giants' plum recruit by agreeing to join the Nelson franchise for the 2013 National Basketball League season, making a return to the team that he helped to a title in 2007.
Pace and his agent contacted coach Liam Flynn on Saturday to confirm that he would be back in Nelson after playing two years here in 2006 and 2007. In his first season, he was named an NBL All-Star with averages of 19.1 points (51.4 per cent FG, 66.7 per cent FT), 6.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals. He continued with the Giants in the championship campaign and was named league MVP.
Since then, he has played domestically in Hawke's Bay and Manawatu and has also been in Estonia, where he won a title with coach Nenad Vucinic in Kalev-Cramo, in the CBA in East Kentucky where he led the team in scoring at 23 points a game and in Southeast Texas in the ABA, contributing 18 points and seven rebounds each outing.
Flynn is thrilled to have reeled in his main recruiting target.
"Josh is a versatile guy, he plays a number of positions, can handle the ball, defend three positions, post up smaller guys and go around bigger guys," Flynn said.
"At 29, he's a team leader and a proven winner in college and professional leagues around the world."
While Pace was high on his list of targets, Flynn, who is an Australian, also heeded the advice of two countrymen from the coaching ranks.
"Shawn Dennis [former Hawke's Bay coach] asked me if I had my imports signed. When I said I hadn't, he said ‘get Josh Pace, you need Josh Pace'," Flynn said.
"When [New Zealand Breakers assistant coach] Dean Vickerman said exactly the same thing, it confirmed the thoughts we already had.
"Josh was the man I wanted the most and I am really pleased we have been able to come to an agreement."
Pace is a 29-year-old 1.95m guard. While his primary position is shooting guard, he can comfortably play point guard and small forward.
His versatility gives the Giants a flexible backcourt with Phill Jones, Josh Bloxham and Brook Ruscoe able to switch styles and tempos with ease.
"I knew Josh had a great skill set but, when I saw some tape, his passing and defence were even better than I had realised," Flynn said.
"We want to base our team this season on a very demanding defence and JP certainly fits the bill there."
Pace, who is in Georgia, will join the Nelson squad in early April, giving him three weeks of intense pre-season work before the NBL tips off.
Flynn is likely to arrive around the same time, when the Townsville Crocodiles complete their Australian league season.
"Three weeks is enough, because Tony [Giants assistant Tony Rampton] is putting in a lot of the spadework now and then we will have an intense period together before we taper for our first game."
Rampton has just returned from five days with the Crocodiles where he and Flynn honed their pre-season preparation.
The coaching staff are set to cut their summer training squad back to 12-14 players within a fortnight while Flynn is also on the hunt for his second import, a scoring big man.
"Getting Josh has us almost there," he said. "The last piece will come with our four man. We are in talks with guys we think can help and I am confident we will have it done in the next fortnight."
- The Nelson Mail