Giants sign tower of power
Good things take time so it should come as no surprise that the Nelson Giants have added the final piece to their playing roster at almost the 11th hour.
With one import slot left to fill, the Fico Finance Giants have signed 26-year-old American forward Jamal Boykin to man the middle in the coming National Basketball League season.
It's just two weeks until the Giants see their first pre-season action but coach Liam Flynn is comfortable with the late shuffling in his pack.
"It takes as long as it takes to find the right person," he said. "I needed to get our Kiwi big man [AJ Majstrovich] signed and, once he was committed, I knew what skills we were looking for from our second American player."
Boykin, a high school All American selection from California, attended Duke University in North Carolina before transferring to Cal-Berkeley, closer to his family. As a senior, he led the team in rebounding and was named to the Pac-10 conference's second team.
Professionally, he has been to Turkey, Cyprus, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany and is now in Ukraine, where he plays for the Cherkasy Monkeys. With the East European state veering into civil unrest, and some of Boykin's neighbours dying in the violence of recent weeks, the big American's agent contacted Flynn to see if the Giants were keen to bring him to Nelson.
Flynn hardly hesitated.
"I'd seen him play first league in Germany in October and Jamal had a very strong game," Flynn said. "We'd actually taken a long look when I was [coaching] in Townsville and seeing him again on the court in Germany jogged my memory."
Boykin is 2.03m tall and plays centre and power forward. Strongly built, he can defend taller opponents, while he has the ability to step away from the basket to create a shot.
"I thought about the big guys in our league . . . could he defend [Brian] Conklin, could he defend [Nick] Horvath?" Flynn said. "Physically, Jamal is a specimen."
Boykin, who will arrive, match-fit, in time to play the pre-season Blitz tournament with the Giants, is keen to come to New Zealand. Nelson will be his first professional stop where English is the first language and he said he was keen to become a part of the Giants community and see the city and the wider region.
"I would say that I am the ultimate optimist," Boykin said. "I have always believed that through hard work, faith and discipline, I could gain anything that I desire."
Flynn cites a story of Boykin's determination to be recruited by the top-drawer Duke programme in North Carolina.
"He set his sights and then worked his absolute tail off to be recruited by Duke," Flynn said.
"That gives you an insight into his character. He'll out-work people to be quicker, stronger."
It's also handy that Boykin has a game to match his frame.
He's a punishing rebounder, has developed a reliable jumpshot out to 5m, uses fakes and well-honed footwork to get to the basket and then converts an impressive 82 per cent of his free throws when he is fouled by befuddled defenders.
His strength and versatility invite comparisons to Giants, Breakers and Tall Blacks forward Mika Vukona.
"Mika is one of a kind but Jamal possesses similar qualities," Flynn said.
Boykin was an allstar in Holland and Flynn said he showed in the German first league that he could defend, rebound and score with the best players in Europe.
Off court, the Los Angeles native is a talented artist who has staged public exhibitions of his works.
He also places a high price on bringing his own level of positivity and intensity (think Gary Wilkinson, but with a better tan) to the places he plays.
That has never been more relevant than in his current situation with Cherkasy.
"I would say that Ukraine has been a great experience. The country has been on red alert and the threat of war has been upon the people here, so I have taken a lot of pride in entertaining the fans and giving them a break from their daily lives when they come out to the games to support us," Boykin said.
The worst issue Nelson fans will have to face is a drive to Stoke and the new home court at Saxton Stadium, the rest is pure gravy in comparison.
Jamal Boykin will arrive in time to play the Blitz in Porirua over the weekend of March 21-22. Guard Brook Ruscoe's stint with the Cairns Taipans will finish then and he will also play for the Giants at the Blitz.
Newly-signed forward Majstrovich travels from Perth a week later and will make it in time to play the Canterbury Rams in Blenheim in the final pre-season match at 6pm on Saturday, March 29, while Josh Pace completes the squad for the NBL season opener against Wellington on April 5.
The Nelson Mail