A new cauldron for the Giants

Team's new stomping ground takes shape

PETE MCNAE
Last updated 12:00 02/04/2014
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EXTREME MAKEOVER: Fico Finance Nelson Giants swingman Josh Pace, who arrived in the city yesterday, acquaints himself with his new home venue, Saxton Stadium.

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The first hint came when the provisional draw was released for the 2014 National Basketball League season. Listed next to each of the Fico Finance Nelson Giants' nine home games were the letters T.B.C.

That might have stood for Trafalgar Basketball Centre. After all, the city stadium had been the home of Nelson's top side since they joined the fledgling NBL in the early 1980s.SD

But, within a week of the draw being made public, it was clear that TBC stood for To Be Confirmed. A Nelson City Council study reported that the Trafalgar Centre posed an unacceptable level of risk, should a moderate earthquake occur when it was packed with patrons, and the doors were closed immediately.

The Marlborough Basketball Association sounded out the Giants organisation about taking games to Blenheim but a huge effort on a number of fronts will see the Giants tip off their 2014 season against the Wellington Saints in Saxton Stadium on Friday.

Saxton, too, has had a chequered past. It was out of commission all of last winter after being damaged by flooding in Stoke. It was built as a participation stadium with five full sized indoor courts but limited seating.

On Friday, the Giants are hoping to usher up to 1700 fans through the doors after what has been a significant transformation.

On the stadium's southern side, 1050 seats now cover what was court one, stretching from court side up to the mezzanine level. Almost 150 more installed seats were later taken out once it was realised that the sight lines for spectators were not up to scratch. Team and score benches are in front of the main seating block.

Across the playing floor, which is court two, another 500 seats were moved from the Trafalgar Centre.

Those 500 seats sit over court three and will be shifted in and out to create space when the Giants are not using the stadium but the massive block on court one will remain in place through winter.

Corporate entertainment tables line both sides while a commercial kitchen should be completed by Friday.

Giants marketing manager Sharona Gordon said that the challenging moving job was a combined effort between the Giants, the Nelson City Council, architects and engineers, the Saxton Stadium Society and staff and other interested codes.

"It's been a huge job and it's still going on," she said. "I just hope people will be patient on Friday because we have tried to tick boxes as we go but this is totally new and something will go wrong, we expect that on the first night.

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"We will all do our best, but what we had down pat at the Trafalgar Centre, will have to be done from scratch."

As of last night's season launch party, a record 714 season passes had been sold, 86 up on last year's total.

On the court, the Fico Finance Nelson Giants have made changes from the side that was beaten in last season's NBL final.

Classy American forward Erron Maxey has been replaced by a larger man in Jamal Boykin, who put up 36 points and 11 rebounds in last weekend's pre-season match against Canterbury. Darryl Jones and Rory Fannon were not re-signed and the bulk of their minutes should go to Sam Dempster and Gus Riley. Former Junior Tall Black Chris Duthie joins the Giants after completing his engineering studies and playing a fill-in role in 2011 and Bronson Beri returns from an absence of almost two years after rehabbing a badly torn knee.

Phill Jones, Josh Pace, Josh Bloxham, Brook Ruscoe and Finn Delany provide familiar faces while Tall Blacks captain Mika Vukona will play on Friday and three games after that until 2004 national league MVP Adrian Majstrovich arrives from Australia.

Saints have also shuffled their personnel after losing in last year's semifinals to eventual champions, Southland. Shane Heal comes in for coach Pero Cameron while import swingman JR Cadot was shovelled out the door before the season started. Lindsay Tait, Ernest Scott and Elijah Obade lead what will surely be another contending side from the capital, especially when Corey Webster and BJ Anthony arrive.

Gordon wants the Saxton Stadium crowd to mimic the passion that made the Trafalgar Centre an unpopular place to visit.

"The fans are going to be closer than they were before so depending on which side you are on, it will be cozy or it will be intimidating.

"We've changed a lot of stuff, the quartertime and halftime entertainment, the music, the whole package will reflect the fact that Saxton is a new venue and things are going to be a little different."

THIS YEAR'S TEAM

Fico Finance Nelson Giants 2014: Phill Jones, Josh Pace, Jamal Boykin, Josh Bloxham, Brook Ruscoe, Sam Dempster, Chris Duthie, Bronson Beri, Angus Riley, Finn Delany, AJ Majstrovich, Mika Vukona (first four games), Ashton McQueen, Justin Wehner, Ollie Shallcrass, Nathen Manuel. Head coach: Liam Flynn, assistants Tim Fanning, Tony Rampton, Ed Book. -

- Nelson

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