Southland Sharks bulk up their sagging stocks

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2014
Puke Lenden
NICOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ
LENDING A HAND: Puke Lenden (left) playing for the Waikato Pistons against the Southland Sharks in 2011, has been signed to play for the Sharks.

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The Southland Sharks have signed two players for the rest of their 2014 National Basketball League campaign.

The Sharks squad was depleted with three players suspended indefinitely last week after Gareth Dawson had already been stood down.

One signing is Tai Wesley, who has been playing in the Netherlands where he averaged more than 14 points and six rebounds per game in 77 games.

Wesley, who qualifies for the Sharks under the newly initiated FIBA Oceania Pacific Island rule, has been cleared by the NBL board due to his Fijian heritage and association with Guam Basketball.

The rule means players from Pacific Island countries can play in the New Zealand league but are not regarded as one of two imports teams can carry.

Wesley played college basketball at Utah State University and was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2011 and entered workouts with the Minnesota Timberwolves after college.

He then went on to play professionally in the Netherlands and in France, where he won the Dutch League with Den Bosch in 2012 and 2013.

"Tai has been on our radar for some time. We were pretty close to signing his older brother, Mekeli, but the timing wasn't right. With Tai recently finishing his season in Holland and our need to bolster our stocks, his arrival will be very helpful for our team," Henare said.

It was Henare's mate at the Breakers, Gary Wilkinson, who gave the Sharks coach the confidence to sign Wesley.

"The biggest endorsement came from Gary Wilkinson. He played with Tai for a couple of years at Utah State and he knows him very well. He spoke really highly of him as a player and a person. That was enough for me really."

The second new recruit to the Sharks is Puke Lenden, a good friend of Henare's from his home province of Hawke's Bay.

Lenden is a former Waikato Pistons small forward.

"I grew up with Puke in Hawkes Bay and we're very close friends. When he heard of our troubles last week he reached out to offer me his help in anyway he could. His experience and versatility will allow him to slot into our group seamlessly."

Lenden was named the 2008 finals series MVP when the Pistons beat the Saints.

Henare said he would still continue to lace up his shoes and play, as would Dan Peck.

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- The Southland Times

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