Sharks a stronger side now, says Baldwin
Legendary New Zealand basketball coach Tab Baldwin believes the Southland Sharks are a better team now than they were at the start of the season despite having four frontline players pulled from the squad.
The former Tall Blacks coach is now coaching the Bay Hawks team that will square-off against the Sharks in the first of the two National Basketball League semifinals in Wellington on Friday night.
Gareth Dawson, Reuben Te Rangi, Leon Henry and Shea Ili were all stood down from the Sharks midway through this season as a result of off-court problems.
It prompted doubt as to whether Southland could push for back-to-back titles. However, Baldwin has gone as far as saying the Sharks have actually got better and pointed the finger at Dawson’s replacement, Tai Wesley, as the key reason for that.
"I think the team that is playing now is actually a tougher team than what they were earlier in the season – and look some of that has to do with Paulie [coach Paul Henare] not being with them in the pre-season. The team was always going to take time to mature,’’ he said.
"Then of course you had the disruptions, but I really believe that Tai Wesley has added a tremendous amount to this team, he works extremely well with Brian [Conklin].
"I think they have lost a little bit in athleticism but I think they’ve gained a lot in terms of efficiency. When they are efficient they are a really tough team to beat."
Baldwin said he was not surprised the Sharks had marched on to the playoffs despite have all of the distractions.
"There was never any doubt in my mind, Paulie is way too much of a competitor and he is a clever guy and a good coach. So there was still a lot of talent in the cupboard, they just needed to make some adjustments, and I think when they got Tai Wesley in they got a piece of the puzzle that made them so much tougher. Because now they score from the inside and the outside from both sides of the floor.
"No disrespect to Gareth [Dawson] but Gareth was not an offensive force and defences were able to calibrate themselves based on the weaknesses in the roster, where now with the starting group they've got they can score from anywhere on the floor."
While Baldwin was happy to heap praise the way of Southland the reality is his team will head into Friday night’s semifinal as favourite.
That is based on the fact they finished the regular season on top of the points standings and beat the Sharks home and away in the process.
Baldwin conceded it has been a special season for his team to date after it missed the playoffs last year.
"It's been an outstanding season, the boys have preformed exceptionally well, this season – the regular season that is – was pretty much everything that we had hoped for. We had a great home run, we were tough on the road, nobody got the better of us in terms of giving us a good beating, we were competitive in every game. But now the playoffs is a new season and the slate is clean."
NBL FINAL FOUR
Semifinal 1: Bay Hawks v Southland, 6pm Friday
Semifinal 2: Nelson v Wellington, 8pm Friday
Final: TBA, 7pm Saturday
* All games are live on Sky Sport 3
The Southland Times