Southland Sharks basketball fans have been waiting patiently for a big signing and yesterday they got one in the form of a 213cm centre, who was on the verge of playing in the NBA two years ago.
Sharks coach Richard Dickel revealed to The Southland Times yesterday that the franchise had pulled off a massive coup by signing former New Mexico State University big man Martin Iti – who will count as a local and is eligible for the Tall Blacks by virtue of having a New Zealand passport.
Iti was born in Sydney to a Kiwi mother and has spent much of his life playing basketball at high school and collegiate level in the United States.
The 26-year-old will arrive in Invercargill early next week with impressive credentials, having played NCAA tournament basketball with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and New Mexico State. In his senior year of high school at Mt Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina, ESPN rated Iti as the top high school centre in America and the No8 recruit in the nation.
Dickel described Iti's addition as a landmark signing for the Sharks.
"He's six-foot-10 with the wingspan of someone seven-foot-four. He's a great shot blocker and is very good round the basket – especially at dunking ... He's going to be a very solid player and has the potential (to play for the Tall Blacks). He'll surprise a lot of people in New Zealand. A few people will be kicking themselves."
Iti has spent the past season playing for the Rotterdam Challengers in the Netherlands and Dickel said he was determined to have a strong season in the league and crack the Tall Blacks squad to go to the world championships in Turkey in late August.
"The Tall Blacks was a huge carrot in front of him. He wants to play in Europe in the future and go to the world championships, if he's in contention."
Iti is eager to resurrect his basketball career with the Sharks after foregoing his final year at college for the NBA draft and not being picked up two years ago.
"He got some bad advice and left college too early," Dickel said.
"He comes from an area that is not too well off in Sydney and someone said he could earn a million dollars (in the NBA), which wasn't the greatest advice. That's what happens. He got lost in the system and got a bit disheartened."
With Iti and Luke Martin both qualifying as locals through their Kiwi parentage, the Sharks can still sign two import players, who Dickel hopes to have confirmed by early next week.
He believed the Sharks would now have one of the most formidable front lines in the NBL with Iti, Gareth Dawson and James Paringatai and a yet-to-be-confirmed American player.
"We're going to be quite big. We'll be one of the bigger teams in the league," Dickel said.
The Sharks' other import spot will be filled by a shooting guard, who can also play the point guard position, Dickel said.
Southland will take to the court for the first time at a pre-season tournament in Christchurch next weekend against fellow South Island sides the Otago Nuggets, Nelson Giants and Christchurch Cougars. They tip off the NBL season officially against the Hawke's Bay Hawks at Stadium Southland on March 6.
MARTIN ITI FACTFILE
Born: February 28, 1983 in Sydney, Australia Height: 213 cm Weight: 110kg 1998: Moves to United States to attend Denver East High in Colorado 2002: In final year of high school at Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina ranked top high school centre in United States 2003-05: Attends University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Is a conference USA all-freshmen team selection in first year at college. 2006: Switches to New Mexico State University 2008: Foregoes senior year at New Mexico State to enter NBA draft and is not selected in draft. 2008-09: Plays for Rotterdam Challengers in Dutch Eredivisie 2010: Signs with Southland Sharks New Zealand NBL side
- The Southland Times