Champion basketball team lit up Southland

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 31/12/2013
Sharks

YOU GOOD THINGS! Fans welcome the newly crowned Sharks home at Invercargill Airport.

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OPINION: Late December 2009 and Waikato Pistons boss John Davey lit the wick.

Southland for the first time had put their hand up to enter New Zealand National Basketball League and the NBL board had a agreed to let them compete in the competition.

Davey however wasn't impressed suggesting it was a disaster in the making questioning whether a basketball team in Southland would work.

"Who'd want to move there in the middle of winter? They're going to struggle to attract top quality New Zealand players," Davey said about Southland's entry in the league.

"We had blowouts this year - it's going to be worse next year," he added.

It was the fuel to the fire Southland basketball needed. Tell a Southlander he or she can't do something and there is a flash of steely resolve wash over them, this has been the case when it comes to the Southland Sharks.

Just under four years on from those comments from Davey and this year the Southland Sharks completed the transformation from competition newbies to New Zealand champions.

When Sharks captain James Parangitai walked through the doors of the Invercargill Airport in July with the NBL trophy in his hand that for me was the Southland sporting moment for the past 12 months.

The determined group returned to Invercargill from Napier following a fairytale couple of wins at the 2013 NBL finals.

The first a victory was over a star-studded Wellington Saints outfit in the semifinals before the next day toppling well-respected basketball franchise the Nelson Giants in the competition decider.

It was the feel good story and chest-puffing moment for all Southlanders to soak up whether they were basketball fans or not.

It was our chance to show the rest of the country that despite being at the bottom of the country and small on numbers we too can make a mark on the national stage.

To suggest a few years back that one day in the not too distance future the Invercargill Airport would be full to the brim of people welcoming home a champion basketball team it would have been described as far fetched.

Most in Southland would have never watched a game of basketball live a few years back but in double quick time the province has embraced the sport and been rewarded by having a team of champions on their doorstep.

Not just a team of champions on the court but off it as well.

The NBL title was the result of a lot of hard work and a lot of good decisions from a host of people, not just those playing in Napier during the finals series.

Jill Bolger is at the top of the list of those people as the driving force to get the Sharks NBL team off the ground and the community-funders foresight to back the venture must also be commended.

Original Sharks coach Richard Dickel was another key figure in getting the Sharks NBL team going but it was the master-stroke of the appointment of new coach Paul Henare which took this organisation to a new level this year.

Henare recruited well and pulled on all of the right strings to get the results in 2013.

His calculated blow-ups at his players involving some curse words live on television during the final series will be scenes many Southland sporting followers will remember for sometime.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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