Casey Frank tips Saints to make NBL grand final
Not many know the National Basketball League like Casey Frank.
The 36-year-old power forward has been annoying opponents since 2002, when the American arrived in New Zealand to take up a contract with the now defunct Auckland Stars.
Now a Tall Blacks stalwart, four-time NBL champion Frank missed out on the Final Four this season while playing for the Waikato Pistons.
But he will be courtside at Wellington's TSB Bank Arena this weekend, as a Sky Television commentator, alongside Andrew Mulligan and Dennis Katsanos.
So, with a gun to his head, who does Frank like to progress to tomorrow's grand final?
"If I was in that unfortunate circumstance I think I'd probably go with the [Wellington] Saints and Southland [Sharks]," Frank said.
"Southland have done a great job of getting through the adversity that they had [three players were stood down following a bar brawl and another after a failed drugs test]. They also found some key contributors from the unfortunate stuff that happened with them. They really got through it well.
"Wellington, for me, has been the most talented team all season long but they just haven't been able to put it all together on both ends of the court for too many games, especially in the middle of the season. But with that home court advantage they're going to be tough to beat."
Following a franchise-best 15-3 regular season, Hawke's Bay start title favourites with the bookmakers.
"But I think other teams might just have a little bit more talent than them," Frank said.
"And Nelson [Giants], maybe I'm a little biased because they're the only team in the top-four we were able to beat. So I look at it like 'jeez, if we were able to beat them twice then maybe the other teams are going to be able to take care of them'. But they're tough, they play physical basketball."
Adding an extra edge to proceedings is the looming World Cup, to be held in Spain in August-September.
Frank is one of 24 hopefuls that will attend Tall Blacks trials in Auckland next week, with 10 getting the chance to strut their stuff in front of coach Nenad Vucinic this weekend.
The Saints lead the way with five triallists (Lindsay Tait, Corey Webster, BJ Anthony, Jordan Ngatai and schoolboy Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa), while the Giants have three (Mika Vukona, Josh Bloxham and Finn Delany) and the Hawks two (Jarrod Kenny and Everard Bartlett).
Southland's suspended trio of Reuben Te Rangi, Leon Henry and Shea Ili were not considered for selection as they await sentencing for assault charges.
"Most definitely, at the back of all the Tall Blacks' minds it's [World Cup] going to be sitting there," Frank said.
"On top of that is the fact that if you make the Tall Blacks you get bragging rights for about two months when we travel around the world."
AT A GLANCE
Semifinal one: Hawke's Bay v Southland Sharks, 6pm tonight
TAB odds: Hawke's Bay $1.40, Southland $2.80
Semifinal two: Wellington Saints v Nelson Giants, 8.30pm tonight
TAB odds: Wellington $1.60, Nelson $2.25
Final: 7pm tomorrow
Venue: TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
TV: All games live on Sky Sport 3
The Dominion Post