Wesley arrival gives Breakers food for thought
Breakers coach Dean Vickeman has some thinking to do after yesterday's confirmation the three-time Australian NBL champions had signed prized Guam international Tai Wesley.
Wesley's addition for the 2014-15 season is a coup on several fronts: the former 2.01m Utah State standout will provide, with Mika Vukona, a one-two punch at power forward as good as anything in the league; he's classified a local under new Fiba Oceania regulations; and he's a known quantity, after a tidy debut season in the New Zealand NBL as a late callup for the Southland Sharks.
The signing, which immediately had pundits installing Wesley as favourite for ANBL rookie of the year, also significantly alters the balance of the Breakers. Along with the 2.15m Alex Pledger and the 1.98m Vukona, he makes up a frontline which should - Pledger's fitness permitting - cover most options.
Vickerman must now weigh whether to go with another big as his second import - instead use the spot on a shooting guard where the team has a significant need - or to go with just one restricted player, in former league MVP Cedric Jackson.
Former Breakers big Gary Wilkinson, who helped broker the deal, yesterday said from Utah his former college teammate could force a rethink over the remaining two roster spots.
"I think Tai with his calibre of play as a local is better than any quality of import you're going to bring in," said Wilkinson who was yesterday playing golf with Wesley. "Deano is going to play who he needs to make the team win, bottom line, but I think he's got who he needs to get."
For the record, Wilkinson is heading to law school and taking time out from his own hoops career.
Wesley said Wilkinson had encouraged him strongly to take up the offer from the Breakers, as he had the chance to fill in for Paul Henare's Sharks when they lost three players to suspension early in this year's Kiwi NBL.
With Henare, a Breakers assistant coach, suitably impressed, it did not take long for the Breakers to be knocking at his door. Especially, given he qualifies as an unrestricted player (he has a Fijian father and American mother, but lived in Guam for six years as a youngster).
Wesley impressed with the Sharks, where he averaged 16 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, as an agile and physical post player.
"They're going to get a physical presence inside, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes for the team," Wesley said when asked what he hoped to bring. "If my job is to set screens and rebound I can do that, but if I get the ball inside with a guy on my back something good is going to happen."
Wesley, like Wilkinson, attended Utah State after undertaking his two-year Momon mission, and is a late starter to pro hoops. His previous experience had been in the Dutch national league.
Wilkinson gave his good friend an unreserved recommendation: "He's one of the smartest players I've ever played with. He can pass the ball and score on the block, and he makes his team-mates better which is huge."
The Idaho-based Wesley feels like he knows his new team inside-out, between his experiences with the Sharks and his conversations with Wilkinson, and can't wait to join them on September 1.
It also turns out he has an uncle and some cousins who live in Auckland. Small world, huh?