Rickert wants to be a Tall Black
Breakers import Rick Rickert wants to play for the Tall Blacks, and is ready to jump through whatever hoops it takes for him to make that become a reality.
Rickert, a Minnesota native, is back for a third season with the Auckland-based Australian NBL club after it had initially looked like he wouldn't return. And he arrives ready to make New Zealand a permanent home.
Rickert's return has been a circuitous one. After the club initially pitched most of its remaining salary cap room into landing former Melbourne Tiger Dave Thomas as its premier import, it did not think it would have the funds left to re-sign Rickert.
But the club didn't figure on the drive and desire of the 26-year-old who sees the Breakers, and Auckland , as not so much a hoops stopover, but a permanent home.
So Rickert, after much discussion with wife Cici, indicated he would take the necessary pay-cut to return as a Breaker. The club then jumped at the gift horse, over the moon they were able to secure a player of such quality at essentially a discounted rate.
Rickert, who arrived in New Zealand on Friday, told Sunday News yesterday that he was prepared to suffer a little short-term pain for what he sees as a move all about long-term gain.
"That's the way you have to look at it when you're playing professional basketball," said the centre who averaged a more than useful 13.6 points and 8.1 rebounds last NBL season. "Nobody likes to take a pay-cut but by the same token it's a fantastic opportunity.
"I'm pursuing my citizenship, and it could turn out in the long run to be a very good thing, to not only make more (money) but have the honour of playing for the Tall Blacks."
Rickert says he, wife Cici and their baby daughter Pepper Lou are committed to making their home in New Zealand .
"It's been talked about a lot. More probably than what you think," he said. "My wife and I absolutely love it out here. It doesn't get much better than this, it really doesn't."
And Rickert, who has been close friends with Breakers and Tall Blacks star Kirk Penney since their college days, says playing for his new country now becomes a major goal.
"Oh God, that would be unbelievable," he said. "It would be an honour to play for New Zealand -- great people, great basketball players, and my best friend Kirk Penney he's the big dog, and it would be great to play with him internationally. We've talked about it on numerous occasions, and it would be awesome."
Rickert's move to make New Zealand a permanent home has twin spinoffs. Not only would he then become eligible for the Tall Blacks, but he would also count as a local player with the Breakers.
The big centre says he's still unsure of the detail, but he's hoping the process can be worked through quickly enough for him to be a contender for next year's campaign at the world championships in Turkey .
"If it's possible, we're going to shoot for that," said Rickert. "That's definitely the goal."
He says he's just pleased to be back. "It just kinda fell into place. I had other offers in Europe and from other NBL teams. But my wife and I had a good long conversation about it, we've just had a baby girl, and this is a great environment to raise her. We'll see where it goes from here.
"But as of right now we're thinking long-term with the Breakers. It's a great opportunity, we have a fantastic club, fantastic owners (Paul and Liz Blackwell) and everybody is just on the same page and that's really good for us."
Penney played his part in persuading Rickert to make the sacrifices he needed, but the big American says "he didn't have to twist my arm too much. Ultimately my wife and I made the decision this is where we want to be."
All of which makes Rickert a fairly motivated individual.
"No matter where you go play your basketball, if you don't come in with something to prove then you're not going be very good. So, yeah, I have something to prove, and my team-mates have something to prove.
"There's definitely unfinished business here. We felt we were the best team in the league last year. Now we've got a lot of the guys back and with another year of playing together, I think we could be very good here."
In fact, pay-cut or not, Rickert feels like he's right where he wants to be. "It's going to work out, it's just a matter of how and when," he nods.
The Breakers hope to confirm their replacement import for the injured Thomas over the next week. They're working through a short-list of available players and are confident they'll secure a quality small forward to fill the last piece in their puzzle.