Breakers bank on unity
Star attacking power has been replaced by team unity and a focus on defence as the New Zealand Breakers and their embattled coach Andrej Lemanis look to put past failures behind them.
Last season the Breakers promised much, but delivered little on the back of headline grabbing American imports Carlos Powell and Brian Wethers.
The previous year it was the Jordan-esque Mike Chappell, who scored plenty, but ultimately proved a one-man band in Lemanis' first year in charge.
This year Lemanis has turned to hard working former NBA players Rick Rickert and Wayne Turner, veteran Australian Tony Ronaldson, and Kiwi shooter Kirk Penney to turn the club's fortunes around.
"We've managed to put together a group that has team as their No 1 focus," Lemanis said yesterday. "They are prepared to sacrifice individual good for the good of the group and they play for each other, which is an important part of the chemistry of the group."
Lemanis said Rickert, Turner and Ronaldson had been recruited, not just for the numbers they were capable of posting, but for the character they would add to the club.
"We've brought in some skilled players who are very good in their positions, but who can help us in various ways.
"That's a result of a couple of years of hard work establishing a culture and not relenting on those values.
"I'm holding true to them and have recruited to those values."
Indeed, Lemanis' quartet of recruits has experience written all over them.
Rickert, 23, will be the closest thing to a star on the Breakers roster. He is a 2.1m centre who has played for the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves and will need to provide the spark under the basket.
Turner is 31, a 1.88m point guard whose CV includes a season with the Boston Celtics, and also a firearms possession charge that suspended his Australian NBL career after one season with the Townsville Crocodiles in 2002-03.
"Rick's not the sort of guy who has to have 30 points a game to feel good about life," Lemanis said.
"He just wants to contribute in a winning environment and Wayne's pretty much the same ... he can push the ball, pass into the gaps and defensively put some heat on the ball."
Ronaldson, 35, is a 2.03m Australian legend, a current Boomer who has won more NBL games than anyone else and who the Breakers hope will become their talisman.
Similarly, Penney will be a leader once he recovers from the injury that has kept him out of the pre-season and will see him sideline for tonight's season opener against the Cairns Taipans on the North Shore.
Sounds promising. Have the Breakers learned from past mistakes?
"I don't want to talk about the past too much.
"I'm happy to talk about this group, and the pre-season suggests we are going to have multiple scorers and we are going to share the ball," Lemanis said.
"I think that's a fun way to play and it's also a harder style to defend when they can't just lock in on one guy."
Two wins against the South Dragons suggested Lemanis' plan was on track, but three consecutive losses to expansion team the Pero Cameron led Gold Coast Blaze, the Sydney Kings and the defending champion Brisbane Bullets have left a question mark over the pre-season.
Lemanis said pre-season results were largely irrelevant and was quick to seize on the positives.
"The strength of this group is team chemistry and the way they have bought in to the defensive structure. On that pre-season trip we held three teams under 100 and the fourth hit a three on the buzzer to hit 100.
"If you can hold teams below that 100 mark you will give yourself the opportunity to win regardless of whether you have a good offensive night or not. This team has set itself as defence being a non-negotiable and that's a good place to start from."
The Breakers would be advised to start well.
They play four consecutive games on their home court to start the season before embarking on the road trips that have regularly been their undoing over the past four years.
"We've spoken about it and I think we just need a shift in mindset. The travel is what it is and we have to accept that. There's no point bitching and moaning about it," Lemanis said adding the Breakers would trial some new methods of recovery and sleep patterns in a bid to combat the travel factor.
"In the past because everybody's made such a big deal about it there's been an acceptance that if we are on the road we can just play all right and if you lose it's no big deal. All it requires is a mind shift. We plan to win whether its on the road or at home."
Squad: Paul Henare, Paora Winitana, Kirk Penney, Brent Charleton, Tony Ronaldson, Tim Behrendorff, Mika Vukona, Oscar Forman, Chris Daniel, Phill Jones, Ryan Kersten, Mike Townsend.
Imports: Wayne Turner, Rick Rickert.
Coaches: Andrej Lemanis and John Dorge.
Tale of woe: 2003/04: 10th - 12 wins, 21 losses. 2004/05: 11th - 9 wins, 23 losses. 2005/06: 9th - 9 wins, 23 losses. 2006/07: 10th - 11 wins, 22 losses.
The Dominion Post