The Wellington Saints are banking on Pero Cameron's coaching nous to unlock Martin Iti's potential after signing the Sydney Kings centre to their 2012 NBL roster.
Iti, Sydney-born with a Kiwi mother, was once hyped as an NBA prospect as scouts sized up his athletic 2.13m frame.
Now 28, Iti was once rated by ESPN as the top high school centre in the United States but he failed to kick on at university and was overlooked in the 2008 NBA draft.
Iti has since spent time in Holland with the Rotterdam Challengers and has played the past two NBL seasons with the Southland Sharks.
He is on the books of the Kings this season but hasn't made an impression in the Australian league, logging less than half an hour of court-time over nine games.
Iti has a tendency to get into foul trouble and averaged four points, six rebounds and a blocked shot last season with the Sharks.
His free throw shooting made even Shaquille O'Neal look good – converting 27 per cent of his attempts last season – although he hit 60 per cent of his shots from the floor.
The two-time defending champion Saints are rebuilding after losing a clutch of their best performers, with Iti joining Troy McLean, Arthur Trousdell and Jordan Mills on the roster.
"It's a start," Saints boss Nick Mills said of capturing Iti.
"We feel strongly we're going to get a lot out of Iti. We're not going to play him as a bit part, we're going to play him as our centre. He's seven foot, you know, so we just need him to stay out of foul trouble.
"I mean the guy went to New Mexico State, he went to the AIS in Australia, you know, you're no mug to do those two things. I'm not sure Southland got the best out of him but we're hoping Pero can."
While the jury is out on Iti, he at least provides a big body given the Saints are without Steve Adams and Kareem Johnson and are resigned to losing Casey Frank to the Auckland Pirates.
"We're thinking strongly that we've missed out on him," Mills said of Frank.
"We've done everything that he's asked us to do and we still haven't heard anything."
Mills is waiting on Frank to make a decision before settling on a second import target.
The Saints had hoped to play an all-American backcourt with Craig Winder and Jason Crowe an exciting prospective pairing.
Winder, formerly of the University of Texas and Adelaide 36ers, is trying to get a look-in with an NBA team as the season approaches but if not is likely to sign with the Saints.
And if Frank defects to the Pirates, the Saints may be forced to sign an import forward to bolster their front court.
Either way, Cameron faces an almighty challenge as the Saints chase an historic three-peat.
- The Dominion Post
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