Southland Sharks coach Paul Henare wants to go out with a bang
Paul Henare didn't want this to be his final season in Southland, but he's determined to go out strong. Nathan Burdon caught up with the Sharks coach ahead of the season opener on Wednesday night.
It's been a short, but eventful, Sharks tenure for Paul Henare.
He took the Zero Fees-sponsored team to a maiden New Zealand NBL title in 2013 and then managed to sneak into the playoffs last year despite losing three of his best players following a midseason bar brawl in New Plymouth.
Becoming the Tall Blacks' new head coach meant stepping aside from his NBL role, although he will continue as an assistant with the Breakers in the Australian competition.
Henare initially thought he could do all three jobs, but after seeing the programme in place for the buildup to the Rio Olympics, he realised how tough it would be.
Speaking ahead of tonight's season opener against the Manawatu Jets at ILT Stadium Southland, Henare can't wait to see how his Sharks are going to come together.
"I'm very excited. We've got some familiar faces, but also some new faces, a good mix of new and old. We've got a really good balance in the group here, lots of different threats across the floor. I know the guys are chomping at the bit and ready to go," Henare said.
"I've absolutely loved and enjoyed my time here in Southland, Obviously, personally, I want to go out on a high note, but at the same time it's definitely not going to be about me. It's going to be about the team and making sure we are heading in the right direction and putting the work, the hard yards, in."
Missing from last year's team are Reuben Te Rangi, Leon Henry and Brian Conklin, and the return of Tai Wesley and the addition of Todd Blanchfield and AJ Mastrovich will mean a different look to this year's Sharks.
"We are probably more of a perimeter threat than we have been in the past," Henare said.
"The last couple of years we've had a guy like Brian Conklin who is just such a dominating force inside, so that changes things a little bit. With the retention of Tai Wesley, who is a really good inside presence, we've still got a good mix of that as well."
Wesley was impressive for the champion Breakers and has the added bonus that he's not considered an import in the NBL.
Opposition teams hate that. Henare loves it.
"He's going to be great. He had his first training with the team [Monday] night. He had a little bit of time off after the [Breakers] season finished, more to refresh mentally, I think. He looked really hunger at training, really eager and aggressive. He's going to be crucial for us."
If there is a concern, it's that the Sharks could take time to build a rapport, with the full squad only coming together this week.
"It's always a worry for a coach," Henare said.
"From what I saw at the preseason blitz, it was really amazing just to see the chemistry and synergy fall into place really quickly. It's not something that I've experienced in basketball before. On the training floor, since the blitz, as guys have come into town, the synergy has progressed even more. We've still got some progress to make, but I think this team should come together pretty quickly."
The Jets will arrive in Invercargill with a strong lineup headed by former Nelson Giant Brook Ruscoe and former Michigan player and noted shooter Dion Harris.
Brandon Jenkins was a good player for the Jets last season and Nick Horvath and Jeremiah Trueman provided a physical presence, Henare said.
"They've got quite a settled group, guys that have been playing together for a long time and I expect their chemistry to be pretty good."
Southland Sharks v Manawatu Jets, 7pm ILT Stadium Southland
Sharks: Rhys Smolenski, Mitchell Newton, Duane Bailey, Todd Blanchfield, Tai Wesley, Sam Everitt, Jake Paringatai, Kevin Braswell, Andrew Wheeler, Jordan Murphy, Adrian Majstrovich, Shea Ili.
Jets: Brandon Jenkins, Dion Harris, Jordan Ngatai, Jeremiah Trueman, Nick Horvath, Derone Raukawa, Brook Ruscoe, Zeb Nicklin, Sid Adams, Nick Fee.
- The Southland Times