Change direction, bring Bruton to Southland

OLD MATES: Former Breakers and now Melbourne Tigers guard Kevin Braswell, left, and CJ Bruton will face off when the Breakers head to Melbourne on Friday.
OLD MATES: Former Breakers and now Melbourne Tigers guard Kevin Braswell, left, and CJ Bruton will face off when the Breakers head to Melbourne on Friday.

Southland Sharks' American star Kevin Braswell has been a winner his whole career. He speaks candidly to Brendon Egan about the team's difficulties this season and what needs to happen to turn things around for 2013.

Kevin Braswell is prepared to send out a sales pitch to best friend and former Breakers team-mate CJ Bruton and bring him to the Southland Sharks for next season.

Braswell and Bruton played together on the 2010-2011 Breakers' team that won their inaugural Australian National Basketball League title.

The American point guard said he would love to line up in the backcourt alongside Bruton again and was confident he could lure him to the Sharks for 2013 and turn the franchise's fortunes around. Southland have endured a woeful 2012, winning just four of their 15 games, which Braswell described as the low point of his memorable career.

Despite this year's struggles, Braswell was keen to return next season, but only if he was allowed to play the role of recruitment officer, and have a large say in the structures and makeup of the Sharks' team. Braswell is in the process of applying for New Zealand citizenship, and if he gains it, would be able to play in the league as a local, which would allow Southland to sign two import players.

American-born Bruton, who is a naturalised Australian, would count as an import, but would be a valuable acquisition for the Sharks. The 36-year-old was a clutch performer for the championship winning Breakers in last month's grand final series – which deservedly earned him most valuable player honours. He is a proven winner, having won five ANBL titles, and helped the Breakers go from chumps to champions in the space of three years.

Bruton is also a fan-favourite, who would put bums on seats, and be well received in the community. Bruton could come down as a player, or in a player-coach capacity, if the Sharks decided to move in another direction and let foundation coach Richard Dickel go.

Last year, during the Breakers' off-season, Bruton coached professionally for the first time in Puerto Rico, leading his team to the grand final series, which they lost.

He is contracted to the Breakers for the next two seasons, but with the New Zealand NBL expected to tip off in April next year, would be able to play for the Sharks at the completion of the Australian season.

"CJ loves a challenge and going to an organisation and turning it around," Braswell said. "CJ could get guys to come here. If you put me and CJ together, you can now get a lot of other players."

Braswell said he felt indebted to the Sharks' franchise after they provided him with support when he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury while playing for the team last year. Southland also showed faith in Braswell and brought him back for another season this year, when ANBL teams were reluctant to sign up the former Breaker after his injury.

Braswell said the Sharks had the potential to do something special next year, playing in a brand-new stadium, and believed with a little bit of tinkering to the squad, they could quickly transform into a force to be reckoned with. He had outstanding basketball contacts both in New Zealand and overseas and said he could assemble a talented playing cast.

"It could be what the Breakers are experiencing right now with sellout crowds [in Southland] ... I can bring talent down here and help you win a title," Braswell said. "If they bring someone like me here, I can talk to people. I have to have a lot of say in player personnel, though.

"They have to show me they want to go in the right direction, for me to come back here. I want to make sure, everyone here is on the same page. I have to get players, who want to be here, and want to build to success ... If it doesn't change [from what we did this year], I don't want to come back."

Braswell said the Sharks had to start thinking about their squad for next year, as soon as the season was over, and get in quickly and snap up their New Zealand-based players. He believed the Sharks were too slow off the mark during last year's off-season and said they needed to build their team around their key players and the style of basketball they wanted to play.

Southland suffered from a lack of depth and experience on their bench this season, which also desperately needed to change. Braswell said there were classy players sitting on the end of the bench for many of the leading New Zealand NBL teams, and they could gain more playing time with the Sharks.

"We need to be looking for talent early – not waiting to the last minute. Let's start now," he said. "These guys need to know their roles and that's what hurt this team a lot [this season]."

Braswell also said that some of the New Zealand players on the Sharks' roster had to take a good hard look at themselves and take greater accountability for their actions at practice and on court. He argued that American players had to perform otherwise they would be cut, but sometimes the Kiwi players rested on their laurels, because they knew they had a guaranteed contract.

Braswell was careful with his words when quizzed about Dickel's coaching ability. He said it was unfair to solely blame Dickel for the team's woes this season, but admitted there were several areas the coach needed to improve in, to produce better results.

"With Rich, he's going to grow in time as a coach. As a head coach, he's a step away from certain things ... If he gets the part of, `Stop being a friend and just be someone's coach, then he'll understand'. He'll be at the top and go up further.

"Sometimes, it bothers him when guys are upset and as a coach you can't be like that ... His friendliness is what kills him at times."

The Southland Times