Changed mindset has Breakers road winners
It's all in the mind, say the Breakers of their remarkable transformation from Australian NBL roadkill to undisputed kings of the road.
It's easy to take for granted the New Zealand club's prowess away from home, for over the last four seasons they have compiled the best travelling record in the league.
Since the beginning of the 2009-10 campaign, the Breakers have a road record of 31-20, which shades even the impressive mark of 27-25 compiled by the Perth Wildcats over the same period.
As the NBL celebrates heritage round, with throwback jerseys and the honouring of stars of yesteryear, it's important to remember that in their early days in this league the Breakers struggled horrendously. In their debut 2003-04 campaign they went 4-12 on the road, the next two seasons they were 3-13, while in 2006-07 they plumbed new depths with an horrendous 2-15 mark. It wasn't until 2008-09 - the arrival of C J Bruton - they finally compiled a winning record (8-7). They have not looked back since.
This season the Breakers are again running at a league-best 7-2 away from home (14-3 overall), one better than the Cats who are 7-3 on the road.
They will look to improve that mark today when they run out against the 36ers in Adelaide looking to win their 11th straight game against the South Australian club, and their fifth on the bounce on the road.
They will do so with confidence, because they now have a burning belief that they are just as capable of winning across the ditch as they are at their home strongholds of the NSEC and Vector Arena.
Coach Andrej Lemanis has overseen this remarkable transformation and has no doubt where the seeds were sown.
"It started with recruiting winners," reflected Lemanis after his team eked out a 72-71 Thursday night home victory over the Wollongong Hawks. "People like Tony Ronaldson, C J Bruton and Dillon Boucher, who experienced winning in another programme.
"When I got to this club the feel was it's so hard to win on the road it's almost a miracle when you do it, so it's OK to lose. The mindset changed when we started recruiting people used to winning.
"They came in and said if you want to win it doesn't matter where you play, it doesn't matter how hard it is, we need to go out and expect to win. This club has had a complete mindset change.
"We take pride in being the best road team, and when we go on the road we expect to win. We don't care if we fly in a half-hour before the game, we expect to go out and play well."
It says a lot that the two best road teams in this league are the two teams who have the longest travel to undertake. Said Boucher: "If you're telling yourselves it's going to be tough then that's what it will be. We've just changed the mindset so we expect to win every single game, no matter where it may be. It's who we are. We're confident, some would say to the point of cocky. But we believe we're better than every other team in this league and we go out and play like it."
Star small forward Tom Abercrombie knows no other mindset, having started at the club when Ronaldson and Bruton bedded in the hard-nosed approach.
"Playing away from home just gives you that extra challenge and extra motivation," he says.
"I enjoy going into someone else's building and beating them on their home court. You take a great satisfaction from being able to shut the crowd up."
The Breakers may need every ounce of their road prowess today, after looking decidedly jaded on Thursday night. After playing four straight road games over the festive season and now charged with back-to-back home-away doubles, they are going to have to dig deep to overcome a desperate Adelaide side playing for their playoff lives.
The Sixers coughed up a 21-point halftime lead and collapsed to a 71-66 defeat when these sides last met in Adelaide just a few weeks ago. This won't be easy for the Breakers. Bodies are hurting. People are tired. It's when the mind has to be strong.
Sunday Star Times