Boucher's body says it's time to call it quits

TIME TO GO: Dillon Boucher is at peace with his decision to retire at the end of this NBL season.
TIME TO GO: Dillon Boucher is at peace with his decision to retire at the end of this NBL season.

At 37 and with a body that's constantly reminding him of that number, Dillon Boucher is at peace with his decision to make this his final season in the Australian NBL.

There will be no dramatic change of heart. No going back. This is it for the square-jawed, ageless New Zealand Breaker, even though he still turns back the clock on a regular enough basis to have admirers drooling over his unique package of skills.

The fact that he can still perform at a high level, make plays that take the breath away, merely reinforces a decision that he knows in his heart is the right one.

"I'm very comfortable where I'm at as far as retirement goes," Boucher tells Sunday News ahead of a rare weekend off for the 20-3 league-leading Breakers. "I've accepted it, and I'm at ease with it, but at the same time I've still got some unfinished business.

"You can second guess yourself, and wonder ‘have I got more years left in the body'. But I felt if I was to continue on I would be letting myself and the team down, so this is the right year to do it."

Boucher, a nine-time Kiwi National Basketball League champion and three-time winner of the Australian crown, still combines that incredible vision, wonderful instincts and indomitable will into a package that makes him one of the most influential figures in this league. Even without a jump shot to speak of.

In fact many dread to think how the Breakers are going to fill the void he leaves. How do you replace the irreplaceable?

For the record, Boucher loves that people see him as a sort of hooping Benjamin Button, but he wants to make one thing clear: This is not as easy as it looks.

"I've always wanted to do things on my own terms, and this is me wanting to finish my career where I feel like I'm still making a good contribution.

"But it is so much harder now. I fatigue quicker. I've always prided myself on my fitness, and I've always been able to bring energy, but the energy dies quicker than it used to.

"The speed is a major now that lets me down. I've prided myself on my D my whole career and when guys are going round you more often than not it's frustrating, and you have to change the way you play.

"I feel like I can still contribute and that's how I want to go out - being remembered as a guy who was still able to contribute, not a guy who the fans are going to wish had retired last year."

Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis says Boucher's influence spreads well beyond the court where he's a valuable member of the bench squad.

"What he does in the locker room is amazing and his ability just to help the team in different ways and his understanding when to talk to players and when to rev someone up and how to help players be better.

"It's that Bill Russell quote I've spoken about before. A player should not be measured by his statistics, he should be measured by his ability to connect with other players and help them win.

"If you're measuring Dillon on that scale he's one of the best."

Of course the emotions are going to kick in at some stage for a fellow who has been part of a golden generation for his sport. He's been a winner wherever he's played, and it's fitting he bows out contending for one last championship.

"The last regular season game the emotions will start kicking in," he says, "and throughout the playoffs any game that's do-or-die, the emotions will be high. I want to try and control them as much as I can."

Boucher reckons he's got the "Gipper" speech tucked away in his back pocket, but will only use it if he really has to.

"If it comes to game three of the finals I'll bring it out," he says. "But I want these guys to win a championship for themselves, not for me. If we win it will be a collective team effort and I'll be just as happy."

He says he doesn't need a title to bow out a contented man, but it sure will help round out a wonderful career. On that score, he reckons the Breakers are about as on track as they possibly could be.

"Right now we're as good as we've ever been," he says. "This team is finding ways to win basketball games, and that's exciting knowing no matter who we come up against we've been able to find the formula to beat them.

"We're not getting ahead of ourselves. We just want to continue this winning streak. If we finish the regular season well, it will be very disappointing to have such a great season and not finish it off."

Next Saturday in Auckland a hundred or so of Boucher's closest team-mates and associates will gather for a tribute evening in his honour. Typically, he reckons it's an event as much about those people, as it will be about the guest of honour.

"It's a lot of people who have been a big influence on my career and a lot of guys I have been to war with. I've got a lot to thank them for."

Sunday News