Breakers' future looks very bright indeed
On a night that celebrated one of the great careers in Kiwi hoops, the Breakers also got themselves a tantalising glimpse at the future.
Based on what unfolded at the North Shore Events Centre on Thursday night, it's a future so bright it might be best viewed with sunglasses.
The Breakers' final home game for the 2012-13 Australian NBL season was, of course, all about the 37-year-old Dillon Boucher who was making his NSEC farewell as he wraps up a glorious career.
Boucher has won three ANBL titles and nine in the Kiwi league and is widely acknowledged as one of the great team players to have come out of this country. His team-mates duly obliged with an exhilarating display as they shook off an early ankle injury to Mika Vukona to thump the Melbourne Tigers by 30 (114-84).
It was the Breakers' 16th straight victory in the ANBL, their 13th in a row (out of 14) at home, and advanced their club-best regular season record to 24-3, with just next Friday's visit to Perth remaining.
But what emerged as the game wore on, and Vukona was unable to return, was a serious statement about the future of a club that's now short-priced favourite to achieve just the second threepeat in the league's history.
The leading four scorers were all 25 or under, are all locked in to medium or long-term contracts at the club, were all Kiwis and all came through as development players.
It was no surprise to see the absurdly talented Tom Abercrombie lead the charge with 24 points on nine-of-13 shooting, including a handful of spectacular dunks. That was expected.
But to see his one-time Westlake Boys High team-mate Corey Webster explode for a career-high 23 points and miss just two shots all night, and for big Alex Pledger to also improve his career-high with 22 points and 12 boards was encouraging, to say the least.
Then for current development player Reuben Te Rangi, at just 18, to come in and uncork a display oozing promise and excitement, well that just took it to another level.
Te Rangi, who looks made for this level of the game, had 13 points and three rebounds in just 10 minutes on court. He knocked down all four of his shots with almost contemptuous ease, including all three of his looks from distance.
Webster's younger brother Tai should also be thrown into the mix. Though he's off to Nebraska for the next college season, it would not be a surprise to see him back at the club at some stage, and he finished the game last night on court with the wave of young Kiwi talent.
Later Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis lauded the efforts of his "young kids" as they hardly missed a beat in the absence of Vukona.
"You've heard me talk before about the importance of practising well and how I think practice form translates into game form. Over the last three weeks Reubs has been great at practice, and had good confidence coming into this game," said Lemanis.
"I was going to play him anyway, but as the situation presented it became a necessity and he came out and really contributed."
With Webster, the outburst was a little more anticipated as the formerly troubled Tall Black had hinted at a breakout display coming over recent games.
"Thet boys call him the microwave for the reason he can certainly heat up in a hurry," added Lemanis. "We all know he can put the ball in the basket, and to see his growth has been pleasing.
"When CJ [Bruton] subbed off at the end he said our three top scorers tonight were all development players when I got here. That's a great sign for the club, and our investment in youth and development through the academy programme.
"We're about building and keeping people coming through, and to see that come to fruition tonight is very pleasing."
Lemanis paid tribute to the club's vision for creating a process that recognised the need for talent development, and also understood that results wouldn't come overnight.
"If you do it right you go with young kids, you're building for the good and future of the club, and that's how clubs stay strong. You promote from within and you end up with progression. People get older and move on and you need people coming in and filling the gaps.
"There was a good show of that tonight - the old guys and the young guys."
The Breakers' Kiwi depth was a factor that was acknowledged afterwards by Tigers coach Chris Anstey who called his team's effort "unacceptable".
"They've got players in the New Zealand national team who come in and play roles," said Anstey. "Their guys who don't play a lot of minutes are national team players. The club has done a great job of making sure they develop that talent and fitting them into the NBL team."
Lemanis, meanwhile, was not looking to dwell on speculation he is about to leave the Breakers to take a fulltime role in charge of the Australian national men's programme.
"I got to put my case, that's fine, and that process will take care of itself," he said of his interview with Basketball Australia on Wednesday. "Whatever happens, happens, but I don't want it to be a distraction.
"I'm really not going to talk about it very much. That's going on, but I'm 100 percent focused on this Breakers team and trying to win another championship."
- © Fairfax NZ News