Otago Nuggets have big aspirations - coach
When Alf Arlidge took over coaching the Otago Nuggets basketball team in 2009, the first order of business was to finally win a game and snap a losing streak spanning several years.
After racking up that elusive win, the next task in Arlidge's three-year plan was to try and turn the perennial easybeats in to play-off contenders. A vital piece of that puzzle was the return home of star point guard Mark Dickel, who joined the Nuggets programme in 2012.
However, fate intervened. The man intended to offer veteran leadership succumbed early to injury, and while six wins was a respectable return, the playoffs were tantalisingly close. Hence, Arlidge's three-year plan has become a four-year plan, and he and Dickel are back for more.
''I always said it was a three-year gig, but with Mark being injured halfway through last season I think we both feel like we've got unfinished business,'' Arlidge said.
''We sat down after the season and talked about the impact his going down had, and we just felt we had to roll the dice again and have another go.
''Mark is a big part of the franchise, on and off the court [Dickel is Basketball Otago's development director]. We will manage him a lot better than last year, and he will have lighter training earlier in the week and be used more as a coach than a player. He won't train as hard as the young guys because we need to preserve those old legs.''
Retaining regular import Antoine Tisby was a major get for the Nuggets, and hopes are high that last year's other import Akeem Wright will also return. Breakers player B J Anthony - recruited last year but another player hit by injury - is back on the roster, and veteran Tall Black Brendon Polyblank is an interesting new hire.
''Brendon has moved his family down here. I know he is really keen to stay, which would be good for our development side and for the Nuggets,'' Arlidge said.
''The professionalism he brings from his time in Europe is invaluable and the younger guys in the squad are enjoying having him around a lot. Mark is very passionate, very full-on, whereas Brendon is laid back and picks his words well.
''B J just arrived and I think he will bring us a lot of energy. He is a very likeable kid, and I'm really looking forward to coaching him. If we can keep everyone fit and on the court, hopefully we should do pretty well.''
Arlidge is reluctant to outline his expectations, but doesn't need to be pressed too much to acknowledge post-season basketball - something Otago basketball has not seen for a long, long time - is the aim.
''We really want to make a run at the playoffs. If I was to come in and not say I wanted to for that I would be lying.
''Mark and I sat down at the end of last season, said this is what we want to do, how are we going to go about it?
''That is why we have recruited the people we have.
''In years gone past we have had maybe 3, 4, 5 players. Now we have 8-10 kids we know can play in this league, our local kids have gotten really, really good. They can be starters, or they can produce off the bench.
''The Breakers have got it right. The guys who start have got the pedal down, and the guys who come off the bench press the pedal down even harder. That's our goal.''
If the Nuggets can come anywhere close to what the three-time ANBL champion Breakers have achieved, it should be some season ahead.
- D Scene