West Auckland team makes return to the NBL
The Waitakere Rangers are back in the National Basketball League (NBL) after an 19-year absence.
The Super City Rangers (as they will be known) will once again fly the flag for New Zealand's most populous city when they open the new NBL season this weekend with a road double-header at the Southland Sharks (Friday night) and Otago Nuggets (Saturday).
The Rangers, by their own admission, are unlikely to be contenders for the title this season with a squad short on experience and quality, but they firmly believe they fill two key requirements in their first NBL season since the 1994 season.
For starters, without them Auckland - home of the Breakers and most prodigious producer of this country's hoops talent - wouldn't have a team, after both the Auckland Pirates and Harbour Heat folded.
Plus, the Rangers are adopting a local youth policy that they firmly believe will have positive spinoffs for the New Zealand game, even if it may mean they struggle for wins in their return to NBL action.
"Our motto is developing local talent to win," said Super City Rangers chairman Wayne Robertson.
"We've had a very successful age-group programme over the last few years and this now becomes the next step in that pathway."
The Rangers are operating on a limited budget and their recruiting has been minimal.
Their sole import is point guard Carl Buck, who lives in New Zealand, is married to a Kiwi and is chasing citizenship.
The young American trained with the Breakers all season, and it will be interesting to see if that experience translates into something positive for the Aik Ho-coached West Aucklanders.
But the Rangers are a little short on NBL nous. Their two most experienced players are former Pirates Houston O'Riley and Duane Bailey who will be looking to make the most of the minutes coming their way.
Both are handy players at this level, but will be relied upon to carry a big swag of the scoring load.
What they do have is some extremely promising young talent in the form of Rosmini College standouts Tohi Milner-Smith and Steven Robertson, Westlake Boys star Jack Salt and Junior Tall Black Mark Kelly.
All should benefit hugely from sustained exposure to the NBL game.
Robertson said the Rangers, who had been playing in the regional second division leagues, only got the nod for their reintroduction to the NBL just before Christmas.
That resulted in a hectic holiday season for those involved in West Auckland hoops.
"We missed out on a few players we'd liked to have approached who had already made commitments to other teams, but we're hopeful we've managed to put together a squad who can be competitive out there."
It shapes as a challenging opening weekend for the returning NBL originals.
They'll face Paul Henare's Sharks in Invercargill tomorrow night (7pm tipoff) and should find the likes of former Breaker Kevin Braswell, current development players Morgan Natanahira and Reuben Te Rangi and Sydney King Luke Martin more than a handful.
It won't get any easier the next night when they head up SH1 to Dunedin and face a Nuggets side boasting Tall Blacks Mark Dickel, BJ Anthony, Brendon Polyblank and Hayden Allen, as well as two quality imports in Antoine Tisby and Akeem Wright.
But at this stage, the Rangers are just happy to be back in the big league. They'll start worrying about results a bit later.