Two NBL veterans heading in opposite directions
One player is on his way out, another is on his way back.
Tonight's National Basketball League season opener between the Taranaki Mountain Airs and the Wellington Saints in New Plymouth celebrates the careers of two players.
It will be the last chance for Taranaki fans to see Breakers player Dillon Boucher on court and a chance to welcome back veteran Willie Banks after an eight-year absence.
Boucher, who went to Spotswood College, has had an incredible career in basketball.
The 37-year-old, who played his last game for the Breakers in the title win over the Perth Wildcats last week, can reflect on a career that's netted four Australian NBL championships and nine NBL titles.
Not bad for a player who doesn't often grab the headlines.
Former NBL coach Steve McKean knows both players well.
"Dillon's a special player, he's one of my favourites," McKean said. "He's been playing since 1993. He's won nine New Zealand titles and going for a 10th. He knows all the tricks in the book. He sets the best screen of anyone, he's a good passer of the ball and if there's a loose ball on court, he's going to get it."
Banks was in McKean's Taranaki team in 1993.
"He was the best player in the league that year. Even though he's 42 now, if they can get him some shots, he can still shoot the ball as well as anyone in the country," McKean said.
"But it's getting from A to B . . . his foot speed isn't there. In saying that, his experience will be useful."
McKean said it promised to be a special night, with a presentation from Sport Taranaki being made to Boucher before the match.
"They're two guys who have given a lot to New Zealand basketball. Dillon and Willie are special players."
If Banks does make it on court tonight, he's sure to get a warm welcome.
It's 20 years since he first played for Taranaki, being a member of the side that played the first national league game in the stadium back in 1993.
"I'm just happy to be part of the team and help out where I can," Banks said this week. "If I'm not mistaken, we played Palmerston North in that match and we lost. It's a few years ago now."
Mountain Airs coach David Bublitz expects a tough battle tonight.
"It's always difficult against the Saints. Last year, we managed a split with them [one win each]. But that was the first time for a while," he said.
"Getting them early is good for us, but from one to eight, they're very deep. They've got a lot of experience with players like Lindsay Tait, Arthur Trousdell, Casey Frank and Dillon Boucher . . . plus a couple of Americans. It's a daunting lineup."
Taranaki fans will get their first look at new import Kenny Gabriel tonight.
The 6ft 8in forward will give the Mountain Airs some much needed height in the circle.
From all reports, he's also very athletic and can find the basket from deep.
He and fellow import Jack Leasure will need to be on the mark if Taranaki is to have any chance of stopping the Saints.
AT A GLANCE
Taranaki Mountain Airs v Wellington Saints 7pm tipoff TSB Stadium, New Plymouth
Taranaki Daily News