New Breakers coach undaunted by top role

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Dean Vickerman, above, has taken over from Andrej Lemanis at the Breakers.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Dean Vickerman, above, has taken over from Andrej Lemanis at the Breakers.

Dean Vickerman is pledging to do things his way as he launches a new era at New Zealand's most successful sporting franchise.

Vickerman yesterday signed a three-year deal to succeed Andrej Lemanis as head coach at the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian National Basketball League. It's his first appointment at this level after six years as Lemanis' assistant and he takes over the club as it guns for an unprecedented fourth straight championship.

Vickerman also yesterday confirmed that foundation Breaker and current Southland Sharks head coach Paul Henare was his preferred assistant, while the club was also hoping to lure back the highly rated Ross McMains who's currently working with the Sacramento Kings in the NBA. Though on the surface it's a daunting prospect for the 41-year-old Australian, stepping into the sizeable high-tops of Lemanis who built the Breakers into Australasia's pre-eminent club and has just been named Boomers head coach, Vickerman says he's more excited than daunted.

"I'm going to be me," he told the Sunday Star-Times yesterday ahead of the club's annual awards night. "I'm pretty comfortable with who I am. I'm different to Andrej but I'll take a lot of the great qualities he's put into this programme as well.

"It doesn't daunt me at all. I walked into the Waikato position in different circumstances where Murray McMahon had died and just won a championship, and we went on to win a championship the next year as well with a talented roster."

Vickerman had the backing of every man and his dog around the North Shore-based club, with Lemanis anointing his long-time No 2 as the obvious candidate to take over the reins.

"He's a fantastic coach, he works hard, and his understanding of the Xs and Os is excellent," said Lemanis.

"The players all respect him, he understands the Breakers culture, and he will bring his own unique passion, energy and enthusiasm to the job." Vickerman said he was in an ideal position as he fulfilled a long-held dream to be a head coach of a title contender in the Australian NBL.

"The group we have right now is fantastic, and they've got an unbelievable goal in front of them to try do something that's never been done before.

"Along the way the Breakers have continued to find those challenges to work towards, and I know C J [Bruton] is motivated already to say if I'm leaving this league I'm leaving the same way as Dillon [Boucher] and Pauli. There's huge motivation within the group to try for something really special." The likeable Aussie has certainly served his time in the coaching ranks, havinge been an assistant with the Melbourne Tigers (2004-06), Singapore Slingers (06-07) and then Breakers, as well as serving as head coach with the Wellington Saints and Waikato Pistons in the Kiwi NBL.

He's also no Lemanis when it comes to his coaching style.

"He's from an accounting background, and my parents were dairy farmers and teachers," says Vickerman. "I really believe in work ethic, and in trying to educate players in a range of different areas to be the best they can be.

"There's an unbelievable competitive nature in me that certainly comes out on the practice court. I'm very inclusive, and I feel the last guy on the roster to the top guy deserve equal attention to make them better." Clearly there's an established Breakers "way", but Vickerman says he'll put his own spin on practice to bring some freshness to proceedings. He's particularly passionate about skill development and says that will be his major emphasis.

But he acknowledges there are some major shifts he has to get his head around as he takes on the more holistic requirements of head coach.

He says he won't hesitate to continue to pick the brains of Lemanis to that end, even when he severs ties with the club.

Vickerman is lucky too in that he inherits a pretty settled ground. There are three, maybe four spots to fill. Two of those will be imports, and in a perfect world both Cedric Jackson and Will Hudson will be retained. Reuben Te Rangi is also likely to be promoted to a full roster spot.

"The part we lack right now is a little bit of leadership with this group. When you lose a Boucher and C J has only one more year, we've got to educate and develop the next wave of leaders."

Vickerman has spoken to Henare about becoming an assistant and though no deal has been signed, all parties are clearly on the same page with their intent. "We may have another assistant coach as well," Vickerman said.

Sunday News