Eight seasons in, where are the Southland Sharks' homegrown starters?

Sixteen-year-old Tom Cowie training with the Southland Sharks National Basketball League team.
Robyn Edie

Sixteen-year-old Tom Cowie training with the Southland Sharks National Basketball League team.

The Southland Sharks are in their eighth season in the National Basketball League and are still yet to unearth a regular home grown starter in the team. Logan Savory takes a look at what the challenges are and just which young Southlander could fill that job. 

The hope remains for a Southland lad to one day play big minutes regularly for the Sharks on court - Southland Sharks general manager Jill Bolger is quick to acknowledge that.

But Bolger also stresses though that goal is easier said than.

Southland Sharks players James Hunter and Alex Pledger help teach Southland kids some basketball skills at the Southland ...
Kavinda Herath

Southland Sharks players James Hunter and Alex Pledger help teach Southland kids some basketball skills at the Southland Shooters Holiday Basketball Programme.

The spots open to New Zealand basketballers throughout the seven-team league are limited to just over 50 players when you take out the imports and those who are eligible through the Oceania rule.

It is a tough league to crack for any Kiwi player.

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While Bolger said they would continue to try to provide Southland basketballers opportunities where they could, there were challenges in front of them in making it happen.

"Andrew Wheeler has had a couple of starts this year and he's been an integral part of our team within the group. His input is fabulous," Bolger said.

"The answer would be yes, [we want more Southlanders playing regularly]. In reality, that is harder than it sounds.

"Our players haven't necessarily been talented enough and had that edge to be NBL starters up until now.

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"There is also a community and stakeholder expectation that they don't want us dwelling at the bottom of the league, they want us to win.

"In order to do that you've got to get a team together that can put on a good show.

"It is a bit chicken and egg - we've got to do well to get the funding and we've got to have the funding to do well."

Bolger felt there had been some encouraging work done in regards to the development area in recent years.

"Kevin Braswell did a lot of good work with our youth and now Dan [Peck] has picked it up and is also doing some great things as well.

"We've got some excellent coaches come forward in our representative programme, so we are trying to develop our coaches so that our players are going to get to that [NBL] standard."

The obvious standout, in regard becoming the Sharks' first Southland-born and bred regular starter one day, is Tom Cowie.

At 16 the James Hargest College pupil has big wraps and is regarded one on New Zealand basketballer's rising stars.

Cowie is already part of Sharks roster and has impressed coach Judd Flavell during his time training with the team.

"Obviously, I've heard a lot about him but for a kid that has just turned 16, he belongs at this level with the ability he has right now," Flavell said.

"More than anything, what I've seen in youngsters is they can have the talent and have the physical attributes but unless they have the right attitude and are really committed to it, they won't go on."

"I'm really excited for these youngsters and for the region. When the next Tom Cowie is coming through the ranks, (Southland Basketball Association development officer) Dan Peck will find them and keep feeding them up."

The challenge for the Sharks is to not just develop a player like Cowie in Southland so they can one day lead the Sharks.

There is also a tricky assignment just trying to keep them playing their basketball in Southland.

"We have had some talented players in the past but they can take off to university or want to experience living in a big city or go overseas. All those social things contribute to the challenge," Bolger said.

Bolger said the real growth and positive aspect since the Sharks joined the league is in the rise of the primary school playing numbers.

"Mini-ball has exploded. It's Year 3 up to Year 6 and those are the kids that really buy into the role models, the Sharks are their heros and they love seeing them in the schools.

"Last year alone we had 10 more [mini-ball] teams than the year before. That is the age-group where they are the most captivated by the Sharks."

"[On Wednesday] for instance we had the school holiday camp, and they were Year 3 to Year 6 kids. In the afternoon they had Alex Pledger and James Hunter taking them, and for seven-year-olds they are absolute giants. Also [the players] are so good with the kids and I think that is the key."

The Sharks next game is against the Nelson Giants in Invercargill on Saturday night.

 - Stuff

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