Pero Cameron the man Pistons can look up to
He's huge in stature, huge in standing - so Waikato Basketball's capture of Pero Cameron is deserving of much hoopla.
There's no bigger figure in the sport in New Zealand than the 1.98m Cameron, who was yesterday announced as the organisation's new player development manager and will also take over the head coaching reins at the Waikato Pistons.
Tokoroa-born Cameron is such an imposing figure, with hulking shoulders and engulfing hands, that when he spoke to the Waikato Times yesterday afternoon at times he seemed capable of blocking out the baking sun.
He's impossible not to look up to. No surprise then that Cameron is seen as the ideal man to oversee a growth of teen talent within Waikato, while also looking to build the standing of the region's National Basketball League franchise.
"Having that resource available to us is just massive," Waikato Basketball community basketball manager Anthony Corban said.
"He's a figurehead for us, and we're going to support his development as a coach, with the Tall Black programme and with some overseas coach development opportunities."
"It's a win-win situation for the sport and for basketball here."
Cameron has spent the past four years as head coach of the Wellington Saints, guiding them to back-to-back NBL titles in his first two seasons.
He earlier won nine titles as a player and is regarded as one of the greatest players to have worn the Tall Blacks singlet. The power forward led New Zealand to their astounding fourth-placed finish at the 2002 world championships in Indianapolis and was named in the Tournament All-Star Five alongside with NBA superstars Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili.
Four of Cameron's NBL victories came as a Waikato player.
"I've got some history here - some great people have taken care of me in my time here as a player," Cameron said.
And while he will endeavour to lift the game at the highest level, a major focus for the 39-year-old will be on improving the stocks of a swag of talented young players here when he starts his job in February.
"I've always made noises about wanting to have a high performance academy for our representative kids, so Pero will be doing four mornings a week with our under-13 and u-15 reps," Corban said.
"He'll also be attending our u-17 and u-19 boys' and girls' trainings, working in with those players and coaches as part of his coach development role for us. All up, he'll do about 20 hours a week with our rep programme, which will be really important."
Waikato are ranked in the top three regions in the country at age-group level, with Corban able to reel off this year's achievements.
"Both u-13 teams were in the final, the u-15 girls in their final, the u-17 boys were third, u-19 girls lost their semi in overtime, the u-19 boys were second, as were the u-23 girls.
"That's great, but if we bring in a coach with his international knowledge, you're going to see an improvement on and off the court."
Cameron is enthused about tackling that challenge.
"Wherever you go as a coach, it's your duty to get into the junior age-groups and improve them, help them raise their level," he said.
"We want to give them a higher level of playing, and that's how you get better."
Corban felt the lure of Cameron's coaching expertise - he is also an assistant coach with the national men's side - would help keep the best young players at home.
"Since I've been here I've picked up on murmurings of kids wanting to go to schools in Auckland to get a better basketball opportunity," Corban said.
"Well, here's our guy - if you're a Waikato rep kid, Pero is going to be coaching you, working with you and teaching you values on and off the court.
"Three or four years down the track, we'll be getting more athletes in the New Zealand programme, which is what we want, and more Waikato kids going across to the States.
"I'd love to have them here as Pistons players, but if they get an opportunity to get an overseas education ... the kids that want to work hard, he'll work with them."