2013 review: A star is born; threepeat complete

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2013
Steven Adams
Reuters
KIWI HISTORY: Steven Adams makes history after being drafted by NBA franchise Oklahoma City Thunder.
Breakers win back-to-back titles
JASON OXENHAM/Fairfax NZ
CHAMPIONS AGAIN: Dillon Boucher (left) and CJ Bruton hold the Australian NBL trophy aloft after their title repeat.

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The Breakers carved some pretty special history in 2013 en route to a third straight Australian National Basketball League championship.

But even they would probably concede runner-up status as Kiwi hoops story of the year to the remarkable introduction of Steven Adams to the NBA.

No one - in New Zealand or even the United States - really knew what to expect as the then 19-year-old, and youngest member of the extended Adams clan (also including shot put queen Val), entered June's NBA Draft tipped to be picked somewhere in the first round.

We all realised he was a physical phenomenon - 2.13m, with the wingspan of an albatross and hands the size of shovels - but pre-draft he had even American pundits flummoxed as they pondered Adams' rawness, lack of pedigree and readiness to play, after just a single season of college hoops.

As the evening in Brooklyn unfolded, thousands of New Zealanders were glued to their TV sets wondering when ''our lad's'' name would be read out.

No Kiwi had ever been selected first round of the NBA's annual disbursement of young talent. 
In fact North Shore native Sean Marks, 44th overall in 1998, had been the only other Kiwi to be drafted.

Then the moment came. Surprisingly soon too. The Oklahoma City Thunder, of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, picked Adams at No 12, and we Kiwis not only had ourselves a first-round draft pick, but one playing on a contender, too.

It would be the story that kept giving in 2013. Adams kept impressing at every opportunity, in summer league play, then pre-season, and finally the regular season. And the American media would be won over by his homespun Kiwi charm.

But what they really loved was his energetic, committed, uncompromising and surprisingly efficient play whenever Scott Brooks called his name.

That would be pretty frequently through the early stages of the NBA scene, with Adams closing out the year as the established backup Thunder centre, averaging four points, nearly five rebounds and a block in just over 16 minutes a night.

But more than the numbers, was his general comfort. The Kiwi played hard, set good screens and crashed the boards - suddenly respected pundits were muttering the Thunder may just have got a steal with their No 12 pick.

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The Breakers had some first part of 2013, too. In April they completed just the league's second title threepeat with one of the most dominant displays in history. 
Veteran Dillon Boucher bowed out on the note he deserved and the club's growing legion of fans rode a thrilling 16-game win streak, through a 24-4 season, and then a clean sweep of the playoffs.

Star import Cedric Jackson was named MVP of the league, and of the finals, and for the first time the Breakers got to cut the nets down on somebody else's courts. Even better, it was bitter rivals the Perth Wildcats.

But by year's end the tide would have turned dramatically. 
The Breakers, under new coach Dean Vickerman, had slumped to 4-9 by the new season's Christmas break and the Wildcats had exploded to 12-1. The tilt at an historic four-peat was on very shaky ground indeed.

In other hoops highlights of the year, the Southland Sharks claimed their first Kiwi NBL title, behind the coaching brilliance of Paul Henare and the on-court guidance of ex-Breakers import Kevin Braswell. 

And the Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns were both swept 2-0 by the Aussies in world championship qualifiers.

The Tall Blacks, at least, still make it to next year's worlds in Spain where they hope to have an imposing young man by the name of Steven Adams anchoring their defence.

- Fairfax Media

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