ANBL dream now a step closer for Nick Mills

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 19/02/2014

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The door has been opened, now Nick Mills and the Wellington Saints just have to walk on through.

After many years of angling for a Wellington presence in the Australian National Basketball League, Mills appears set to get his wish, with league boss Fraser Neill viewing a capital-based club as a prime candidate for a proposed four-team expansion in the 2015-16 season.

Saints owner Mills met yesterday with Neill and expansion strategist Graeme Watson in Wellington.

Mills described it as a "meet and greet" catchup and there were no promises made or agreements reached, but he was "ecstatic" with the latest developments.

"There's an opportunity, whether that's for me or anyone else. They didn't give me any indication they were looking at me more favourably. But they're putting the tenders out in three or four weeks and we said ‘yes, we will definitely put a bid in'.

"This is the most exciting thing that's happened for me with basketball. This is the first time the door's been open; now we've got to walk through it and make it happen."

The ANBL hopes to expand from eight to 16 teams within five years.

Wellington, Brisbane, Tasmania, Canberra and a second Melbourne side are in the mix for 2015-16.

"The best four submissions from the five places will get the nod," Mills said.

"They didn't have any favouritism towards anyone, although they strongly want a team out of Brisbane, I got the impression. There was nothing promised but they are coming back out in March.

"They don't want to put a team in that's going to last two minutes, they want to put a team in that's going to make a difference and add to the league. Hopefully we can tick those two boxes."

The ANBL wants a Wellington-based bid to spread games throughout the lower North Island. Mills is on board with that plan.

Hypothetically, he said 14 of 22 home games could be played in Wellington, with the remaining eight shared around Napier, New Plymouth and Palmerston North.

Mills said the ANBL bid would not be based around the Saints name.

The Saints would continue to play in the New Zealand league and act as a feeder to the ANBL side.

"That is the dream - you'd have all the young guys playing in that team, you'd have your assistant coach from your ANBL team coaching that team so he's getting to coach and bring the players through."

Mills said he would open discussions with the Wellington City Council, Basketball New Zealand, businesses and basketball associations throughout the lower North Island as he prepares a bid.

He also planned to talk to Wellington's other professional sporting teams, including the Phoenix, to see if there were opportunities to work together.

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Meanwhile, the Saints are close to signing Tall Blacks and Breakers guard Corey Webster, and assistant coaches to Shane Heal for the 2014 season.

Mills said Heal was also close to signing an import centre, who he was "really excited about".

- The Dominion Post

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