CJ Bruton says the Breakers can bounce back

MARC HINTON
Last updated 05:00 21/03/2014
CJ Bruton
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WISE WORDS: NZ Breakers legend CJ Bruton, who is back in town to have his jersey retired at the club's home opener, thinks this year's team has championship pedigree.

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As C J Bruton prepares to take his final bow as a Breaker tonight, the Aussie NBL legend has warned the club needs to address its "chemistry" issues to bounce back from its first losing season since 2006-07.

Bruton previously told Fairfax Media that team chemistry had been short of the mark this campaign, and had never been addressed adequately. It was a concern, he reiterated yesterday, after his last practice ahead of tonight's finale against the Cairns Taipans at Vector.

"You need a few people in here who can help with the chemistry, and communicate with players, and get them to respond the way they need to," said Bruton when asked what was needed for the club to turn things round.

"You need more than one person [to do that]. I was hoping Dillon Boucher would still be here [and] I really missed him this year. I felt that other voice I've been used to having was finally gone, and it was put on my shoulders.

"I know everyone was looking at me to do more and more, but I had to carry my load on the floor too."

Bruton said the onus had been on his team-mates to step up their leadership skills, and the club's 11-16 record indicated they never quite achieved that. "There are different ways of getting it out, but you've got to find that as players. You need those key people who can do that and keep this group tight."

But Bruton emphasised the club was more than capable of turning things round quickly, providing key issues were addressed.

"We've got a good nucleus. We've had to grow, and young kids have had the chance to play. The club knows what they're doing – they've got to get the right people in place to monitor and groom this crew. I think they'll do that."

The 38-year-old Aussie also endorsed coach Dean Vickerman despite his struggles this season.

"Andrej Lemanis was in the same boat [when he started]. It's one of those things when you get thrown at the wolves. We'd just won three titles, and it's hard to stamp your mark on the club when you've been handed players. You don't get to influence what you want as coach."

Bruton said he was relaxed ahead of what's sure to be an emotional night for the six-times NBL champion, with his father, mother, brother and in-laws all flying in for the occasion.

"It's been quite busy, talking to everyone under the sun and getting my family here," he said. "I want to go out with a bang. I'm pretty focused, I know this is it wearing this uniform, and with my family here I definitely want to play well. You don't want to hear it at the dinner table down the line, how we all came to watch you play and you laid an egg."

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Vickerman is confident his players will mark their respect for Bruton with an appropriate performance .

"We need to play with great passion, and to play like we did last week. It was a relaxed way we played but with great intensity, and that's what we're expecting again."

Vickerman admitted it was "sad" Bruton did not get the sendoff fellow club legends Boucher and Paul Henare had managed.

"You've got to remember a four-peat has never happened ... It was a big mountain to climb and we didn't quite get there. The best thing we can do for him right now is pack that venue and send him out hopefully with him getting a few three-balls and throwing the arms in the air."

The Breakers will play in special C J Bruton tribute singlets tonight, although Vickerman could not confirm whether he'd be the third player to have his number retired. "It's a possibility," said the coach.

- Fairfax Media

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