Wellington Saints look to 'bigger things' in Asia

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 30/05/2012
Jason Crowe
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
ASEAN APPEAL: If he returns, Jason Crowe could be playing for the Wellington Saints in Asia rather than the National Basketball League if owner Nick Mills gets his way.

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With the path to Australia blocked, the Wellington Saints have hatched a left-field plan to take the team to Asia.

After winning back-to-back titles in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NBL), the Saints finished runners-up to the Auckland Pirates in Sunday's grand final in Wellington.

Despite that disappointment long-time club owner Nick Mills said the Saints had "outgrown" the NBL and were looking at "bigger and better" things.

The Saints have long been knocking at the door to compete in the Australian NBL, a nine-team league won by the Auckland-based Breakers for the past two years.

Mills said he would fire off another email to the ANBL reaffirming their interest but, while the Gold Coast Blaze were struggling to stay afloat, wasn't holding his breath.

"I don't think they're looking at another New Zealand team until they have Brisbane back in the league," Mills said.

The licences for New Zealand's nine-team NBL have expired but it is understood the league is close to securing the sponsorship it needs for a new three-year deal.

Teams will then be invited to apply for new licences but Mills is getting itchy.

So rather than twiddle their thumbs, the Saints have engaged the services of an agent to present their case to the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), an eight-team professional competition based in South East Asia.

"We don't have a licence yet so we can't recruit, we can't do anything," Mills said.

"An agent is putting our case together to play in the ASEAN league. We just feel that we've outgrown New Zealand and without being arrogant, we just feel we want to do it bigger and better.

"Obviously we're limited to how much bigger and better it can get – in our league – when the Breakers are up the road. We'll send the ANBL another email and say we're still interested but we're full steam ahead with looking at Asia. I really do think it's time that it moved to the next level and I'm very hungry to do that."

The ABL season runs from January-June and has teams based in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

It is debatable whether the Saints' participation in such a league would have appeal but Mills maintained he was serious about pursuing the idea.

Mills admitted he was disappointed by the crowds at TSB Bank Arena for the NBL's Final Four – "I thought the city let the event down really" – but off-contract coach Pero Cameron was welcome back.

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"We're both volatile personalities and obviously through the course of three years we had slight disagreements on some parts of the way the club was going," Mills said.

"Big personalities do butt heads now and again and that's just a reality of life. We said to Pero if he wants to come back, he's first cab off the rank. He likes the fact that he thinks there could be a future for him in the ANBL in our organisation. He really likes the idea of being a head coach and he's hugely ambitious, he thinks he's going to be a big-time European or NBA coach one day and that's great. If we can help with that pathway that's also a success story for the organisation."

- The Dominion Post

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