Burns bounces back to boost Cats

Phil Burns is back in the ball game.

He had been a Canterbury Wildcats women's basketball coach and has returned to the role after being appointed this week by Canterbury Basketball to try to boost the team's flagging fortunes.

Burns, an energetic mentor who wears his heart on his sleeve on the sideline, was associated with Canterbury's two national league triumphs in 2004 and 2005 when the championship was a fully fledged travelling tournament.

He stepped away from the sport when it was decided, largely for financial reasons, to scrap a travelling competition.

"I said at the time women's basketball at provincial level would go backwards and it did. They also needed to have a NBL to support the Christchurch Sirens but that didn't happen either."

Burns, the Christchurch campus manager at the Southern Institute of Technology, spent time away from the game, including sailing around the South Pacific for a year, but the basketball bug never left him entirely.

"I still want to see a national travelling league reinstated for women and will be working as much as I can on the inside to make that happen," he said.

In the meantime, he also wants to try to raise the Wildcats' standards from a modestly performed team that comprised chiefly inexperienced players in the past two seasons in the Women's Basketball Championship. That again involves three weekend series next season in April, May and June, with one staged in Christchurch.

Burns is holding two open training sessions next week to get an indication of who might be available. "I just want to get a feel for the players who are around and outline a programme for when we resume at the end of January." He had been in contact with his former understudy, Kennedy Hamilton, who is coaching the new Perth-based West Coast Waves in the Australian women's league.

"I'd like to think we might be able to get the likes of Tall Fern Toni Edmondson back here but that would depend on her schedule," he said. "I also hope we might get a few more experienced players back."

Burns' predecessor, Australian Paul Neilson, battled to mould a team after last year's earthquakes, having to contend with limited training space and player unavailability. After a promising start this year, the side finished in the plate section for the finals weekend, eventually coming eighth overall. Last year, the women's side finished seventh out of the 10 teams.