Gary Wilkinson to return for NZ Breakers

22:25, Aug 02 2011
Gary Wilkinson
BACK AT ATLAS: American centre Gary Wilkinson, a fan favourite at the North Shore Events Centre, will return to the NZ Breakers.

The New Zealand Breakers have re-signed American centre Gary Wilkinson, though the Aussie NBL champs have not been so successful in an audacious swoop on last year's MVP Gary Ervin.

Breakers CEO Richard Clarke confirmed to stuff.co.nz that the 2.04m big man who averaged 15.8 points and 5.7 rebounds a game (shooting 53.8 percent from the field) in last season's title run would return to Atlas Place on a one-year contract.

Once star Kiwi Kirk Penney confirmed last Saturday that he had accepted a one-year deal with the Fuenlabrada club in Spain's ACB League and exercised his out-clause, the Breakers actioned part B of their import recruitment plan.

That involved using the cash freed up by Penney's departure to upgrade the popular Wilkinson's contract to a level deserving of his achievement. Once the Breakers presented him with their new offer, the Utah native snapped up a  return trip to Auckland.

"We always had Gary lined up should Kirk leave and had another young guy we would have signed by now had Kirk stayed," said Clarke.  "We always wanted Gary to come back. He was our first preference, but the budgets [while Penney was on board] just wouldn't allow it."

Clarke said scheduled upgrades for a number of "local" players had squeezed what they could spend on the import slots, though once Penney's exit was confirmed that allowed them to bump up the two key positions closer to market levels.

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The Breakers boss said they were rapt to have Wilkinson coming back -- bringing to nine the number of members of last season's championship-winning squad back for a tilt at the repeat.

"The guys will all be excited to have Gary back," added Clarke. "He was so good for the development of Alex Pledger last season. Gary works really well with Pledge and I know he takes a lot of pride in his development."

Wilkinson was an All-NBL First Team selection last year, alongside Penney.

Clarke also confirmed they had been very close to signing last season's league MVP Gary Ervin from the Wollongong Hawks, but the speedy American point guard had stymied the deal at the last minute to further chase options in Europe.

"We had a good discussion with Gary Ervin and got to the point where everyone seemed reasonably happy," he said. "But Gary decided he wants to wait on [an offer from] Europe.

"We said we're not going to wait it out with you.

"We're moving on, in terms of looking at other options, and our agent in the US is coming out with a hit-list."

Clarke said it was frustrating to get so close to landing the impressive point guard who proved so effective with the Hawks, but he was confident that their upgraded cash, the sky-high Kiwi dollar and the logjam of target on the market would mean they could sign a quality player.

"There area  lot of players out there," added Clarke. "There are plenty of options."

Clarke confirmed they would not fill Penney's vacated local roster spot until the second import was confirmed.

If they land a specialist point guard, they're likely to look closely at Tall Black Leon Henry to fill a perimeter shooting role, but if they pick up a more shooting-oriented guard from stateside it may be they look more at point guard backup.

Clarke confirmed they had been effectively forced to look beyond last year's import guard Kevin Braswell who suffered a major Achilles tendon injury while playing for the Southland Skarks in the Kiwi NBL.

Breakers medical reports are saying he won't be back as an effective contributor until mid-November, which is six weeks after the season tipoff. For now the North Shore club is looking at the crop stateside. Or waiting for Ervin to have a change of heart.

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