Southland Sharks boss Jill Bolger says international honours a big thrill
While the Southland Sharks came up short in their title search this season general manager Jill Bolger has declared 2017 as one of their best years yet given what has followed the National Basketball League.
In June the Sharks were toppled by the Wellington Saints in the 2017 NBL grand final in Tauranga.
While disappointed they couldn't deliver the Sharks fans a third title the bright point has been the remarkable international representation which has followed.
Imports Nick Kay and Mitch Norton have both progressed to Australian selection, while Reuben Te Rangi, Derone Raukawa, James Hunter, and Luke Aston have all be part of the Tall Blacks set up.
Te Rangi is captaining the Tall Blacks and played a lead role in helping upset Lebanon 86-82 in their second game at the Fiba Asia Cup in Beirut on Friday night morning.
On top of the top level representation, 2017 Sharks squad members Tom Cowie, Mac Stodart, and Josh Aitcheson have all played for New Zealand at age group level this year.
It is Southland's strongest level of international honours since they joined the NBL in 2010, and it could have been bigger if Alex Pledger and Duane Bailey were available for Tall Blacks selection.
Bolger has watched closely what has unfolded since the NBL finished and is proud of what has been achieved.
"It's the big picture stuff which gives me the biggest thrill," Bolger said.
"Yes, it would have been nice to win a championship this year, every year we go out to win the championship. But when all those players got to take the next step and you look at what they are doing now, it gives you that feel-good feeling."
Bolger lumped a lot of praise of coach Judd Flavell in regard to the impressive number of international selections and just how well many of the players have progressed.
Flavell had big boots to fill in Southland given the reputation and success previous coach Paul Henare developed during his time in the province.
Bolger said Flavell has made his own impressive mark on the Sharks in his two seasons so far at the helm.
"For Judd, creating an environment where the players can be the best possible players, and also the best people, is probably the No 1 focus.
"So the environment he provides - the support, the one on one time, the training - everything that he has done for them is helping them get to the success they are having."
Te Rangi has quickly climbed up the Tall Black ranks in regard to importance this year, while Aston and Hunter have been included in the setup for the first time.
Hunter has managed to pick up a contracted with the New Zealand Breakers to play in the Australian National Basketball League following his strong season with the Sharks this year.
Bolger said that progress meant a lot to the Sharks and was an important in Flavell's coaching philosophy.
"My question to Judd the other days was, 'if you could have traded a championship for at the end of the season to have six internationals and three Junior Tall Blacks, what would you do?'.
"He said hands down he would much rather have seen the success of the players, which I thought was a really cool comment."
Following the win over Lebanon, Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare singled out Te Rangi for his impressive improvement.
"Reuben's growth over the past 12-18 months has been superb, and he led his team tremendously well.
"He battled all night, defended Lebanon's best player and he worked on every single possession.
"He was huddling his team, he was leading his team and for a 22-year-old to do that, I just told him I was proud of the growth he has made."