Category: Top 10s

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #4 – Otago baffles Manawatu with 130-point display

WHILE the end result of the Otago Nuggets and the Manawatu Jets ended in a blowout, both teams put on phenomenal scoring totals. But in their second of five encounters throughout the 2020 NZNBL season, the Nuggets strung together perhaps the most dominant display of basketball across all fixtures this year securing the number four spot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the season.

For the full match report between the Nuggets and the Jets – Click HERE

Heading into the contest, neither of the eventual grand finalists were yet to establish themselves as a serious top-two team. The Nuggets had only a modest .500 record with three wins and three losses to their name. Meanwhile for the Jets, they sat just half a game above Otago, earning four wins to this point thanks to an extra-game 30-point win over the Nelson Giants in their last outing.

Both sides would ensue in a back and forth opening period, as Manawatu’s newly signed wingman Nelson Kirksey got his stroke going early to open up proceedings. But Otago emerged with the more aggressive style of play by pushing the floor and attacking the rim, which in turn forced three early Jets turnovers and created a 12-5 lead as a result.

However, a late run of points from center Taane Samuel and guard Haize Walker tied the score with less than a minute to go in the first. Two free-throws in the dwindling moments of the opening term from Jordan Hunt were responsible for the Nuggets’ two-point lead at the opening break, but the good shooting from both sides of the aisle continued well into the second quarter.

Otago once again got out to an early advantage, pulling away with another 12-5 scoring run. Unsurprisingly however, Thomas Vodanovich became the main focus point for Brent Matehaere’s side. As the multi-time Tall-Black started to catch fire in an impressive first half, managing to convert four of his seven attempts, with three of them triples as the Jets trailed by just a single point after 20 minutes.

The Nuggets decided they needed a different approach if they were to pull away from a persistent Jets outfit and through the deep ball, Otago found a solution. Creating a quick 8-0 run, the team from Dunedin got themselves out to a comfortable double-digit lead and began a dominant one-sided second half in turn.

Otago shot a ridiculous 56 per cent from the field in an authoritative third term, as the lead quickly grew out of control. Outscoring the Jets 38-23 in the championship period, Tim McTamney’s side needed drastic measures if they were to claw their way back from a 16-point deficit in the final quarter. Ashton McQueen started the fourth off in good spirits knocking down a lead-off three, but when Jordan Ngatai and Kane Keil started to heat up, there was nothing that the Jets could come up with to slow down the South Island onslaught that was the Nuggets’ second half.

Otago pushed all the way to the finish line, outscoring Manawatu 35-15 in the concluding 10 minutes, capping off a 73-point performance in the latter two periods of the game and gliding away with the 130-94 demolition of the Jets.

Collectively for the Jets, both Jayden Bezzant and Vodanovich led the way for their side with 18 points apiece, but five different individuals for the Nuggets reached double digits. Keil’s game-high 29 points, six rebounds and four assists led the way for Otago, as Ngatai and Hunt combined for a massive 55-point haul.

As a team, the victors completed their performance with a script of impressive stats. Firstly, they concluded their shooting with a 57 per cent accuracy rate, going 47 from 82 on the floor. Otago managed to knock down 14 triples and 22 free-throws, and lastly, a plus-six on the boards and a plus-10 in assists would round out the highest scoring performance from a team all season. Furthermore, the Jets’ 94 points of their own helped bring the overall total of the game to 224, the largest points total in a contest form both troops all season long.

A lot went right for both sides in this high scoring affair, but the Nuggets put the rest of the league on notice with the 130-point effort against the Jets. For this masterclass at both ends of the floor, there’s no arguing that this moment slots in at number four in Draft Central’s list.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #5 – Hyrum Harris’s Triple-Double vs Airs

IN terms of production from a single player throughout the NZNBL competition this year, Manawatu Jets’ forward Hyrum Harris was next to no one in this respect. His triple-double against the Taranaki Mountain Airs on July 19 was the only triple-double for the entire duration of the season and just one example of his work ethic during his campaign. The rarity of this feat earns itself fifth spot on the countdown for Top 10 moments throughout the NZNBL season.

For the full match report between the Jets and the Airs – Click HERE

After being selected as a development player for the Illawarra Hawks in last year’s Australian NBL competition, Harris was a top prospect heading into the NZNBL’s draft night. Luckily enough for the Manawatu Jets, they snatched him up early in the second round next to Thomas Vodanovich, and they would not regret it.

From the beginning of the season, Harris quickly assumed the role of workhorse, as he secured double-digit rebounding numbers in three out of his four opening matches. However, the 24-year-old hit a bump in the road suffering a hip injury against the Canterbury Rams on July 1 sidelining him for almost three weeks.

Harris’s return to action came at an opportune time, as the Jets were in the midst of compiling a sizeable winning streak, looking to make it three in a row with a win over the Airs and make a claim as one of the elite sides in the League. From the get-go, Harris facilitated the ball well, finding Ashton McQueen for an easy layup and the Jets’ first score of the game. A solid first quarter for the youngster saw him head into the first break with four points, three assists and two rebounds as Manawatu trailed the Airs, 22-25.

A lone three-pointer for the Jet rounded out Harris’s scoring output for the second period, but a strong 32-23 second quarter for the side altered the scores dramatically, with Tim McTamney’s squad now leading 54-48 at half-time. An increases work rate in the second extended to Harris’s defence a lot more, accumulating seven points, six assists and five rebounds over 20 minutes of play. He also added a couple of blocks to his stat-line as he looked to finish off his comeback game with an even stronger second half.

It was clear that Harris focused more on scoring to start the third quarter, as over the next seven minutes of court time he found the net on numerous occasions. Leading into three-quarter time, he tripled his scoring total with the final quarter still to be played.

Harris amassed 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists over the duration of three terms and stood just a couple of rebounds and assists away from achieving the season’s first triple double.

Within just over a minute of the fourth quarter, Harris had his ninth rebound and ninth assist, after he found Taane Samuel down low for the spinning layup. Then another minute later, he secured his tenth rebound off a Derone Raukawa missed three-point attempt and it was only seven seconds later that Harris found a cutting Vodanovich to complete the feat, the league’s first triple double.

After securing the milestone, coach McTamney saw fit to take Harris out of the game. After reinserting Harris with just a few minutes to play to close out the contest, he converted on just one more basket and a free-throw to help his side over the line and defeat Taranaki with an impressive 118-103 scoreline.

As Harris led the way with an all-around 24-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist outing he could not have won his team the game without strong performances from his peers. Samuel was the next highest scorer, polishing off the Airs with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Nelson Kirksey provided a major boost with 19 points off the bench. Other double-digit scorers included Vodanovich (17), Jayden Bezzant (12) and McQueen (12).

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #6 – Auckland’s historic start against Nelson

THROUGHOUT the month and a half of basketball that we witnessed in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL), there were an abundance of impressive quarters. However, there is one that stands out unmistakably.

Auckland’s opening quarter against the Nelson Giants sits at the pinnacle of the season’s most productive and efficient periods, and as a result waltzes into number six on Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full Match Report of the Huskies’ clash against the Giants– Click HERE

In their previous matchup, the Huskies held off a persistent Taranaki Mountainairs side and looked to carry momentum over into their next contest. Additionally, Auckland was also on the cusp of securing their third win in a row, which when coupled with a late charge to finish high in the postseason rankings, Kevin Braswell’s side had plenty of motivators before the opening tip-off on July 19.

As Joshua Leger won the tip, it marked the only time that the Giants would be ahead for the entirety of the game, as Dane Brooks turned the ball over, and Leon Henry threw the alley-oop to Tohi Smith-Milner for the first bucket of the game. Smith-Milner’s finish signified the start of arguably one of the best starts in NZNBL history.

Reuben Fitzgerald’s three kept the ball rolling as it were, while Smith-Milner and Henry continued to pile it on down low in the post. It was not until the fourth minute of the first quarter that a fourth player got on the scoreboard for Auckland, as Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa converted on a fast-break layup for the Huskies’ seventh made field goal in as many attempts.

Fitzgerald kept his foot on the pedal, whereas Smith-Milner started to find his range, knocking down his first triple of the game thus extending his side’s lead to 12. Leading comfortably 21-9 before the midway point of the term, it was a temptation for the Huskies to start and rest on their laurels. But Auckland did the exact opposite, as the four-man combo of Henry, Fitzgerald, Le’afa and Smith-Milner would account for their team’s opening 34 points while successfully shooting 14 straight shots to begin the game.

A fifth scorer would eventually get their name on the scorecard, with Marvin Williams-Dunn knocking down the Huskies’ 15th straight. Whereas Le’afa and Fitzgerald capped off a flurry of six threes concluding an 18-3 run, leading the Giants 43-12. Fitzgerald’s second shot from deep marked Auckland’s seventeenth straight field goal to start the game.

Finally, with 80 seconds left, Nate Wilson’s three-point attempt would not find its target, ending the season’s most impressive shooting display, and one of the best starts to a single game in the League’s history. Nevertheless, the miss did not seem to sway the 19-year-old, as just 30 seconds later he dunked the ball with two hands to end proceedings in the first.

A lone miss by Anamata Haku brought the Huskies’ shooting average down to 90 per cent (18/20), but no one was too bothered, as Auckland went into the first intermission leading 45-12, essentially winning the game before the start of the second term had even begun.

In a slow paced remaining three quarters, Auckland would walk away with the 96-67 win as a result of the opening period and string together a nice three-game winning streak in the late portion of the season.

Despite their field goal percentage dropping down to 52 per cent by the final buzzer, the Huskies would shoot a productive 46 per cent from deep, nailing 13 triples compared to Nelson’s six.

While the majority of their points came in the first quarter, the combo of Le’afa, Henry, Fitzgerald and Smith-Milner made up most of their team’s total over four periods of play. For Smith-Milner, he led the way with 20 points off of 80 per cent shooting, meanwhile Fitzgerald followed up with 14 of his own. Le’afa proved himself as the squad’s facilitator, producing 12 points alongside six assists and four rebounds, as Henry accumulated a game-high seven rebounds next to 13 points.

Even though there were some mistakes in the second, third and fourth quarters during their clash against the Giants, the Huskies could not be faulted for a single thing in the first. Opening up the second term with a 33-point lead, Auckland never looked back and after witnessing such a dominant stretch of basketball, how could you not see this moment appear in Draft Central’s Top 10.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #7 – Battle of the Opposites, Airs and Bulls elimination final

THERE are only so many coincidences that can occur in any season or competition, but thankfully fans of the NZNBL were able to witness one. This came as the best offence and best defence of the league got to settle their differences in a win or go home Elimination Final. Due to this, Draft Central sees it fitting to place the Taranaki Mountain Airs’ final contest with the Franklin Bulls in the seventh slot of this season’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full match report of the Airs and Bulls Elimination Final – Click HERE

It was during the regular season that both sides displayed their playing styles and strengths. The Airs, who concluded their season with a respectable eight win and six loss record earned the moniker of best offence in the competition. Taranaki maintained a team average of 98.6 points per contest and cracked the 100-point mark on eight different occasions. For Franklin, they earned the opposite title of best defence, due to holding teams to 82.2 points each time out, 4.2 points less than the Otago Nuggets (second in points against).

Prior to their Elimination Final on July 29, the two sides had met three times with the Airs holding the series’ bragging rights two to one. But in their most recent encounter, it was Franklin that came out the clear-cut winners in a dominant 92-65 win. But with a must-win contest to begin, all prior matchups had little to no meaning in what was a seesawing affair between the two clubs with a semi-final spot up for grabs.

Following their All-Star Five presentation, Taranaki’s two leading individuals in Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones had their confidence brewing in the opening phase, helping their side to a 26-18 lead in the initial 10 minutes of basketball. During that pivotal first term, Doug Courtney employed some defensive tactics of his own, notably setting up a 2-3 zone defence to minimise Franklin’s inside scoring threats. This in turn forced the Bulls to settle for long range shots, which proved ineffective as they made just two from 16 attempts.

Eventually shots started to fall for Franklin, as the game started to even out for both sides. Back-to-back threes from Jackson Stubbins cut the deficit to a single basket, with the Airs holding the three-point lead at the second intermission.

While an And-One from Dominique Kelman-Poto gave the Bulls a brief lead, the continuous scoring output from Jones kept Taranaki’s noses in front for the majority of the game. In addition to this, Jones was grateful to receive the aid on the boards from teammates Tai Wynyard and Shane Temara, who each finished their nights with eight and seven boards respectively. This proved a pivotal statistic in the sequences of the game, as the Airs pushed their lead back up to eight points with a quarter to go.

Good hustle from Isaac Davidson and Everard Bartlett enabled the Bulls to get within four points, but the duo of Raukawa and Jones was put on full display once more. They carried their side over the line on a night where everyone was making their free-throws. The Airs emerged triumphant in a 99-90 slugfest and set up a semi-final date with the Manawatu Jets.

It was a clinic on both ends of the floor for Raukawa (28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) and Jones (31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists), meanwhile the team’s rebounding and free throw shooting proved to be the difference. A plus-seven on the boards (44-37) and 90 per cent accuracy from the charity strike (18 of 20) put the cherry on the cake as Taranaki fell just a single point short of another 100-point performance.

Despite the emotional loss for Franklin, the Bulls had numerous efforts worthy of praise. Kelman-Poto led the way with his 31-point, 10-rebound and three-steal night, whereas Davidson’s 24 points off of four triples was a major contribution.

On a night that saw offence prevail over defence, it was exciting to see two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of playing style, go at it in a do-or-die matchup in the postseason. Thus, putting this moment at number seven in the NZNBL’s Top 10.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #8 – Nelson’s statement win over Otago to conclude season

FOR most of the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) season, the Nelson Giants struggled to string together many triumphs in the 14 games of their campaign, finishing with a record of five wins and nine losses. But when the final game of the regular season came around, the Giants were hell bent on finishing on a good note.

The NZNBL this year has been touted as one of the most even in terms of the skill and the ability of all seven teams. Nelson’s final matchup with the first ranked Otago Nuggets is truly a testament to this statement, as it makes an appearance in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the 2020 NZNBL season.

Full the full match report between the Giants and the Nuggets – Click HERE

Coming off of two demoralising defeats at the hands of the Auckland Huskies (67-96) and the Taranaki Mountain Airs (95-102) in their two prior outings, Nelson was in need of some dire momentum if they were to put themselves in as good of form as possible heading into finals week. However, to do this the Giants had to be flawless for a full four quarters if they were any chance to conquer minor premiers, Otago Nuggets.

While Otago limited the minutes of their marquee duo in Jordan Ngatai and Jarrod Kenny before their Qualifying Final as well as both bigs in Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil being absent due to “niggles” according to coach Brent Matehaere, the point still stood that Nelson needed to make a statement before finals.

The opening 10 minutes of play did not bode well for the Giants, as the Nuggets blew out of the starting blocks with their shooters ablaze, knocking down six first quarter threes led by Darcy Knox and Richard Rodger who had two each in the opening term. Otago produced an attractive 28-21 quarter time lead and it was obvious what Nelson needed to limit them for the remainder of the contest.

Mike Fitchett managed to hammer home the message of limiting Otago’s long-range shooting, as the Giants held the Nuggets to just four threes in total over the next three quarters and contribute to their fantastic defence during the stretch of play.

Through multiple stops and neutralising Otago’s scoring avenues, Nelson found themselves in the lead halfway through the second after a corner three from Thomas Ingham. The majority of the second entailed the trading of buckets, but a 7-0 scoring run thanks to Mike Karena and Tom Gargiulo, capped off the first half in dominant fashion and gave their side an eight-point advantage at the main break.

Despite a couple of big plays from Otago, the Nuggets could not eat into their double-digit deficit as Karena and his side continued their good defence in the final quarters of the encounter. Next to Karena, Zeb Lovell and Mika Vukona provided supplementary points down low in the paint as the Giants pummelled their South Island neighbours around the basket.

A final layup by Tysxun Aiolupotea with 27 seconds left in the game put the stamp on the one-sided affair, with the Giants putting on a defensive clinic over a Nuggets side that now had to quickly shift their focus to the Manawatu Jets a couple days later.

Nelson held the Nuggets to just 46 points in the last three quarters, as the Giants accumulated 76 points of their own in the same period of time. The winning side tallied 52 points in the paint, compared to the Nuggets’ 30, helping the Giants achieve a 52 per cent shooting average on the night.

Karena led the game in scoring with 26 points and three assists, while Ingham added a further 17 points and five rebounds. On the other side of the aisle, Knox displayed his offence for the Nuggets by serving up a team-high 17 points off the bench in 23 minutes of court time.

Nelson’s 97-74 demolition job of Otago marked their fifth and final win of the season and slotted them into sixth position to conclude the campaign. But the fact that Nelson was able to trounce the eventual champions of the season, fully embodies the level of competition the NZNBL had on display this year.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #9 – Webley’s third quarter helps Rams charge into Semis

LOCKING up the ninth-best moment of this year’s NZNBL season, comes from the lowest performing team in the competition’s regular season. The Canterbury Rams’ stellar third quarter against the Auckland Huskies in their Elimination Final encounter sits proudly amongst Draft Central’s list. Thomas Webley and his teammates produced one of the most efficient quarters throughout the entire season, capping off a historic postseason run.

For the full match report between the Rams and the Huskies – Click HERE

In a season that was hindered by injury and bad luck, Mick Downer and his coaching staff at the Canterbury Rams faced numerous challenges throughout the NZNBL regular season.

Nevertheless, in a season that saw the Rams finish bottom of the table with a record of four wins and 10 losses, how Canterbury finished the season, no one could have expected, with the Rams’ miraculous finals run culminated in one quarter of play from a determined squad with everything to prove.

Putting some context behind the Rams’ third quarter in the second round of Finals week against the Huskies, Canterbury began the season in as good of form as anyone within the league.

Exploding out of the gates with three wins in three games, Canterbury sat at the top of the standings to begin their campaign. But a flurry of injuries, and a squad restructure as a result, destabilised the side’s rotations and sent them cascading down a miserable path of defeat for the remainder of the season.

The Rams endured one of the longest losing streaks in New Zealand basketball history, coming out second best in 10 straight games between their fourth and final clashes of the season. However, momentum eventually found the red and black just in time for the postseason.

Managing to topple the mid-tabled Franklin Bulls in the final game of the regular season ending their double-digit winless run, it put them in good stead for their opening elimination game against fellow bottom-dweller, the Nelson Giants.

After strong second and third quarters from the Rams, as well as surviving a late charge from the Giants in the fourth period, the Rams took the first step in redeeming themselves throughout the finals.

The next day, it was time for the Rams to really test their mettle, as they now stared down a Huskies outfit that was hot off a convincing win against the Manawatu Jets to conclude their season.

Finishing in the third seed on the standings, it was no surprise that Auckland were the heavy-handed favourites heading into their matchup against the Rams. While Canterbury’s bigs had the monstrous task of slowing down the likes of Tohi Smith-Milner and Leon Henry.

As was expected of the underdogs during the first two quarters, the Rams found themselves down by six at the end of the first half. Despite the deficit, Downer urged his side to work one possession at a time and to play a selfless brand of basketball. Following the huddle, the message rang true for Webley in the third, putting on one of the season’s most impressive periods of play for the entire season.

To begin the third quarter, Webley got the ball rolling immediately, kick-starting the term with a slam dunk and following up with two more baskets to get his side within a basket two minutes in.

Even though Webley carried his side for the majority of the third, much needed assistance came in bunches from the side’s captain and shooting marksman, Taylor Britt and Samuel Smith. Before anyone was able to blink, Canterbury surprisingly found themselves five points ahead a minute later after Webley’s fourth basket of the quarter.

Both sides traded buckets over the course of the next couple of minutes, as Quintin Bailey, Toby Gillooly and Reuben Te Rangi made their presence felt for the Rams. Meanwhile, Henry and Auckland guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (finished his night with 39 points, six rebounds and five assists) found their range with each of them knocking down a triple to keep the Huskies within arm’s reach, as the score stood 55-54 with four minutes and 49 seconds remaining in the third.

However, after Gillooly’s three with four and a half minutes left in the term, Webley and his teammates pulled together their best stretch of play for the entire season all the way to the final break.

A 20-8 scoring run concluded a 39-point third quarter for the lowest ranked team in the NZNBL, as Canterbury miraculously produced a 75-62 lead with a quarter to be played. In turn it flipped the contest on its head and set the Rams on their way to a semi-final matchup with the would-be champion Otago Nuggets, as Canterbury held on for the 98-84 upset win.

While many of Webley’s teammates contributed to the comeback third quarter, it was the 18-year-old that led the charge from the front. The 208cm-tall center accounted for 14 of his 21 total points in the third term. He also went on to snag seven rebounds and shoot an unwavering 69 per cent from the field, as he helped his side to a semi-final spot they were not meant to have.

Despite losing to the Nuggets by 18 points in the Semi Final a day later, the third quarter for the Rams in their contest against the Huskies stands firm as one of the most exhilarating and dominant performances for a team throughout the entire competition this year.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #10 – Season Tip-Off and Opener

TO begin this edition of Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments, we look back at the season opener between the Taranaki Airs and Nelson Giants and the steps taken to get the NZNBL season underway, in a year filled with unpredictability.

For our full match report between the Airs and Giants – Click HERE

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm the NZNBL season did not look likely to happen, however New Zealand’s swift response to the outbreak enabled them to eradicate cases and regain some form of normalcy on the the sports front.

The league’s season opener could not have been more of a success, as both sides from Taranaki and Nelson arrived at Trusts Arena with a fire in the belly and an eagerness to get out on the floor. Before too long, the opening tip was conducted, and the 2020 season was off and running.

While both sides lacked accuracy in most facets of the early stages of the contest in an adrenaline filled building, Airs bigman Tai Wynyard converted on a layup around the rim to not only set the game in motion, but the rest of the league as well, putting the first points on the board for this year’s NZNBL.

As neither team could separate from one another after 10 minutes, in what was a tit-for-tat opening quarter, the scoring prowess of eventual All-Star Five selectee and league leader in points and assists, Derone Raukawa came into effect.

Capping off 30-23 second quarter, Raukawa alongside teammates Francis Mulvihill and Carlin Davison were able to keep themselves in the driver’s seat with a six-point lead heading into the main break.

Following the second intermission, onlookers at the season-opener saw first-hand what the second half of the Airs’ duo was capable of, as Marcel Jones, the eventual leader in rebounds across the competition, proved why Doug Courtney selected him in his squad on Draft Night collecting a stockpile of offensive and defensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, Shane Temara proved why he would become one of Taranaki’s most prolific role-players as the Airs continued their good play extending their lead to double digits with a quarter to play.

Despite Nelson’s best efforts in the fourth thanks mostly to Thomas Ingham and Tysxun Aiolupotoea, the Airs proved to be too strong in their initial matchup of the fixture in a relatively even fourth quarter as Taranaki earned the 112-96 victory.

Raukawa recorded the first of many Man of the Match honours with a 28-point and 10-assist night, as Jones fell three assists short of a triple-double in what was an exemplary start to an exceptional season with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Whereas for the Giants, it was Nicolas Trathen with a game-high 25 points, while Aiolupotoea and Ingham combined for 53 points between them.

The free-flowing contest the game would become set the tone for an entertaining and meaningful season for the seven teams that participated in the NZNBL, as well as New Zealand basketball as a whole. Therefore, it fits in handsomely at the number 10 slot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the 2020 NZNBL season.

Draft Central’s 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #1 – Kia Nurse

DRAFT Central’s formula for deciding this season’s top player of the WNBL was a rather simple one. Similarly to the NBL’s top player of the season, Bryce Cotton, the WNBL’s MVP and top-scorer, Kia Nurse, would reign supreme in terms of success individually and as a teammate. As this this season’s 2019/20 WNBL Champion, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals would defend their title, claiming their ninth in franchise history.

Having already spent a season with the Capitals, Nurse would hit the ground running, opening up her 2020 campaign with a 28-point and seven-rebound performance against the Adelaide Lightning, quickly establishing herself as one of the league’s most deadly offensive weapons. Throughout the entire season, Nurse would continue to provide an abundance of minutes for Paul Gorris’s side, only twice playing less than 32 minutes in a game, therefore leading the league in minutes per game by the end of Round 16, averaging 37.1 (1.4 minutes higher than Alice Kunek). But, the main headline act for the Canadian, was her scoring prowess. Going the entire fixture without scoring single digits is one accomplishment, but to average over 20 points per game throughout the entire competition would have already been enough to secure an MVP award for the 24-year-old.

Helping her side to a 15-win season alongside the likes of Marianna Tolo, Olivia Epoupa, Kelsey Griffin and Keeley Froling, Nurse would receive her second straight All-WNBL First Team selection, the Capitals’ Best and Fairest Award and the Suzy Batkovic Medal (League-MVP) to round out one of the league’s best individual season performances in history. Nurse is grateful of the system she was put in, as it allowed her to develop her offence even more.

“I was allowed to be in a system in Australia where I was a lot more free than any system I’ve played in since my high school days. “That allowed me to kind of get confidence back into my offensive game … and that was pretty exciting.” Playing four years at the UConn Huskies while she attended college, Nurse found out the formula for success is not given, it is earned, which is why the two-time NCAA Champion knew that her 21 regular season games were just stepping stones to the real prize.

The hard work would begin against the Melbourne Boomers in their semi-final series, with their matchup going to a deciding Game Three. Nurse would need every ounce of her will, to help get her side over the line against the wily Boomers side. Playing all 40 minutes at home, Nurse’s hard-fought 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals, would be enough to get the Capitals to the finish line taking the contest, 77-64, with their extraordinary defence being the main proponent of their win. With the Boomers in their rear-view mirror, the Caps would look to topple the best team in the league to this point, the Southside Flyers.

Knowing full well that their best bet to win the series would be to steal Game One in Dandenong, Nurse would again be called on to play most of the game (she would average 39 minutes per game in the series). Scoring 19 points and securing five rebounds in Game One, the Capitals would steal the opening game of the series by a single bucket, forcing a decisive Game Two back home in Canberra. With Game Two being an all-out war between both sides, the Capitals found themselves down by a point with less than 30 seconds to go, but the always reliable Epoupa (Finals-MVP) would find the WNBL’s top scorer open for three, as Nurse would knock it down and win the Capitals their second straight championship. “It was obviously a fairy-tale ending to a really good story,” said Nurse reflecting on what was nothing short of a perfect season.

Whether imports will be allowed to play next season or not is yet to be confirmed by the WNBL given the severity of COVID-19, but if they are, then the likelihood of a WNBL three-peat for the first time since the Adelaide Lightning dynasty of 1994-96 may very well be on the cards for the Capitals, as they continue to be at the forefront of Australian basketball success.

Draft Central’s 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #2 – Brianna Turner

ONE of the WNBL’s fresh new faces to arrive over from the United States (US), Brianna Turner landed Down Under keen to expand her basketball knowledge and continue her development  thanks to a recommendation from her head coach at the Phoenix Mercury.

“In the WNBA, Sandy Bondello is my coach and she coaches the Australian National Team, I’ve heard nothing but good things [about the WNBL] which really attracted me,” said Turner. “I want to raise my basketball IQ and learn the details of the game.”

After a brief 21-minute stint against the Sydney Uni Flames in Round 1, Turner would flip the switch and begin playing at an extraordinary level of efficiency and production. Turner’s first major mark she would make on the WNBL, came in Round 3, as the Lightning sized up to a formidable Perth Lynx squad.

Regrettably for the Lynx, they had no answer for the Mercury-listee, as she dominated the rebounding conversation, hustling her way to 17 rebounds and 26 points. These kinds of performances became the norm for the 23-year-old, as she would terrorise the glass with her tenacity and discipline.

Rivalling Mercedes Russell as one of the premier frontcourt players in the League, Turner’s 10 double-doubles throughout the regular season would put her at the top of the rankings in several categories following Round 16 of the campaign.

Turner’s stat line would read an impressive 16.8 points (fourth in scoring), 10.7 rebounds (second in rebounds) and 2.4 blocks (league leader) per game. An All-WNBA Rookie and a NCAA Champion with Notre Dame, Turner is no stranger to success on the court, so it would come as no surprise that the Texan would take home an All-WNBL First Team selection and receive the Lightning’s Best and Fairest Award, capping of what was a well-rounded season individually.

As a team, the Lightning looked to the minor premier Southside Flyers for their semi-final matchup, after solidifying fourth spot in the standings with a record of 12 wins and nine losses. After concluding her season averaging a double-double, the pressure of the postseason didn’t seem to unnerve Turner in the slightest, as she would fall one rebound short of another double-double, accumulating 11 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in Game One.

Game Two and the threat of elimination would spur her on to an even greater extent, this time with the Power Forward/Centre racking up 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks. But like so many others before them, the combination of Jenna O’Hea, Leilani Mitchell and Russell would prove too much, as the Lightning would bow out of the finals in a two-game sweep.

Being the third and final Lightning player on Draft Central’s Top 10 WNBL Players of the season, there was plenty to celebrate in South Australia in 2020. Perhaps if Turner makes a return to Chris Lucas’s squad next season, then maybe Adelaide can make it one step closer to the franchise’s first championship in more than a decade.

Draft Central’s 2019/20 WNBL Top 10 Players: #3 – Mercedes Russell

WHEN it comes to how Southside Flyers’ centre Mercedes Russell perceives herself, she tells of someone who is, “very low maintenance, laid-back and just go with the flow”. “Play me a good amount of minutes and I’m happy,” she added. Russell would receive what her appetite for basketball required, as she would average close to 31 minutes per game during the regular season, thus allowing her to become one of the most dominant frontcourt players in the Australian basketball scene and number three in this season’s edition of Draft Central’s Top 10 players.

The 24-year-old made her mark on history straight away, scoring the first ever points for the newly formed Flyers organisation and never looked back. Despite a rusty start to the season, scoring just 12 points and collecting four rebounds against the Townsville Fire in Round 1, Russell’s numbers would increase from then on. Russell’s 12 regular season double-doubles (six straight double-doubles amongst these) would place her in the upper echelon of productive bigs, as she would go neck-and-neck in the race with Brianna Turner of the Adelaide Lightning for a selection to the All-WNBL First Team.

Unfortunately for Russell, she would have to settle for an All-WNBL Second Team selection, however, finishing her season with 16.5 points per contest (fifth amongst league leaders) while averaging 9.8 rebounds (fourth amongst league leaders) is nothing short of spectacular for the WNBA champion. Another facet of Russell’s game that more often than not goes under the radar, was her ability to score efficiently around the rim, which remains a cornerstone of any center’s game. She would go on to convert 55.4 per cent of her baskets (fourth highest in the league).

After being awarded the WNBL’s Robyn Maher Award (Defensive Player of the Year) and helping her side to a competition-best 17 wins and four losses, Russell and the Flyers looked to their semi-final series against the Lightning and Turner, in what would be a battle of the bigs. With Game One not disappointing, Russell would bring her A-game, logging 20 points on 53 per cent shooting from the field and a season-high 19 rebounds in a full 40 minutes of play, as her side would steal the win by a narrow-three points and carry momentum over into Game Two.

Despite just 15 points and four rebounds in the following contest, the Flyers’ depth would prove too much for the Lightning, culminating in a series sweep and the franchise’s first Grand Final appearance in their inaugural season. Even though Russell would average a double-double (13.5 points and 11 rebounds) in the deciding series, the Flyers would go down to the UC Capitals in a 2-0 sweep, cutting short what would have a been a dream debut season for the Oregon-native.

Nevertheless, should Russell return to the Flyers next season, we should expect nothing short of great things in 2021, as Russell’s get-it-done mentality gives her an edge no matter where she plays. “I just try to be as available as I can be and do whatever my teammates need me to do in order for us to win because that’s the most important part.”