Tag: doug courtney

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #2 – Huskies and Airs go the distance in OT

IF you just so happened to tune in to the opener of the NZNBL’s action on Thursday July 16 between the Auckland Huskies and the Taranaki Mountainairs, then you were privy to arguably the most thrilling contest of the entire campaign and number two amongst Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

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

Kevin Braswell’s side was certainly looking for nothing less than a win against an old foe in Taranaki, whom they upset in their first encounter to really shake up the league standings. A win for the Huskies once more, would bring their win-loss record back up to .500 for the first time since the start of the season.

Braswell noted pre-game the need to neutralise Taranaki’s two main threats, the one-two punch combination of Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones, as well as the supplementary damage the Airs’ role-players could also inflict.

Nevertheless, it was a different combination that commenced business between the two sides, as Tohi Smith-Milner and Leon Henry both began what was a very impressive outing. Shortly after, Raukawa and Jones started off their nights with their initial baskets and the game was underway.

In a fast-paced three minutes that saw 18 points get put up on the board in that time, both teams got off to good shooting starts. Notably, Raukawa had his hands full with the fantastic play of Auckland’s point-guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa. Despite this, Raukawa still managed to collect 11 of the Huskies’ first 18 points, but following a late triple from Mauriohooho-Le’Afa bringing his total to 10, Auckland obtained a slim one-point lead at the end of the first period.

The second quarter took on a more casual persona, as scoring started to come at a higher premium. But a three pointer from Jones and six straight points from Shane Temara allowed Taranaki to have a firm grip on the game for the first time in the encounter and force a Huskies timeout. Coming out of the huddle, the Huskies quickly dismantled their deficit by capping off a lovely 9-0 run with a couple minutes to go in the first half. But again, Jones led another charge handing back the lead to the Airs going into half time, 47-44.

Given that Auckland had failed to complete their main objective in slowing down Raukawa and Jones, the Huskies looked to their long-range shooters to try and gain the upper hand in the second half. First up to the plate in this respect was rising youngster in Taine Murray who did not make his presence known until the closing stages of the third quarter and made Taranaki pay for their hand-down defence as a result. Coupled with Smith-Milner’s rebounding, the Huskies oozed confidence as they led by seven with a quarter to go.

Reuben Fitzgerald, who had proven himself a prominent participant in the opening three quarters, made his impact on the game late in the fourth, as both sides jostled for the driver’s seat, converting on an and-one. As both teams arrived at the final seconds of regulation tied at 83-83 apiece, the Airs found themselves with a chance to win it at the death. But after two missed attempts by Jones off of two second chance points opportunities and a missed buzzer-beater attempt from Raukawa outside the arc, fans had to wait five minutes longer, as the game went into overtime, the second time for the Airs.

The Airs struck first with a nicely facilitated layup and three by Jones, which was further compounded by a follow-up three from Raukawa, putting Taranaki up by as much as six. But the Huskies did not wither away, as Smith-Milner and Mauriohooho-Le’Afa brought the game back to a single possession ball game and after Murray converted on a reverse hanging layup with just over a minute and a half to play, the match was once again at a stalemate.

Free throws became the deciding factor in the dramatic end to the game, as numerous fouls from the Airs put Auckland into the bonus. In the final ten seconds of overtime, the Huskies shot six free throws converting on five of them, to put away a resilient Doug Courtney led squad and topple the top-of-the-table Airs for a second time in a row in an overtime thriller, 102-99.

Even though Jones (36 points and 17 rebounds) and Raukawa (28 points and eight assists) proved their dominance once again, Temara tried his best to help the duo get their side over the line with 15 points and eight boards of his own, but Auckland’s bigs were too productive to let that happen.

For the Huskies, Smith-Milner had himself a ball, as he amassed one of the few 20-20 games of the season (22 points and 21 rebounds), whereas Murray led the way in scoring with 28 points alongside six threes. Mauriohooho-Le’Afa and Henry also proved instrumental collecting 21 points apiece, summing up a terrific performance from Auckland’s core.

In a game that had all the trademarks of a classic, it sits perfectly as a top two moment on Draft Central’s list, and perhaps the best game in all respects throughout the entire 2020 NZNBL season. One to remember.

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: #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.

Jets defeat Airs in semi, set up top two grand final with Nuggets

THE Manawatu Jets have knocked out the Taranaki Mountain Airs in a fast-paced second semi-final 105-95, therefore earning the right to compete for the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Championship for just the second time in the club’s history.

MANAWATU JETS 34 | 21 | 12 | 38 (105)
TARANAKI AIRS 23 | 27 | 20 | 25 (95)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Having fallen to them in both of their prior meetings, the Airs had no intention of getting off to a slow start against the Jets. But to make sure they got off on the right foot, Doug Courtney’s side had to neutralise the newly crowned MVP in Thomas Vodanovich. Meanwhile for Manawatu, their priorities laid with halting the league’s most lethal duo in Derone Raukawa (led the League in points and assists) and Marcel Jones (led the League in rebounding).

Both sides traded buckets early on, exchanging the lead seven times in the opening five minutes in a seesawing opening quarter. Five straight points from Ashton McQueen seven minutes in, saw the Jets produce the first noticeable advantage in the game leading by eight with two minutes to go in the first. This was emphasised further after a triple from Nicholas Fee found its mark and as a result, Manawatu found themselves leading by double-digits at the first intermission and shooting at a remarkable 68 per cent.

Taranaki’s frontcourt started to make its mark on the game, as Shane Temara and Tai Wynyard got early buckets in the second, using their strong bodies to gain valuable second chance points. A 6-0 run for the Airs brought the contest back to just a single possession, but the stint was quickly undone after Hyrum Harris converted a momentum killing And-One. Nevertheless, a physical brand of basketball from both teams kept spectators on their toes for the rest of the first half. Even though Manawatu maintained an efficient shooting clip, so did Taranaki. This time it was the Airs’ backcourt that started to make the difference, with individuals like Raukawa and Kenneth Tuffin closing the gap at half-time.

If Zachary Easthope had not fouled Jayden Bezzant on his last second three-point attempt, the Airs would have only trailed by a single basket at the main break. However, that was not the sequence and Bezzant capitalised, making all three shots from the charity strike and gifting the Jets a convenient five-point lead. As both teams shot at 51 per cent, it was Manawatu that could thank their aggressiveness for getting their noses ahead, getting to the line 11 times compared to the Airs who shot just five free-throws.

On an individual level, Jones stood alone at the top of both rosters. The All-Star Five nominee secured 18 first half points and nine rebounds without a missing a second of play through 20 minutes. Meanwhile, guards Bezzant and Raukawa both made noticeable contributions with 13 points each for their respective teams. Wynyard’s size proved too much for Taane Samuel and the Jets early on, with a couple of baskets two minutes into the third and Temara provided the extra points where they were needed. This tied the game at 58 three minutes into the second half and the seesawing affair would resume again. A magical spinning floater in the key from Raukawa with three minutes to go in the third, gave the Airs the lead for the first time since the opening term. This was further compounded following an exquisite pick-and-roll between Jones and Wynyard, extending their fragile lead to three with a quarter to play and a critical quarter overall for the Airs, winning the term 20-12.

The duo of Samuel and Harris proved fruitful in the infant stages of the final quarter, helping their side even up the game and eventually retake the lead two minutes into the period. Then, a 10-0 run from the Jets capped off by a McQueen fast-break three, got Manawatu’s noses in front by eight and regained control back to Tim McTamney’s boys. Manawatu blew the game out of the water at the mid-way stage of the fourth, putting the deficit into double digits once again and forcing Raukawa and Jones to force their hands on numerous trips up the floor. With Taranaki in the bonus with more than four minutes still to play, it made closing the gap on the Jets that much more difficult, as they trailed by 10 in the dwindling moments of the game.

League MVP Tom Vodanovich would contribute to seven of his team’s final 11 points before picking up his fifth foul with a minute remaining, as consistent free-throw shooting topped off a well-rounded night for the Jets, eliminating a resilient Taranaki side 105-95 and earning their second ever Grand Final spot in club history. Even though the Airs shot better overall on the night, it was Manawatu that forced Taranaki to make an abundance of errors throughout the four quarters. While the Jets conceded eight takeaways in 40 minutes, Taranaki were induced into giving up the ball a total of 16 times, 12 of which were as a result of steals. In turn the Jets punished the Airs for this, scoring 25 points from turnovers, being a major factor in their side’s victory.

Vodanovich put together a team-high 28 points along with 11 rebounds, while Harris contributed another multi-faceted game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals accounting for more than half of the team’s steal totals. Another surprising participant for the Jets was big-man, Taane Samuel, securing 23 points and five rebounds in over 30 minutes on the floor. In their final outing, like so many times before, the Airs’ highlights came from predominantly two men. Raukawa who was a man on a mission found his way to account for 32 points and five assists, while his right-hand man in Jones submitted 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the loss.

Manawatu Jets’ forward, Harris credited the outcome post-game to a strong second half, noting a change in defensive transition and focusing their attention more on their scoring, but remains confident heading into the grand final.

“I think with us it’s just a mental thing,” said Harris. “We’ve just got to push through those sorts of calls and any stuff that happens, but I think we did a good job of it [tonight] and obviously we came out with the win.”

The Jets look to Saturday’s Grand Final looking to exact revenge on an Otago Nuggets team that has beaten them in all four of their previous encounters to this point (most recently by 25 in the qualifying final). Can Manawatu promote a different result the fifth time round? We will find out tomorrow night.

Bulls charge through Taranaki as Airs fall out of top two race

TARANAKI Mountainairs’ bid to finish within the top two in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) standings is officially over, following their 92-65 drubbing by way of the Franklin Bulls, as Everard Bartlett’s perfect night from the field helped cement his side their seventh win of the campaign.

FRANKLIN BULLS 24 | 25 | 20 | 23 (92)
TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 13 | 14 | 20 | 18 (65)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Prior to last night’s meeting, the Bulls had fallen to the Airs in their two previous encounters. How Franklin looked at getting lucky the third time round, was to limit the effect of the Airs’ role players, which also included the much anticipated matchup between Samuel Timmins and Tai Wynyard, as each big-man looked to gain the upper hand over the other.

The Bulls kicked the contest off with Bartlett’s three free-throws, but that remained the only event of the opening couple of minutes, as each side missed their initial five attempts from the field. Three minutes in however, Timmins’s layup got the ball rolling for the Bulls. The layup was further compounded by Isaac Davidson’s first three-pointer, capping off a 9-0 start to kick off the first quarter. As a result of Franklin’s fast-paced start, Taranaki repositioned their defence to a Zone setup, but to no avail, as every stop the Bulls made triggered a loud response from their bench. After both teams gradually became more accurate over the course of the quarter, it was the Bulls that tightened their sights from beyond the arc, knocking down four from deep to round out the opening 10 minutes and putting their necks ahead by 11 at the first intermission.

Leading in to the second quarter, 26-year-old Chris McIntosh continued the barrage from three-point range and continued to separate themselves from an Airs offence that struggled to find their target. A beautiful no-look assist by Davidson with a few minutes remaining in the half to Nicholas Barrow, prolonged the Bulls’ momentum. The Airs, they could not muster a response. Franklin’s target finder was working at maximum effort, shooting over 50 per cent since the fourth minute of the first quarter. Three-pointers from each of their stars in Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones, cut into the deficit with less than a minute to go. But Bartlett struck a dagger into the arm of Taranaki with his second three of the contest and the fourth for the team in the second quarter alone, putting Franklin ahead by 22 at the midpoint of the ball game, 49-27.

The Bulls killed Taranaki on the boards, winning the rebounding contest in the first half 25 to 16, which translated into 10 second chance points as a result. Furthermore, Franklin’s bench proved their mettle in the opening 20 minutes, contributing 17 points to the team’s 49 in total at half-time, compared to the Airs’ four. This left Doug Courtney with a mild headache during the break, as he scrambled for second half solutions. For the majority of the third period, both sides managed to trade baskets, until Bartlett really started to put his stamp on the game. The 34-year-old’s back-to-back threes extended their lead to 29 points, as they continued to create separation for the Airs..

To make matters worse for the Airs, Nikau McCullough decided to join in on the shooting party, converting back-to-back threes as well. However, a small scoring run by Shane Temara, Francis Mulvihill and Jones brought the scoring difference back to 22 points with the final 10 minutes yet to unfold. The main headline at three-quarter time was easily the perfect shooting from Bartlett up to this point, going four from four from the field, nailing three threes to accompany those shots. Adding three free-throws, it would accumulate to 15 points through 18 minutes of court time over three quarters, putting him in good stead for man of the match honours with a quarter to go.

Raukawa began the fourth taking matters into his own hands, scoring eight quick points to begin the phase. However, it would take more than an individual to make a substantial dent in Franklin’s defensive blockade, as another Bartlett three stunted Taranaki’s fightback. The Airs would not make any more headway for the rest of the game, as Franklin held Taranaki to just 65 points at the conclusion of play, as Franklin would knock off a side which they had not beaten in two prior meetings by 27 points.

Bartlett continued his perfect form from the field, despite a quiet fourth quarter. He finished with 18 points off of five three-point shots. Alongside Bartlett, Isaac Davidson and Dominique Kelman-Poto added to the team’s cause significantly. Davidson amassed 17 points, five assists and four rebounds, while Kelman-Poto compiled 16 points, six boards and five assists.

Looking at the Airs’ performance, their 19 turnovers deflated their offensive intentions, nevertheless Raukawa and Jones remained the side’s constant. Raukawa still managed 19 points on 50 per cent shooting, whereas Jones fell one board short of another double-double, ending his night with 17 points and nine rebounds. In their final game of the regular season, the Airs’ loss last night solidifies their position outside the top two, as Franklin gifted Taranaki its sixth loss of the campaign. On the other hand, the Bulls go above .500 and improve their record to seven wins and six losses.

The outcome for Franklin ties themselves for fourth in the standings next to the Auckland Huskies, as they compete in their final game before the finals against the Canterbury Rams in Saturday’s opener.

Airs create space at the top of the standings, hold off Rams in seesawing affair

THE distance between the top and bottom of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown standings got a little greater overnight, as a neck-and-neck contest between the Taranaki Mountainairs and the Canterbury Rams was not decided until the final seconds of play, as the Airs edged out a crafty Rams squad by five points.

CANTERBURY RAMS 19 | 35 | 20 | 18 (92)
TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 23 | 21 | 27 | 28 (97)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Prior to their contest against the Rams last night, the Airs were still yet to establish themselves as the clear-cut favourites entering the second phase of the NZNBL season. But, a win over Canterbury would put the ball in the Franklin Bulls’ court and Taranaki came out with meaningful intentions to make this so.

Converting four of their opening seven attempts from the field, it opened up a nice 9-5 lead to establish themselves as the leaders early on in the game, but when you’re led by a player the likes of Taylor Britt, you do not roll over so easy.

Taking the lead midway through the first, 16-12, Canterbury exploited the Airs lack of quickness to force numerous turnovers and run the floor early. However, a nifty turnaround-fadeaway by Marcel Jones highlighted a convenient 7-0 run for Taranaki to quickly return control of the game back into their own hands, and lead 23-19 following the conclusion of the first stanza of play.

It became clear that the Airs wanted their offence to flow primarily through Derone Raukawa, as he downed eight of the team’s 10 opening points in the second quarter. Whereas the Bulls inherited a similar tactic with Britt, as he himself drilled three three-pointers in the same period of time.

Nice work down low in the post by the Rams’ bigs Thomas Webley and Quintin Bailey created all sorts of problems for Taranaki, outworking and out-hustling Jones and teammate Shane Temara in the middle minutes of the second term. Which allowed Canterbury to fight back and take the lead.

Once again though, Britt would cut through the Airs’ defence like a knife through butter, amassing 20 first-half points including three threes to help his side to a 10-point lead after two quarters. However, Raukawa’s 17 points was a lone highlight to draw upon for Doug Courtney during Taranaki’s half-time talk heading into the third.

The Airs would hit back in a big way with an 8-0 run, propelling them back into the game after a sporadic first half that saw a bunch of momentary lapses on the defensive end. Nevertheless, the Rams were able to fend off any further damage for the remainder of the third quarter, as the Airs sought out another scoring run to complete the comeback.

A sneaky dime from Jones found Baxter Fenwick down below the rim to trim the deficit further, as the Airs now found themselves a single basket behind the Rams with the final quarter still to play and the score sitting at 74-71.

Mitchell Dance’s post-move cut the margin to one on their first trip up the floor, but Jones provided the one-two punch with a three to give Taranaki the lead a minute into the final term, setting up last night’s matchup to be a sprint to the finish line.

With both teams tied at 80 points apiece with seven minutes to play, the back-and-forth continued to ensue. Shortly after Temara contributed eight consecutive points to the Airs’ scoring totals, it allowed Raukawa to put a stamp on the game after he struck from deep with a three to give Taranaki a sizeable seven-point lead, concluding an 8-0 run and putting themselves in the driver’s seat of the game.

The Rams, like they so eloquently did on so many occasions to this point, continued to look inside, and Bailey helped trim their deficit to three points after two straight buckets. The Rams managed to handle the Airs’ attempts to run away with the game, as they produced an 8-0 run of their own, momentarily taking back the lead late in the game. But their lead was short-lived following a Jones hook shot 30 seconds later.

Another running hook by Jones once again with 30 seconds remaining, put Taranaki ahead by three and in the process won his team the game, as Raukawa cemented the victory for the Airs with two bonus free-throws to take home the result, 92-97.

Following Britt’s strong second half, he continued to hit the scoreboard on a regular basis, finishing with 31 points with an efficiency of 50 per cent from the field, as well as four rebounds and three steals. Adding to the Rams’ notable player performances, Bailey had himself a solid outing, earning a 14-point 10-rebound double-double in what was the highlight of Canterbury’s persistent frontcourt effort.

Key individual performances for Taranaki, like most previous encounters, are starting to sound a little like a broken record, as both Raukawa and Jones made up almost 50 per cent of their side’s points total. For Raukawa, he accumulated 39 minutes on the court, during which he assembled a stat line of 26 points, six assists and four steals. To make up for his lack of rebounding, Jones made his presence felt on lots of missed shots, gathering 25 points and 16 rebounds.

With the win, the Airs have strung together a tidy little three-game winning streak as they take a commanding hold of the rest of the league with an impressive record of six wins and three losses, a win in front of the Bulls. The Rams deal with the opposite, as they slip to a record of three wins and six losses, sitting at the bottom of the standings by half a game.

A few days of rest now await for both the Airs and the Rams, as the Airs return to action on Tuesday against fellow top-four contenders, the Otago Nuggets. Meanwhile, the Rams size up the Jets a day later as they look for answers on how to turn around their season before the final come into their line of sight.

College restrictions force two NZNBL player swaps

TWO players initially drafted in last Thursday’s New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) Player Draft have been replaced by their respective teams due to college basketball restrictions.

Taranaki Mountainairs’ Will Heather and Manawatu Jets’ Tom Power have both been ruled of the 2020 Sal’s NBL season due to their respective colleges wanting to hold them back from competition ahead of their respective seasons later in the year.

Heather was the first official change announced on Saturday, with Doug Courtney‘s side opting to pick up Zach Easthope as a direct swap. Whilst Easthope initially had not nominated for the draft, the Airs were permitted to make the swap under the like-for-like rules.

“The like-for-like player replacement is within the rules and late today the NBL Independent Panel has approved this submission,” NZNBL General Manager Justin Nelson told the NZNBL website. “Effective immediately, Zach Easthope will join the Airs as their ninth ranked player.”

The second announcement came early this morning at the close of the Trade Window, with the Jets having a similar situation with Power. The 11th round pick was unable to play this season despite initially believing he would be available, and it forced the Jets to re-select a player. That player was the undrafted Nelson Kirksey.

Kirksey is in the unique situation of being based in Australia at present and is waiting to fly to New Zealand, but under quarantine rules, Kirksey will need to remain in isolation for two weeks and miss the start of the season. The rules state that Kirksey must play in four of the team’s 14 home and away matches to qualify for finals. In other words, the latest Kirksey could take the court for his first game and play the remaining games is Sunday, July 19.

“Kirksey is a proven player, it is a very astute move by the Jets, however they know there is no guarantee he will be able to get into the country in time to participate in the Showdown, so it is a bit of a gamble,” Nelson said in the announcement today. “But, under the rules he is available as an undrafted player and should he arrive in time to play and qualify for the finals I have no doubt the Jets will be very happy with the gamble they are taking.”

2020 NZNBL team snapshot: Taranaki Mountainairs

THERE have been known under a number of monikers over the years, but the Taranaki Mountainairs have remained strong over the past decade. Playing out of New Plymouth, the ‘Airs’ are yet to win a New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) title, but they did finish atop the ladder in 1992. Whilst they finished eighth in a nine-team competition last year, the Airs are back on a level playing field in 2020 ahead of Thursday’s Player Draft.

The Airs quartet of players they had signed for the initial 2020 Sal’s NBL season prior to the COVID-19 – including three Americans – had not been able to nominate for the Player Draft according to the Player Pool on the NZNBL website.

Whilst there is unknown about the playing group, the Airs had an early win off the court by securing the services of Doug Courtney. The New Zealand Under 17s assistant coach – who has had experience at NZNBL level – has signed on as the Airs’ coach for the 2020 season. In speaking to the NZNBL website, Courtney said he was looking forward to the challenge ahead in the modified season.

“I am excited by the opportunity to be a part of the Mountainairs in the newly revamped Sal’s NBL,” he said. “My expectations as Head Coach, together with the organisation, is to put together a competitive team built around current and local players. “The draft is an exciting element with a number of top-level players set to be involved and available.”

In the same article, the Airs also announced the signing of former Airs talent, Joshua Paurini as assistant coach. Playing across 14 years in the NZNBL, Paurini spent the bulk of that in Taranaki between 2005-2012. Airs Chairman Laine Hopkinson said the club was ready to hit the ground running in a couple of weeks under the experienced leadership.

“We are really excited about this year’s competition,” he said. “Locking Doug and Josh in to lead our team is a big step in the right direction. We think they will be a great combination and ideal for this year’s format.”

2020 SAL’S NBL TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS FIXTURE

Tuesday June 23 vs Giants @ 5:30pm
Wednesday June 24 vs Bulls @ 7:30pm
Saturday June 27 vs Rams @ 7:30pm
Tuesday June 30 vs Huskies @ 5:30pm
Wednesday July 1 vs Nuggets @ 5:30pm
Sunday July 5 vs Jets @ 7:30pm
Tuesday July 7 vs Bulls @ 7:30pm
Thursday July 9 vs Giants @ 5:30pm
Saturday July 11 vs Rams @ 7:30pm
Tuesday July 14 vs Nuggets @ 7:30pm
Thursday July 16 vs Huskies @ 5:30pm
Sunday July 19 vs Jets @ 7:30pm
Wednesday July 22 vs Giants @ 5:30pm
Thursday July 23 vs Bulls @ 5:30pm 

For Taranki Mountainairs fans, the club has Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts from which to follow to keep track of updates.