Kiwis Abroad

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The Oklahoma City Thunder has put some good results together of late aided by a succession of double doubles from Steven Adams. His latest offering was 10 points and 10 rebounds as OKC defeated the Miami Heat 93-75 (Monday NZ time) to improve their record to 40-30 in the NBA Western Conference. Adams has recorded four double doubles in the last five games.

In Spain Sevilla and La Bruixa d’Or Manresa both recorded valuable victories at the weekend.

Sevilla were at home to 13th placed Estudiantes (10-14) and got the win 74-65. Kirk Penney came off the bench to land 7 points (2/5FG and 2/2FT).

Estudiantes had American Diamon Simpson (11pts/9rebs) in their lineup, the power forward played for the Adelaide 36ers in the  2011-12 ANBL season.

Manresa secured a very good win, flying to the Canary Isles to defeat 9th placed Gran Canario (12-12),81-75. Manresa surged home on the back of a dominant 26-12 final period. Isaac Fotu led the scoring for the visitors, recording 12 points (6/12FG) and adding 6 rebounds.

Australian Boomer Brad Newley had a quiet night for the hosts managing just 2 points.

Manresa and Sevilla both have 7-18 records and have slightly improved their standings on the Spanish League ladder to 16th and 17th respectively on the 18 team ladder.

In Greece it was no surprise that top of the table Olympiacos defeated 12th ranked KAO Dramas (7-14) 72-62. Olympiacos registered their 20th win of the season. 10 points ahead at the beginning of the fourth quarter; they comfortably protected their advantage to improve their record to 20-1. Rob Loe came off the bench for 4 points and 3 rebounds for Dramas – all his points coming from the free throw line.

Corey Webster has arrived in Belgrade although it is not clear when he is likely to debut for Mega Leks in the Adriatic League.

Tall Fern Errin Rooney contributed 8 points, 6 rebounds and an assist but Arras were pounded, on the road, 103-67 by Flammes Carolo in the French League. The fourth successive loss by Arras sees them slip to 6th on the ladder – they were third at the start of the month.

Supercity Rangers content with first showing in 2015

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The James Blond Supercity Rangers departed Porirua after the NBL Pre Season Tournament reasonably contented.

Two comfortable victories on Saturday against Hawkes Bay Hawks 94-71 and Manawatu Jets 117-71 was followed by a defeat at the hands of Southland Sharks on Sunday, 123-98.

Head coach Jeff Green was absent from the Sunday game due to business commitments but was content with the performance of his charges, “We were very good on Saturday” enthused Green. “Everyone understood the principles we have been putting in place and it was advantageous to put them into practice in a live game rather than in scrimmage situations amongst ourselves.”Experienced forward Dillon Boucher was heartened by the weekend’s showings. “The performances were encouraging but we are not getting ahead of ourselves as both the Hawks and Manawatu were understrength, lacking some of their starters”.

Boucher added, “Tiredness kicked in a little on day two. When you play an up-tempo style, pressing all game, three games in 24 hours becomes a factor. Credit to the Sharks though, they had the ability to break down our pressure defence”.

Asked about the challenges of putting together virtually a brand new team for the upcoming season Green expressed minimal concern. “Many of the players have played my system at age-group, Junior Tall Blacks or NBL level. The players are enjoying the style of basketball we have introduced but realise there is plenty of work still to do in terms of fitness and execution.”

The Rangers expect to have Reuben Te Rangi on court when they resume training on Wednesday.

The Rangers open their 2015 Bartercard NBL campaign on Good Friday, April 3rd when they entertain the Nelson Giants who are likely to include the evergreen Phill Jones in their lineup. The game will be played at Otara Recreation Centre, 7.00pm tip-off.

Last but not Least – Cedric Jackson

Basketball - SkyCity Breakers v Melbourne Tigers, 14 March 2013

If Mika Vukona is the engine that runs the Breakers, Cedric Jackson is the accelerator that controls the pace and tempo of the team.

There is no better sight than Jackson in full flight as he seizes on an opposition turnover, or gathers an outlet pass, before unleashing a teammate for an early score in transition.

Equally adapt at organizing the offense in half court situations Jackson has demonstrated he is the man for all occasions as his record at the club shows;

3 Seasons

3 Championships

10 Play-off Games

8 Play-off Victories

Fellow players and the Breakers coaching staff have openly spoken about Jackson’s competitiveness and his desire to win.

This will to win is evident at practice and burns like a beacon come game time. Prior to the play-offs it was mentioned in some quarters that Jamar Wilson (Adelaide) and Scottie Wilbekin (Cairns) had perhaps got the better of the Breakers point guard in some of the regular season games. That talk certainly acted as a spur to Jackson, in the semi-final and final, when his performances were truly dynamic.

In each game he ignited the Breakers offence in the opening exchanges helping forge early leads and putting the opposition under scoreboard pressure.

What also impressed me in the final four games was how well Jackson looked after the ball in those high-pressure encounters. For all his offensive prowess he had a turnover rate of 3.3 per game in the regular season – the highest in the NBL. However, in the play-offs, that was down to 1.8 per game with zero turnovers in game one against Adelaide and Grand Final game one in Cairns.

Jackson’s three quarter court buzzer beater in Perth has been viewed over 30,000 times on You Tube but he will be remembered by the 4,000 fans who packed North Shore Events Centre a couple of weeks ago for his outstanding all court display. 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals earned him the Finals MVP Award.

That display may also have done enough to earn him the 2014-15 Sky City Breakers MVP Award on Friday night. We wait with interest to find out.

Season at a glance;

  • 3 seasons with the Breakers – 3 NBL championships
  • 2015 Grand Finals MVP
  • Led the league in Assists – 193 @6.0pg
  • 2nd in the league in steals – 106 @2.2pg
  • Breakers all time – 2nd in steals (232)
  • Breakers all time – 3rd in assists (625)
  • 2 triple doubles this season

Breakers MVP Nomination Number Four

1424912955957It is difficult to find anything new to say about the fourth nomination for the Sky City Breakers 2015 MVP, Mika Vukona.

Like most basketball scribes I have run out of superlatives for the player who is the engine of the Sky City Breakers and a major factor behind the unparalleled success enjoyed since he rejoined the club in 2010.

Numbers don’t tell the full story but a couple of facts helps illustrate how much the power forward’s drive and commitment has contributed to the run of four championships in five years.

Since rejoining the club from the Gold Coast Blaze in 2010 the Breakers have played 160 games – Vukona has played in every single one of those fixtures, the only player to do so. Resolute, reliable, relentless, a player who just doesn’t seem to break down.

What do the numbers below illustrate?

  • 2010-11 58%
  • 2011-12 69%
  • 2012-13 64%
  • 2013-14 78%
  • 2014-15 80%

As one who attends Breakers practice sessions on a regular basis it doesn’t surprise me that Vukona’s free throw shooting percentages (shown above) have improved markedly over recent seasons. The man is a punishing trainer, putting as much effort into practice as he does into games. The percentages above show how that practice has paid off.

At the end of the 2010-11 season he ranked 9th out of the 10 Breakers contracted players in terms of shooting % at the foul line. This season he ranks 1st out of 10 at the foul line.

In the last 35 seconds of Grand Final Game 2, Vukona secured two, that’s right TWO offensive rebounds to set up scoring opportunities for Ibekwe and Jackson – you could see it coming.

With 12 seconds remaining he slotted home 2 from 2 free throws, when the pressure was at it’s greatest – you wouldn’t have seen that coming a couple of years ago.

Vukona is the epitome of the old adage that practice makes perfect.

He may not be quite perfect but he would get my vote for MVP!

Season at a glance;

  • 5 NBL championships (4 with the Breakers) in the past 7 seasons
  • 4th in the league in rebounding – 213 @6.7pg
  • Breakers all time – most wins – 153
  • Breakers all time – most appearances – 268
  • Breakers all time leading rebounder – 1,822

Kiwis Abroad

Steve Adams

The Oklahoma City Thunder posted a couple of good wins over the weekend to improve their record to 37-29 and move the 8th spot in the NBA Western Conference.

On Saturday the Thunder accounted for the Minnesota Timberwolves 113-99 and then on Monday (NZ time) defeated the Chicago Bulls 109-100.

Steven Adams came off the bench against the Timberwolves contributing 3p/9r/2a/2s/2b. In his fourth game back after injury on Monday he landed a starting role and contributed significantly to OKC’s success.

The Kiwi centre played 33 minutes, scored 14 points (6/13FG) and added 11 rebounds a couple of blocks, a steal and an assist.

Having caused a major upset last week by beating Spanish League leaders Real Madrid, La Bruixa d’Or Manresa slipped back into losing habits going down at home 79-64 to Gipuzkoa (9-15). Isaac Fotu scored 8 points and secured 7 rebounds for Manresa who, after last week’s performance, would have felt capable of beating their 14th ranked opponents. They trailed by just 4 points with 10 minutes remaining but gave up the final quarter 26-15.

Also in Spain, Sevilla slipped to last on the ladder after losing 87-81 at Real Madrid. Real are top of the table and had built an 18 points three quarter time advantage but Sevilla gave a spirited showing in the final quarter winning the period 32-20. Kirk Penney only managed 2 points (1/4FG) in this game having averaged 15 points in the previous three outings.

Both Sevilla and Manresa have 6-18 records but now occupy the bottom two slots on the ladder.

In Greece KAO Dramas came unstuck against defending champions Panathinaikos going down 81-65. Dramas trailed from the second minute and were playing catch up against their powerhouse rivals who improved to 18-2. Dramas slipped to 7-13, 10th on the 16 team table.

It wasn’t a good night for Rob Loe who failed to score on 4 attempts from the field but did contribute 5 rebounds and 2 assists.

Jarrod Kenny is heading back to NZ as his German club Licher Baeren failed to make the play-offs in the German B League. The Bears finished 9th in their division – only the top 8 progressing.

Ibekwe For The Win

IMG_5987Images of that mid range fade away converted by Ekene Ibekwe with 1.2 seconds left of NBL Grand Final Game 2 will remain with Breakers fans forever.

It wasn’t the case of course, but even if Ibekwe had had a mediocre season those 1.2 seconds would have catapulted the Nigerian international into MVP contention.

The 29 year old was signed by the Breakers to provide some rim protection at the defensive end and athleticism to the centre position. Coach Vickerman took a bit of a gamble, as the 2.06m centre had not played for 12 months due to injury. The gamble paid off with the big man averaging 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2 blocks per game.

He fell foul of the referees in the early part of the season, fouling out in four of the first eight games. That eighth game was in Cairns against the Taipans where Ibekwe produced an extraordinary stats line – 20 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks. The Breakers won 79-71 and the rangy centre was up and running.

Whether it was a highflying block or a back cut alley-oop the season was full of Ibekwe highlights.

Not since the inaugural NBL season in 1979 has a championship been decided on a buzzer-beating shot. We won’t know until Friday if he has done enough to earn the MVP Award but those last 1.2 seconds will win the MMMA (Most Memorable Moment Award) in a landslide.

Season at a glance;

  • Played all 32 games of the season.
  • Led the League in Field Goal shooting percentage – 152/255 @59.6%
  • Led the team in shot blocking – 62 blocks in a single season is a record for the Breakers.
  • In addition, 7 blocks v Cairns is a Breakers single game record.

The Second Contender for Breakers MVP Award

tom-abercrombie_103ughonn39zc12ys8dqe4fd9w-1 Like fellow Tall Blacks Mika Vukona and Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie entered the 2014-15 NBL campaign with a shortened pre season preparation and niggling injuries from a long international campaign.

One of those injuries forced Abercrombie to miss the opening game of the season in Perth. He missed another couple of games mid season but thereafter he was extremely consistent, averaging 11.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game.

Always a defensive linchpin with the ability to defend any opponent from the one to four spot, the swingman’s perimeter shooting was of the highest quality throughout the campaign.

This highly proficient shooting was produced when most needed by his team – Grand Final Game 2 when he converted 7 of 12 shots from the field. Importantly he scored 8 points in the final quarter that included a long three with 2:11 remaining, the basket that provided the impetus the team needed to overhaul the Cairns Taipans.

Abercrombie’s experience shone through in the play-offs where his shot blocking, defensive rebounding and lock down D complimented his sweet shooting.

Abercrombie boasted the second highest three point shooting percentage (47%) in the NBL, only Melbourne centre Daniel Kickert (51%) shot the three ball at a higher clip. Perhaps the only minor surprise was that the small forward didn’t put up more than the 3.6 shots per game, from behind the arc, that he attempted.

Abercrombie may not have quite done enough to carry off the MVP title this year but with four NBL Championship rings safely tucked away he can head off to his upcoming wedding a contented man knowing he played a major roll in bringing more glory to Atlas Place.

Season at a glance;

  • 4th NBL Championship
  • 2nd in the league in 3P shooting percentage – 49/104 shots @ 47.1% This is the second highest 3P% ever shot by a Breakers player in a single season
  • Breakers all time – leading shot blocker (157)
  • Breakers all time – 2nd in points scored (2,233)

Who are the Breakers MVP Candidates?

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The Sky City Breakers Awards night will be held next Friday when the team, management, sponsors and supporters will celebrate the club’s fourth NBL Championship in five years.

But who will take out the club’s MVP Award? We examine the merits of the five premier contenders. First up is Corey Webster the maverick shooting guard who has enjoyed a breakout season in the NBL.

As one who has followed Webster’s career since his primary school days there has never been any doubt about his ability to rack up points in a hurry.

Webster has just finished his 6th season with the club, easily his most productive. His first two years were spent as a Development player before signing his first full time contract in 2010-11.

During those first five seasons Webster was very much a bit-part player providing the coaching staff with scoring punch behind established performers like Kirk Penney, Kevin Braswell, CJ Bruton, Daryl Corletto and Cedric Jackson.

His scoring output did increase over the seasons but not at the pace he would have liked. 7.6ppg in 2012-13 to 8.5ppg in 2013-14 has been followed by a quantum leap this season. Entrusted with a starting spot by coach Dean Vickerman, Webster has repaid the faith with a team high 491 points at 15.3 points per game.

Webster’s first outing of the season wasn’t overly encouraging, he managed just 4 points in Perth as the Breakers toppled the defending champions 80-70. Webster shot just 2 from 7 that night but 7 days later at Vector Arena he knocked down 23 points against Adelaide and his season was up and running.

23 points equaled his Breakers career high, a figure he would better three times during the season culminating in a 27 points haul in the second victory of the season in Perth, the game remembered mostly for the Cedric Jackson buzzer beater from his own half.

That was followed by a team high 24 points against Adelaide in Semi-Final Game 1, his seventh 20+ points haul of the campaign.

Although Webster only averaged 11.3ppg in the final three play-off games he still contributed mightily to the Breakers cause. In each game he helped the Breakers get on the front foot with a fast start. In addition his defence on the likes of Scottie Wilbekin and Adam Gibson was solid and in Semi-Final game 2 he snared a career high 5 steals.

Once known for simply being a terrific scorer, Webster has made great strides in the last few seasons, becoming a much more rounded player. On the back of an outstanding FIBA World Cup campaign, his latest Breakers season has reaffirmed his rise as one of New Zealand’s premier players.

Not only will he be amongst the front-runners for the Breakers MVP Award for the 2014-15 season he will surely be a certainty for the Most Improved Player.

Season at a glance:

  • 3rd NBL Championship title
  • Led the Breakers scoring – 491 points @ 15.3pg
  • 5th in the League in 3 point shooting – 42.0% (71/169)
  • Second on the team in steals – 32 @1.0pg
  • Played every game this season and has made 84 consecutive appearances in total

Breakers by Numbers following Grand Final success

10997774_798477266854593_4664010133442048066_n So, the SKY CITY Breakers entered the play-offs with little winning momentum having lost four of their last six regular season games. Two of those losses were at home against eventual play-off opposition Adelaide and Cairns.

So much for the theory of momentum as the Adelaide 36ers were swept 2-0 and the Cairns Taipans were given the same treatment.

Below are some numbers you may not have known or simply forgotten:

5  The number of NBL titles won by Mika Vukona in the last 7 years. His first title was with South Dragons in 2009. We all know what has happened since.

5  The number of times the Taipans had beaten the Breakers in the last 6 meetings prior to the Grand Final series.

7  The number of opposition courts on which victories were recorded in the season. The first season that the Breakers had beaten every opponent on their own court in the regular season.

9  The number of consecutive play-off victories recorded by the Breakers. Last defeat was Grand Final Game 2, 87-86 in Perth in April 2012.

10  The number of consecutive games Adelaide had won prior to the semi-final series. The Breakers won by 29 and 11.

22  The record number of play-off games played for the Breakers by Vukona and Abercrombie.

47.1  Tom Abercrombie’s 3 Points %, shooting 49 from 104 attempts. Second in the NBL. In addition Corey Webster shot a very handy 42% (71/169), 5th in NBL.

59.6  Ekene Ibekwe’s shooting %, he led the NBL in Field Goal % – 152 from 255. Interestingly Alex Pledger was second in the League on 56.4%.

150  Alex Pledger played his 150th game for the Breakers in Grand Final game 2.

193  Cedric Jackson led the NBL in assists dishing them off at 6.0 per game.

4,095  The crowd for Grand Final Game 2 at North Shore Events Centre. The noise following Ibekwe’s game winning fade away winner sounded more like 14,000.

Kiwis Abroad

Whilst all the talk, quite rightly, has been about the stunning finish to cap the Sky City Breakers fourth NBL Grand Final victory plenty more has been happening in Kiwi basketball circles this week.

Across the Tasman, a couple of hours after the Breakers win, Townsville Fire was closing out the Australian Women’s National Basketball Championship.

Tall Ferns Micaela Cocks and Jillian Harmon and their Townsvile Fire teammates were too good for Bendigo Spirit claiming their first title 75-65. Runners-up in the last two years the Fire made no mistake this time. A decisive 26-16 second quarter did the trick much to the delight of the 2,000 fans in Townsville.

Both players have played key roles coming off the bench for the Fire. Cocks has played a similar role to that of Rhys Carter at the Breakers and Harmon has added the Tai Wesley like forward punch.

The Townsville club has been presented with the keys to the city for their outstanding season.

In the Greek League Dramas, as expected, were too good for bottom placed Panionis, winning 79-72. Rob Loe provided 4pts/5 rebounds/3 assists as Dramas improved their record to 7-12, remaining in 10th spot on the ladder.

There was a huge surprise in the Spanish League as top beat bottom. La Bruixa d’Or Manresa snapped a 4 game losing streak to outlast top of the table Unicaja 8076.  Isaac Fotu scored 8 points and garnered 4 rebounds. The Kiwi forward shot 2/4 from the land of plenty and also scored 2/2 free throws as Manresa shot 20 of 24 freebies on the night to record their best win of the season.

Also in Spain third last Sevilla travelled to second last Fuenlabrada and lost a nail biter 82-81. Kirk Penney was outstanding for Sevilla scoring 17 points – 6/10FG that included 3 from 5 three pointers.

In Germany Jarrod Kenny posted 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 assist as Licher Baeren beat Fraport SKY 67-56 in the German B League South Division on Sunday.

Last but certainly not least Steven Adams made his comeback for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their 108-104 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday (NZ time).

Adams had been absent from the NBA for exactly 4 weeks after breaking a bone in his hand. He came off the bench to contribute 6pts/6rebs/2 blocks as the Thunder improved their record to 35-29.

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