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September 23, 2006 at 10:04 pm #11575
Two foundation players at the Harvey Norman NZ Breakers are returning to the team for the upcoming Philips Championship season starting in September.
The signing of Tall Black guards Phill Jones and Paora Winitana, who both played for the Breakers in their inaugural Australian NBL campaign in 2003/2004, completes the recruitment of ‘local’ players.
They will be part of an 11-strong roster, one more than usual, of which six are Kiwis. Only the two import spots are still to be filled.
The 29-year-old Winitana, the New Zealand NBL’s MVP in 2006 and joint New Zealand MVP in 2007, says he has worked hard over the past couple of years for another shot at “the big time”.
“I have two young sons now and everyone knows my family comes first,” Winitana said. “But I’ve talked it through with my wife and going back to the Breakers is something we’ve both wanted to do for a while.
“I’ve put in the time and effort, working on my game, and this is a good challenge to see if I can compete in the ANBL.”
Jones, 33, has two children under two and a half years old and is keen to wind down his nomadic lifestyle.
“I’ve been traveling overseas for the last eight or nine years and it’s the right time to be closer to family and friends,” Jones said.
“I had a stint with the Breakers which didn’t go that great, but with Aaron Olson retiring and giving me the opportunity to step in, I’m very happy to be back.
“What happened the first time I was with the Breakers doesn’t enter my mind because there have been positive changes since then. You can’t dwell on the past, you have to look forward and it’s up to me and the rest of the team to create a new chapter.”
Both Jones and Winitana are pleased to be linking up with fellow Tall Blacks Paul Henare, Kirk Penney and Mika Vukona.
“It’s always great to be back together,” Winitana said. “To be alongside them for a full ANBL season is exciting, especially when you consider the growing strength of the Breakers’ roster.
“The club has done a great recruiting job, now the onus is on the players to put it all together, get the job done and reward the faith placed in us.”
Jones is similarly impressed with the team that is being assembled.
“Tony Ronaldson is going to bring a lot of experience and we’ve got a group of very good shooters,” Jones said.
“We need a big American guy who will dominate and be tough in the middle and a guard who can organise a team and play for the guys around him. Put those pieces in place and the club is in a healthy position.”
Upon returning home from his Cantu club in Italy Jones had to sit out the business end of the New Zealand NBL after just missing the deadline required to join his beloved Nelson Giants.
He was rapt to see the team he debuted for in 1993 win this year’s title, but admits he’s had a rude awakening in the Tall Blacks camp after having a month off.
“Our fitness trainer is tough and she has got stuck into us,” Jones said. “We’ll be primed for the upcoming Tall Blacks campaign and should be in good shape for the start of the ANBL season.
“We’ll need to be firing because the Philips Championship is up there with some of the leagues in Europe. It’s tough, but it’s also a lot faster. Teams seem to get up and down the court more whereas in Europe if nothing’s on it’s more set plays and often becomes a half court tussle.
“The last time I was involved with the Breakers the league was up tempo, had good athletes and gun shooters. I’m looking forward to ripping in and testing myself at this level again.”
The Breakers’ core roster, with two imports to be added, is Paul Henare, Brent Charleton, Phill Jones, Paora Winitana, Kirk Penney, Oscar Forman, Mika Vukona, Tony Ronaldson and Tim Behrendorff.
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