This weekend the Wellington Saints will be hunting down a record eighth National Basketball title as Final Four Basketball hits Wellington.
Already Wellington’s most successful professional sporting franchise by some margin, an eighth title would be an outstanding achievement. It won’t be easy though as the top four teams from the regular season assemble in the Capital for a high octane shootout to determine NZ domestic basketball supremacy for 2015.
Perennial contenders the Saints are one of four teams that have largely dominated the NBL this season, there’s nothing between them and its shaping up to be one of the tightest ever championship races in NBL history. Super City Rangers (Auckland), Nelson Giants and red hot Southland Sharks are coming to the Saints home from far and wide to stake a claim for the big prize.
The Saints have been good, if slightly inconsistent by their own lofty standards this season. Player for player they have arguably the best roster in the league, although the star studded glamour boys from Auckland might have something to say about that.
So how do the Saints shape up? Pretty well as it happens! While he might be in the veteran category these days, Lindsay Tait at his best is still more than capable of running the show, he is very much the fulcrum around which the Saints game is built. When Tait runs hot, the team wins – it’s as simple as that.
The two import spots always provide plenty of interest (and debate) for the Saints faithful. This year they have absolutely struck gold with Torrey Craig, the fact he has more than filled the massive gap left by last year’s league MVP Corey Webster says it all. The pacey, athletic American swingman ripped up the court to score 41 points in a regular season game and he registers top stats week in and week out.
Second import Daniel Johnson joined mid-season when it became clear to mount a serious title challenge the Saints needed a genuine ‘Big’. The extremely well credentialed 2.12 meter (6’10 “) Aussie out of a very competitive European league fitted the bill perfectly. To be fair, Johnson has been good since his arrival in Wellington. He will go into the Final Four full of confidence off the back of two consecutive 20+ point scoring efforts.
It’s not all about the imports though, ‘blue collar guy’ Dion Prewster who has built his game around doing the hard yards so others can shine has taken his game to another level in 2015. Still doing stellar work in the defensive half of the court the likeable local has really hit his straps when it comes to knocking down baskets, week in week out he has been posting good numbers at the offensive end. Prewster has been rewarded for his efforts with a well-earned Tall Black trial.
Eighteen year old protégé lzayah Mauriohooho Leafa out of Petone has established himself as a key player off the bench, his ability to step onto court, nail a couple of clutch three pointers and get the team rolling is uncanny. Another who can get on an electric scoring roll is seasoned campaigner Brendan Polyblank. While he may not be quite as mobile as he was in his prime, he’s not lost any of his composure or class.
There’s plenty of starch in the squad as well. Hard man Leon Henry is a massive physical presence and capable of dominating any opposition. Henry suffered horrific facial injuries when a slam dunk went horribly wrong and he smashed face first onto the hardwood court mid-season. It was a sickening blow and after extensive rehab and a period playing in a face mask, Henry has been fully fit and firing in recent weeks.
It would be remiss to talk about Saints tough guys and not mention skipper Damien ‘hitman’ Ekenasio, a specialist in getting in the face of the opposition and disrupting the rhythm of their play, Ekenasio leads from the front. There would be no more fitting end to the season than seeing the local Basketball icon proudly lifting an eighth NBL trophy above his head.
Final Four tips off on Saturday at TSB Arena with Semi Final games at 3pm and 5.30pm. The Grand Final takes place on Sunday at 7pm.
Thanks to the Hutt News for this preview.
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