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Grand final end to wild ride

Team Reg v Team Tom to decide inaugural Draft League champs


NO one knows what’s going to happen at the YMCA tonight and for the basketball community, the wait is agony.

The inaugural Draft League kicked off with fireworks on November 2 — a 74-68 win to unbeaten Team Reg against Team Tom — and it’s been the wildest ride in the city since.

High-scoring close games from go-to-whoa have seen interest in future competitions of this type grow and spread far beyond the first 40 players to pay and register.

The basketball IQs of team namesake coaches Reggie Namana, Thomas Tindale, Keenan Ruru-Poharama and Adrian Sparks have been tested, and the fitness and durability of their crews has been pushed to the limit.

No high-pressure round ball environment like this has been seen before here, and Gisborne Basketball Association has no choice but to meet the appetite — indeed, demand — for more of it.

Tonight the Draft League grand final, Team Reg versus Team Tom, is set for 7pm. The opening tip in the play-off for third and fourth, Team Keenan versus Team Adrian, is at 5.30pm.

GBA chair Kylie Turuwhenua-Tapsell said: “tonight’s grand final is likely to go down as one of our most exciting ever. Both of these match-ups have seen multiple lead changes in their previous face-offs. I’m picking that both games will go down to the wire tonight.”

The play-off for third between Team Keenan and a Team Adrian crew yet to fly a flag of triumph at will be about a crucial element in the make-up of any successful sportsperson — pride.

Team Keenan began their journey into the unknown with a 77-72 win against Team Adrian, followed by 54-71 and 81-84 losses to Team Reg and Team Tom in weeks 2 and 3, before going down 72-79 to coach Tindale’s outfit last Tuesday in the 2 v 3 semifinal.

With the hustle and skill they’ve played with, had Team K been a club basketball team and produced similar form, they might well now be on a four-game winning streak. But such is the standard of the Draft League, one win is all they have.

Team Keenan’s offence is sparked by Dom Wilson, a playmaker who can change gears at incredible speed, and also boasts a left-hander in Paora Dewes, who runs non-stop and takes big hits while smiling it off. Dewes has proven his toughness in this new era.

Team Adrian have played with huge heart since opening night. Who could have done more than they did to win in Round 2 only for Team Tom to win a shoot-out 99-84? Team Tom captain Carl Riini scored 33 points, fellow marksman Scott Muncaster 29 and Tyrese Tuwairua-Brown — arguably the best offensive player in the GBA — 18.

Perhaps no team could have stopped them that evening but Team Adrian responded with toil and sweat — Sebastian Wilson (17), Ryan Walters (15), Ngaru Grayson (13) and Ethan Ngarangione-Pearson (12).

Last time out was a tough one for Sparks’ outfit. They went into the 1 v 4 semi as underdogs and lost to Team Reg 78-96.

Lanky forward Caleb Poole, with 12, scored in double figures for Team Adrian on November 23 and he should be proud of his effort and performances, particularly at the offensive end of the court, for a team who have had to battle and are set to do so again.

“This is about execution on offence and playing defence as if stopping the ball is a cure-all for everything,” Sparks said.

Team Keenan and Team Adrian have done it tough at times, but Team Tom skipper Riini is extremely positive and his infectious enthusiasm has rubbed off in the lead-up to tonight’s main event.

“We’ve loved it and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to lead team. We’re now close teammates under a great coach,” he said.

Muncaster and Tuwairua-Brown will need to be at their best from 7pm in support of Riini.

The GBA’S adherence to Covid-19 protocols means that a spectator-per-player situation numbers-wise will be the state of play at the YMCA, as Team Tom get ready to pump iron with the No.1 team in the Draft League.

Team Reg have made up-tempo ball their trademark during the last five weeks and with Daley Riri, Holden Wilson, Kahn Grayson, Rikki Noble and William Hocquard among their cast members, they’ve been able to run their opposition off the floor.

They are lighter, leaner and more clinical — particularly in their attitude to defence — than any of the other three franchises.

That tough mindset on defence, above all else, pleases Namana.

“I’ve seen ballers become players. Their basketball IQ has increased and while in five weeks you can’t gain much in skill and fitness, you can learn some fine, intricate stuff about the game,” he said.

“For me, that’s been a treat. I show them things, they try those things out and it doesn’t take them long to realise that those things actually work, which makes winning easier.”

ON THE OFFENCE: Tyrese Tuwairua-Brown looks for an opening with Willie Brown in pursuit. Tuwairua-Brown is among the best offensive players in the GBA and one to watch tonight. Picture by Paul Rickard