THE Newcastle Hunters will take a leap into the unknown when they begin their Waratah Basketball League men’s and women’s seasons against Sutherland Sharks at Sutherland on Saturday.
Both teams want to climb the ladder after disappointing campaigns last year. The men were equal last with a 3-17 win-loss record, and the women (8-8) finished sixth and also missed the play-offs.
Men’s coach Darren Nichols has welcomed back veterans Josh Morgan, Jon Howe and Steve Davis to his squad, and recruited Americans Austin Thornton and Sharif Watson.
Thornton, a versatile 196cm all-court player from Michigan State University, has been in Newcastle since early January and is lookinwill make his first appearance in Hunters colours against the Sharks.
Watson, an athletic 198cm swingman from Los Angeles, only arrived in Newcastle on Wednesday after a stint in Spain. His availability against Sutherland will depend on whether he receives his FIBA clearance before the 6pm tip-off.
“We have strengthened our line-up with some returning senior players and two imports, who will provide confidence for our younger players,” Nichols said.
“It’s been a disrupted pre-season because we’ve had players away with injuries and work commitments, so this game will be the first time we’ve had the entire squad together.
“We’re currently experiencing ugly-duckling syndrome but once we find our feet, I am confident that we have something very special waiting to shine.”
Shannon Seebohm, who coached Australia’s under-17 girls to victory in the 2016 FIBA world championships, has replaced Mark Gledson in charge of Newcastle’s senior women’s squad.
Former Hunters junior Hannah Young is back in Newcastle after a successful college career at Virginia Tech, veterans Cheryl Wills and Charlotte Bull have returned full-time, and Seebohm has added guards Jasmin Howe and Lauren Faulkner.
“There’s always that unknown factor going into the first game of the season,” Seebohm said.
“Our main focus will be on taking what we’ve been working on at training and transferring that into games, then building on that and making sure we get better each week throughout the season.
“Sutherland will be tough first up. They’re well coached and very organised.”
AAP reports: Melbourne United believe the quirky scheduling of the NBL finals will work to their advantage in the championship-deciding series.
Due to Australia's involvement in FIBA World Cup qualifying, United had 10 days' break leading into their semi-final showdown with New Zealand, which they won on Monday night 2-0.
And with their grand-final opponents still be decided, with Perth and Adelaide squaring off on Friday night in game two, Melbourne can enjoy another lengthy spell before they host the opening game on March 16 in the five-game title-deciding series.
Coach Dean Vickerman said it suited his team.
"This whole year has been new, having the (international) windows, and we've been pretty good coming out the other side of them," Vickerman said. "We have some older players in our group and the rest only helps them.”