Home once more: The New Zealand Breakers are back, happy, and winning
They finally returned home this season, and the New Zealand Breakers are thriving once again in NBL23. Their early season charge to the top of the table may only be the beginning.
Credit: Dan Bennett Photography
For two long years, the New Zealand Breakers had to do everything the hard way. In the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian NBL’s only overseas club was, unsurprisingly, the most severely impacted. Travel restrictions left them stranded in Australia, away from friends, family and fans, for the bulk of two seasons; star local Tai Webster had to be released after refusing to be vaccinated; and on the court, the club suffered through their worst ever two-season stretch with a combined 17-47 record. When owner Matt Walsh described it as “the most difficult two years in Breakers’ history”, he wasn’t exaggerating.
Maybe that experience is why New Zealand is now making the hard look so easy in the new season. They had five games on the road in the first five rounds of NBL23, and from rounds 3-5 they played six games in the space of 16 days. “We’ve felt a lot of adversity so far in this early part of our season, even through preseason, with how much we’ve had to work, our grind, our journey,” Breakers forward Jarrell Brantley recently told The Huddle Podcast.
Despite that tough schedule, along with a new head coach and a roster with significant turnover, they sat atop the ladder at the end of round five and are now second heading into the FIBA break. The Breakers had just five wins in total during NBL22; this season, it took just eight games to surpass that tally.
That drastic turnaround may have come as a surprise to some, given the talent that left the club after last season. Star centre Yanni Wetzell signed in Germany before NBL22 had even ended, and fellow Kiwi Finn Delany followed soon after. Young Frenchmen Hugo Besson and Ousmane Dieng headed to the NBA draft after flourishing as the season progressed, and off the court, head coach Dan Shamir stepped down to return to his family in Israel. All of those high level departures from a team that went 5-23 made pessimism an easy outlook.
In the eyes of new coach Mody Maor, who stepped into the role after three seasons as Shamir’s assistant, last season’s struggles were instantly irrelevant.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Pick and Roll to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.