The Southern Huskies this week will make their much-anticipated debut in Sal's New Zealand National Basketball League (NZ NBL). While they will break new ground and create history in becoming the first Australian team to play in a New Zealand professional league, they may well be embarking on the biggest road trip in Australian sporting history.
Opening the 2019 season with a three-game road trip against the Manawatu Jets, Wellington Saints and Hawke's Bay Hawks, it is fair to say the Huskies will be racking up the frequent flyer miles this week. For Managing Director Justin Hickey, the challenging road trip was in many ways reflective of the journey that he embarked on when launching the first year club.
"Man what a journey," sighed Hickey. "I don't know where to start really.
"Setting up a team from scratch certainly has been a lot of hard work and we would not be at this point unless a whole stack of great people didn't pitch in and take ownership of their roles. Mike Sutton and Andy Hollands have been terrific. We have really seen another side of Anthony Stewart, which has been a 100% positive step in his growth as a coach and mentor at this level, and we have started to see the development of a winning culture. No matter the actual outcome on the [opening] night, the culture is super important for the long term success of the club on and off the court."
Hickey and the entire Huskies group were all acutely aware of the logistical obstacles that will require navigation throughout the 2019 season, and that it does not get any tougher than their opening weekend.
"It's a super-hard road trip to begin the NZ NBL journey," added Hickey. "It didn't help that our first flight got cancelled, and that the team has already been broken up temporarily. But hey, this is the stuff which brings us closer together, and everyone is happy to be on this journey."
Based in Hobart, Tasmania, the Huskies make their historic first trip via Melbourne and Auckland before finally arriving in Palmerston North on Wednesday night in prepartion for their Thursday evening debut against the Manawatu Jets. Win or lose, they will have little time to take it all in, as they then make their way to Wellington on Friday morning to play their second game that night against the Saints.
The following day it is then off to Napier via Palmerston North for their third game in 4 days against the Hawke's Bay Hawks on Sunday afternoon. A travel weary Huskies side will then immediately head back to Wellington after the game, before boarding a Monday afternoon flight home to Hobart via Sydney, to cap off a massive long weekend of Easter proportions.
The addition of the Australian-based Huskies to the NZ NBL was an important step forward, and one in which league General Manager Justin Nelson was proud of, especially given his Australian roots.
“The Southern Huskies are a part of history, the first Australian sports team to play in a New Zealand national league, and I think they will prove to be very successful," shared Nelson.
“We rate this league as the best men’s basketball competition across the region during the winter months, and the entry of the Huskies will no doubt make a few others from Australia sit up and take notice.
"I think in time history will show that what the Huskies are undertaking is groundbreaking. It’s an exciting time for the NZ NBL.”
While Nelson was focused on the success of the NZ NBL which enjoyed a massive opening to the season last week, Hickey's vision for the sport in Tasmania was at the forefront of his thinking.
"We are making inroads into Tasmania as a whole so they understand the the Huskies are their team, and that what we do off the court is just as important as what we want to achieve on the court. We are also super-excited about our foundation that we will soon launch, our camps, development program, our leadership and resilience development program we are about to introduce, all of which will have far reaching effects outside of basketball.
"All in all, its the start of good things to come for Tasmanian sport and getting to the tip off this week is just the first cog in the wheel for what we want to achieve into the future."
While Hickey had an eye on the future, there was no hiding his excitement and anticipation to finally see the Huskies playing in the NZ NBL.
"First we have the Jets in Parmy North on Thursday night, then off to Wellington for a huge clash with the Saints on Friday before taking on the Hawks on Sunday," enthused Hickey.
"There is lots of travel, but should be a stack of fun. We have a awesome group of coaches and players, who have all come together nicely and we just can't wait to hit the boards to be honest.
"We don't really know what to expect, the round one games showed that it will be a super-tough comp with a stack of NBL, local and American talent, so we will just have to wait and see."
Hickey was confident that the squad heading to New Zealand this week was going to be competitive and give their opponents a real run for their money,.
"We have assembled a ripping group, with Marcel Jones still to come into the squad," Hickey added. "We are quietly confident we will be very competitive.
"We are a real chance to walk away with 3 wins, and it really does set the scene for our first home game on Saturday, 27th April at the DEC.
"I personally am just super-happy to see us get to the start of the season, and its a real reward for everyone who has been involved from the start, but also a reward for Tasmanian's who have been craving a higher level of basketball, and this certainly ticks that box."
The Huskies will roll out former Melbourne United star Craig Moller who has this week signed a new deal with the Sydney Kings. He will be joined by a talanted line-up that includes the likes of Tre Nicholls and Jalen Billups, with towering center Jordan Vandenberg added to the team this week.
Australian basketball fans can watch Sal's NZ NBL games live online via The Pick and Roll, including all three of the Huskies games this weekend. Their first is against the Jets on Thursday, tipping off at 5pm (all times AEST), while their games against Wellington (Friday, 5pm AEST) and the Hawks (Sunday, 1pm) are also not to be missed.