It is the end of an era in New Zealand Basketball, with Dillon Boucher MNZM announcing that this season will be his last in the Sal’s NBL, in the process bringing the curtain down on one of the most decorated careers that New Zealand sport, let alone basketball, is ever likely to see.
42-year-old Boucher can look back on a scarcely believable 25 years in the New Zealand league since his debut as a 17-year-old back in 1994, playing for the Auckland Stars, Harbour Heat, Waikato Titans, Auckland Pirates, Wellington Saints and the Supercity Rangers, collecting 9 NBL Championship titles during that time.
Add to that amazing collection a further 4 ANBL titles and a decorated seven-year career in the black singlet, including that history making fourth place finish at the 2002 FIBA World Championships, and you have one of the most storied sporting tales this country has to tell.
It will all come to an end though at the end of this current SAL’s NBL campaign, with the Super City Rangers out of play off contention, Boucher will play his final four competitive games, starting with a final home game for the Rangers this Sunday against the Nelson Giants at Waitakere Trusts Stadium (3pm tip off, live streaming).
It is a decision that has been long in the making for Boucher, who mixes his day job of General Manager of the SKYCITY Breakers, with his playing role in the Sal’s NBL and keeping an eye on his young family.
“This has been something I have talked about for a long time, when would the time come? I have played the game because I love playing and have wanted to continue while my body allowed me to. But my body is telling me it is time, not in the way of injuries, but more in terms of speed on the court and wanting to contribute more than the body is now allowing me to do. I have toyed with this for the past few years, but this is the year when it will all finish.
“My primary job is the success of the Breakers, the playing side had to become secondary several years ago. Not putting those hours in the gym has not kept my game where I want it to be, doing team trainings is not enough, missing the individual sessions that I would have kept up if playing was still the number one focus.”
Boucher shied away from singling out one team or one season as a highlight.
“I have played with some amazing players and teams and been coached by some great coaches. I have been fortunate to be on some great teams so to single out one year is hard. I have enjoyed the latter part of my career to share my knowledge with younger players. My focus changed from being a selfish player to almost becoming a player coach in recent years, using training and games to teach team mates and help them grow and watch them flourish and improve through small subtleties I can teach them. I am fortunate, the game has been good to me and the final few years has beena bout giving back to the game and to others.”
He has also been durable, with his only truncated season being 2012 when he played just eight games in the Pirates championship winning run.
“I have been very lucky, I don’t want to set myself up for injury in these last few games, but I have been lucky to have had minimal injuries. But that is also down to taking care of yourself and managing injuries when they happen.
“It is also partly mental toughness and maybe playing when others might not. I have had a guy like Mika to look up to, battling with and against him for many years. He never takes a second off from the court and being able to measure yourself against guys like that has always been dear to me, I have always tried to bring that toughness to my game, I never wanted to show anyone I was injured for fear that was seen as a weakness.”
Boucher has built a career as a role player, with basketball smarts and leadership listed at the top of his CV.
“It was a funny transition, early in my career I was successful in making the New Zealand junior team as a 17-year-old and then the Auckland team with Tab Baldwin as coach at the time. He spoke about my defence and basketball IQ, it was never about my shooting or scoring, in his mind that didn’t matter, he had guys on the team that could do that.
“I realized that to get more time on court I had to play good defence and make good reads and get the ball to the right people at the right time. I kept at that and found I was better than others at doing that and got the minutes as a result and that is how my game evolved. Those were the key things that coaches were looking for at the high level. It has certainly helped the teams I have been on win throughout my career.
“I am proud of my career, the friendships and relationships I have made along the way. I have lifelong friendships from the sport, my new friends are the parents of kids in the sport as I know watch my own children playing the sport. The game has been great to me and I will continue to be involved for the rest of my life I have no doubt.”
Boucher believes the game is in great shape too, as he departs the hardwood for more time behind the desk and a focus on his own children and their pursuits.
“There is some great talent coming through, the likes of Canterbury Rams with High School kids in their starting lineup, there is a great crop coming through and I think sport is on a massive growth curve and the NBL will benefit from that.
“A league that has the likes of Shea Ili and Jarrod Weeks – Aussie NBL stars that shine and play well in their teams is a good thing. The NBL has continued to be very strong throughout my career, the emphasis has changed from star imports to the stars being local players, that is what is encouraging most, that development of local talent to the point where imports are being brought in to complement what the locals do, that is exciting.”
Boucher was at pains to single out individuals, but was convinced to name two ten player rosters, one made up of the best New Zealand talent he has played with or against in the NBL, and one of the best imported talent he has seen in that time.
Boucher NZ All Star Ten
Lindsay Tait, Paul Henare, Pero Cameron, Phill Jones, Hayden Allen, Corey Webster, Mika Vukona, Casey Frank, Riki Strother, Alex Pledger – with special mentions for Kirk Penney, Steven Adams, Mark Dickel and Tom Abercrombie (given their comparative lack of time playing in the NBL), and Byron Vaetoe, Stan Hill, Glen Denham (did not see enough during the cross over of careers)
Boucher Import All Star Ten
Kenny Stone, Tony Bennett, Daryl Johnson, Ronnie Joyner, Willie Burton, Jason Crowe, Torrey Craig, Terrance Lewis, Eric Devendorf, Ed Book (became naturalized NZer)
Dillon Boucher MNZM
From Bell Block, New Plymouth. Moved to Auckland as a 14 year old
NZ NBL Career by the numbers
1994 to 2018
9 championships, 1995, ‘96, ‘97, ‘99, 2000, ’02, ‘04, ‘05, ‘12
Play offs every year except 2007, ’09, ’11, ’14, ‘18
Finals MVP 2005
Kiwi NBL MVP 2003
3 x NBL All Star Five 2002, ’03, ‘07
422 games (all-time NBL leader), 7.5 points per game (55%), 5.8 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game, 2.2 steals per game
2014 recognized in Queens Birthday Honours with MNZM for Services to Basketball