The National Basketball League will return on Friday with preseason action, or better known as the Blitz, set to tip-off in Palmerston North.
The Blitz runs through Sunday and will be hosted by the Manawatu Jets, Basketball Manawatu and Sport Manawatu.
In addition, a new naming rights sponsor for the NBL will be unveiled at the preseason event this Friday.
All eight NBL teams will attend the Blitz, and it will be a good opportunity for teams to deploy their developmental and lesser experienced players ahead of the regular season which tips-off on April 26.
Tall Blacks players will be rested for the event after their stint at the Commonwealth Games, but most are expected to return for the opening week. Import signings will likely follow a similar timeline.
NBL teams are now allowed to sign up to three import players. While some teams are yet to fill all three spots, others have already taken advantage by adding some top tier overseas talent.
The Taylor Bay Hawks signed four-time ANBL champion David Barlow as one of their imports. The 34-year-old Barlow will be a key cog for the Hawks this season as they look to bounce back from a 4-14 record last year.
Barlow joins the likes of Dion Prewster, Everard Bartlett, Jarrod Kenney and Ethan Rusbatch on the roster.
The Hawks also signed the young maestro Zico Coronel as their Head Coach for this season. Coronel comes over from the Wellington Saints and has experienced a ton of success during his 13 seasons in the NBL. He’s got five championships to his name and has reached the final a further two times.
The Canterbury Rams added Xavier Thames and Winston Shepard, both of whom attended San Diego State University together and bring over some already established chemistry. Thames and Shepard have both spent time in the NBA’s developmental league, as well as multiple stops overseas.
The Rams will enter the season with a young squad, and the experience that both Thames and Shepard possess will be incredibly valuable for the team throughout the 2018 campaign.
The Go Media Manawatu Jets return to the NBL for the first time since 2015. The team has yet to name a head coach for the upcoming season, but it’s expected the roster and coaching staff will mostly be made up of local talent.
The Jets will get a hometown boost hosting the Blitz this weekend and will also open the regular season at home against the Taranaki Mountainairs on April 29.
The Mike Pero Nelson Giants announced the return of Mika Vukona last week, returning to play for his hometown Giants for the first time since 2015. Vukona will take some time off following the Commonwealth Games, but is expected to join the Giants early on in the regular season.
The Giants were one of three teams to finish with a 4-14 record last season, but the addition of Vukona will boost their chances this time around. Vukona joins the likes of Kyle Adnam, Finn Delaney, Tohi Smith-Milner and Jerry Evans Jr. on the squad.
The Taranaki Mountainairs finished at the bottom of the NBL ladder last season and will be looking to bounce back with a strong showing in 2018.
The Airs signed American forward Javonte Douglas back in March and he’ll likely serve as one of the focal points in the lineup. In his senior season at Montevallo University, Douglas averaged 24.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, shooting 53.3 per cent from the field and 46.5 per cent from three. He’s an incredibly talented player who should provide a big boost for the team.
Xavier Smith, who played with Douglas in Cyprus, and Roger Woods are the team’s other two imports. Both have spent multiple years overseas in countries such as Switzerland, Iceland and Cyprus, among others.
The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks will be hoping to avenge their grand final defeat at the hands of the Saints last season. The team has added Australian Jarrad Weeks and American Orlando Coleman as two of their imports, and they join some impressive local talent.
Alex Pledger, Reuben Te Rangi, Derone Raukawa and James Hunter will all return to the Sharks. Southland will court another strong team and will almost certainly be in contention for the championship again this season.
The 2 Cheap Cars Super City Rangers placed third last season with a 11-7 record. They have yet to announce import players for the upcoming season, but with veteran coach Jeff Green at the helm they’ll surely remain competitive again. The likely return of Dillon Boucher will see him playing his 25th NBL season, which will add to his NBL record of 410 games. Also Lindsay Tait is currently sitting on 290 games – an honorable 300 game celebration will be a special moment to watch for.
Finally, the defending champion Wellington Saints will have high expectations to live up to after going undefeated last year. Kevin Braswell will return as coach and has also just been announced as head coach of the SKYCITY Breakers, signing a three-year deal with the ANBL club.
The Saints recently signed Melbourne United big man Majok Majok to their 2018 roster, and also added kiwi prospect Shane Temara, who just finished two years at North Texas University.
Over 50 games will be livestreamed on www.nznbl.basketball, with a new look website being launched just before the opening week.
The NBL regular season tips-off on 26 April with the Taylor Bay Hawks hosting the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks in Taradale. The Sharks will then be in action again the following night in Wellington, as they square off in a grand final rematch with the Saints.
The regular season runs through to 29 July, with the Final Four tournament beginning on 3 August.