The Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs were a big performer at the 2020 Showdown, going all the way to the semi-finals in a spirited showing that gave their fans back home some real joy. Now they return to home base with a sharp focus on building local pathways and zoning in on Kiwi talent. It's a process with sound intentions, but the Airs will be the first to admit it will take some patience. That said, don't underestimate this crew, especially with Marcel Jones leading the way.
Let's take a look at how the Airs are shaping up for the 2021 Sal's NBL season.
Coach: Trent Adam
Marcel Jones is one of the most well-known players in the Sal’s NBL. A multi-award winner, including All Star Five at last year’s Showdown, a prolific scorer and rebounder, and a genuine entertainer, Jones brings star factor to the Airs in spades. You can expect Jones to be the go-to player and deliver big minutes, possibly on average the most minutes played by any player in the League this season.
Tai Wynyard is somewhat of an enigma. Young, big and strong, and loaded with natural talent, Wynyard is poised to take the next step in his young career – will 2021 be the year? After a huge pre-season, Wynyard is ready to fire and he could be the x-factor the Airs are looking for.
At 31-years of age, American Nelson Kirksey is a quality vet, but when it comes to years in the game he’s beaten to the post by 39-year old Aaron Bailey-Nowell (turns 40 during the season). Both players bring years of experience and veteran leadership to what is a fairly young team, so it’s vital the Airs get strong leadership from both vets. If Kirksey and Bailey-Nowell can form a good veteran partnership between them, the Airs will have two quality leaders ready to lift the team to some good results in 2021.
Going with just one import in a season where most teams have two is a big risk. The Airs have openly stated they want to me regarded as a programme that builds and develops Kiwi talent, which nobody in the basketball fraternity will question, in fact it is to be applauded. The risk for the Airs is a lack of absolute star power this season might make things a little tougher on court. Some would call only having one import a risk, others might say it is an opportunity for the locals to shine. You be the judge.
Being surrounded by so many young and energetic players often delivers its own rewards – mateship, unity and a real sense of achievement every time you walk off with a win. The biggest reward for the Airs in 2021 could be the foundations and building blocks that are being put in place for future success. It is a calculated plan and one that will be fun to watch over the coming years. And, if it does come to fruition, remember season 2021 as the year where the future rewards stem from.
THREE THINGS THAT MUST GO RIGHT
MEMBERSHIPS & TICKETS
The Airs face a tough start with a first-up road trip down south to play the Sharks and Nuggets, though some might say it’s best to get that one out of the way nice and early. A string of three home games then follows, including a huge night on May 6 when Aaron Bailey-Nowell will celebrate his 300th game. A big week between June 13-20 sees the Airs play at home to the Rams before travelling to play the Saints and a return bout with the Rams, while a season-ending run of three away games before a final home game against the Giants will be a testing period.
Thursday April 29 | 7:30pm | @ Southland Sharks
Saturday May 1 | 7:30pm | @ Otago Nuggets
Thursday May 6 | 7:30pm | vs Franklin Bulls
Sunday May 16 | 5:00pm | vs Otago Nuggets
Thursday May 20 | 7:30pm | vs Hawke’s Bay Hawks
Sunday May 23 | 3:00pm | @ Manawatu Jets
Saturday May 29 | 7:30pm | vs Southland Sharks
Friday June 4 | 7:30pm | vs Auckland Huskies
Monday June 7 | 2:00pm | @ Nelson Giants
Sunday June 13 | 3:00pm | vs Canterbury Rams
Saturday June 19 | 7:30pm | @ Wellington Saints
Sunday June 20 | 5:00pm | @ Canterbury Rams
Friday June 25 | 7:30pm | vs Manawatu Jets
Friday July 2 | 7:30pm | vs Wellington Saints
Saturday July 3 | 7:30pm | @ Franklin Bulls
Saturday July 10 | 7:30pm | @ Hawke’s Bay Hawks
Sunday July 11 | 5:00pm | @ Auckland Huskies
Saturday July 17 | 7:30pm | vs Nelson Giants