And with a triple swoop on Wednesday the Breakers have now completed their roster for the upcoming season. ‘Director of Basketball’ Dan Shamir will have a dozen players to juggle and rotate, as well as Terry Li and with two more development players yet to be named. Got about this business nice and quick too with five players signed over the course of about two weeks since Shamir was unveiled as head coach (sorry, Director of Basketball). The NBL doesn’t sleep, people.
Although not sure why they had to be in such a hurry, to be honest. The Breakers got all that work done over the space of two press releases and that’s definitely buried a lot of the hype of those import signings in particular. That’s a weird pivot for a Breakers organisation which is trying to appear as modern and media savvy as possible these days. Like, Scotty Hopson is a supreme player – maybe the most talented dude on the roster in the current moment – but he was announced simultaneously with the new coach (dammit, DOB)… so guess who got all the headlines? Hint: it wasn’t Scotty Hopz.
Yet despite all that, the coach (Director of Basketball), who had been in the country for more than a month by that time, didn’t actually face the media that day… instead it was Matt Walsh who did the interviews. Dan Shamir has since done a few media opps but when did he first appear for those yarns? On the same day as the last two imports and the final local spot were filled. It’s not like the Breakers aren’t ahead of schedule with the signings either. They’re bragging in the press release about it being the earliest they’ve ever completed a roster as if that’s a thing that anyone cares about. In fact the press release drops that little tidbit before they even name the three signings. Really seems like a better way to do it would have been to at least give the three imports a delayed rollout – they’re not even in the country yet, they all arrive in Aotearoa at the start of September – and that way we could have had proper time to digest each of the signings individually and appreciate them for who they are and what they bring.
This is not where I have a crack at the Breakers for having a little too much disregard/contempt for local fans who might be more difficult to appease than the ownership first anticipated. Nah, that’d be taking it way too far so I’m not going to float that idea. I’m not going to float that idea at all.
Anyway the Breakers have signed three more players to fill things out. Sek Henry is an American shooting guard who was the MVP of the Israeli league in 2018. He’s positionally versatile, he can shoot the basketball, and he seems to be athletic enough to fill up all areas of the box score if that MVP season in Israel is anything to go by. Obviously the Breakers are coached (directed) by an Israeli these days so there you go. Henry didn’t play for Shamir’s team like Scotty Hopson did but he played against them a few times… in three games vs Shamir’s Hapoel Holon that season he logged 17.0 ppg while shooting 11/22 from deep, also averaging 4.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists with his team winning one and losing two.
That’s a pretty useful glimpse at Sek Henry’s presence there already. Shooting is always a delightful commodity in any league and with this guy’s ability to dish out assists too that’s a great addition to this team. Henry is 32 years old so he brings a veteran presence – which is huge playing next to a teenaged point guard in his first professional environment. Henry stands six foot four if you were wondering. Old mate went undrafted in 2010 and has bounced around the world ever since, the list of countries he’s appeared in makes him look like Anthony Bourdain or something: Japan, Venezuela, Poland, Italy, Spain, France, Israel, and he spent last season in Turkey.
Moving on now and the final import spot has been gobbled up by Chris Obekpa, a Nigerian big man who led the NCAA in shot blocks for the 2013 season but went undrafted in 2016. He’s played a couple NBA Summer Leagues and also some G-League but the 25 year old has more recently been playing in Turkey and Lebanon. So no immediate Dan Shamir connections that spring to light. Curiously Obekpa had signed to play in Italy just two months ago but appears to have changed his mind there in order to sign with the Breakers instead.
Bit of a funky tale with his college career. He emerged on the scene as a shot blocking maestro with St John’s but despite being a defensive lynchpin on the floor he had trouble developing his offensive game and then started running into trouble off the court too. Dude got a cheeky suspension for breaking university rules in 2014 and almost transferred at the end of that season, even getting granted his release… until he changed his mind and decided to stay. But he was banned for the 2015 NCAA national tournament after a drugs test revealed he’d been enjoying the odd sneaky toke in his spare time. Then authoritarian and school legend Chris Mullin came in as coach and Obekpa really did leave… transferring to UNLV which meant he had to take a year off from playing under the college basketball rules. RJ Hampton could tell you how silly those rules can be.
Whether any of that is actually reason to be wary is doubtful. Seems more like another case study that vindicates RJH’s decision to skip the farcical institution that is the NCAA altogether. But it’s interesting background for a new signing who, at 6’10 and extremely long, is going to guard that painted area extremely proficiently and even if his offensive game still doesn’t appear to have really grown much. Obekpa will absolutely not be shooting threes this season. That much you can take to the bank. However Zico Coronel has talked up a Clint Capela type impact as a lob-target and rim-roller.
Then to polish it off it’s our final local player of a decidedly un-local roster… and it’s a Lebanese international who was born in Sudan and holds Australian citizenship. Okay then. Ater Majok was drafted by the LA Lakers way back in 2011 near the end of the second round but that never really went anywhere (though he did feature in Summer League and even a little G-League back in the day). Since then the 32 year old big fella (he’s veeery big too, we’re talking another 6’10er here) has bounced around clubs in Europe and Asia, somewhere along the way getting Lebanese citizenship and representing them in World Cup qualifiers and the likes. In fact he played against the Tall Blacks recently, how about that? Majok bagged 16 pts & 12 rebs against New Zealand in Rotorua last September before contributing 10 pts & 9 rebs in the game over in Lebanon back in February. The Tall Blacks won both games narrowly.
Majok should offer a little more shooting range than Obekpa but perhaps not the same lockdown defensive presence… though he remains a defence-first player who should complement nicely with the shooters at the lower spots – which might include Rob Loe who could now see some useful time at PF if his shots are falling. One thing his career stats all emphasize is that this bloke will be blocking shots so between him and Obekpa those rims can consider themselves thoroughly protected. This isn’t his first NBL stint either, having previously spent a short amount of time with the Perth Wildcats and Gold Coast Blaze (lol) in 2011.
But, yes, it would be a lie not to admit that it’s a bit of a shame that a New Zealander didn’t get that spot. There isn’t really a local big who stands out there which probably had a lot to do with the decision but looking at the optics over the last few months it’s one more example of Matt Walsh and his crew not prioritising the kiwi flavour. Of the thirteen contracted players, including development player Li, only six are kiwis – the locals outnumbered by the foreigners. Which is a perfectly reasonable basketball thing to do… but it’s just a shame from Aotearoa’s only pro basketball team. And to pivot so quickly after Paul Henare had prioritised the exact opposite two years ago is jarring.
This team is stacked with talent and will hopefully win a lot of games this season. They’d better too, because if you’re bringing in overseas players at the expense of growing the local game then you’re saying that winning is the only thing you’re bothered with so if you don’t win then don’t expect fans to be finding silver linings… you’ve already told them not to. And I’d be lying if I said I don’t still have a concern or two about how RJ Hampton’s priorities might expose a double standard in that whole theme.
Dan Shamir is going to have to direct the best basketball he’s ever directed in order to mix this many disparate overseas dudes together with just five returning players from last season (plus the promoted Vodanovich) and with all six kiwis currently away with the Tall Blacks and most if not all of them likely to make the cut for the World Cup. That’s only going to give them a month of preseason with the full squad. It’s also going to mean the NZers return to a squad of overseas lads who’ve all been preparing without them (including a new coach) which might be a weird dynamic if any of them are feeling doubts over whether this is still their team or whatever (they had a month with Shamir in July though so shouldn’t be a worry).
However looking purely at the roster here… this is a tasty looking unit. It’s a team that has great shooting ability and one jammed full of quality athletes. There’s enough size to think that the defensive woes of last season are long gone (as with most of that team) and above all there’s excitement. RJ Hampton blows past guys off the dribble. Scotty Hopson has All-NBL calibre talent. When Corey Webster gets hot he can take over any game. Sek Henry knocks them down from range. Chris Opekpa and Ater Majok are shot blocking machines and this is a team that already has Tom Abercrombie. Hey and let’s not forget about Finn Delany who is coming off a meteoric few months in his career. This is a talented team that is going to play great basketball and that’s bloody awesome.
So, you know, in summary… the Breakers have sold their soul to a bunch of carpet-bagging Americans who don’t seem to have any real grasp on how to relate to a New Zealand fanbase but at least the basketball should be good.
PG: RJ Hampton, Jarrad Weeks, (Terry Li)
SG: Corey Webster, Sek Henry
SF: Thomas Abercrombie, Jordan Ngatai, Scotty Hopson
PF: Finn Delany, Tom Vodanovich
C: Rob Loe, Chris Obekpa, Ater Majok
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