Rookie Breakers basketball coach Kevin Braswell can’t wait to bring New Zealand’s ANBL team to Invercargill later this month.
Braswell, the fast-talking former Georgetown University star from the mean streets of Baltimore, has travelled the globe playing hoops but reserves a special place in his heart for Invercargill.
It was at ILT Stadium Southland where he not only helped deliver two national titles with the Southland Sharks, but also where he served his coaching apprenticeship as a development officer for the Southland Basketball Association.
The Breakers will take on the Australian National Basketball League defending champion Melbourne United team at ILT Stadium on November 16, with the Breakers returning to Invercargill in the 2019/2020 season as part of a two-game deal signed between the stadium and the Breakers, largely funded by the Invercargill City Council, Invercargill Licensing Trust and Community Trust South.
A crowd of about 2000 is required for the November game to break even financially.
“We always love playing down there,” Braswell said.
“I’ve coached there the last couple of years (with the Saints), but obviously played down there and helped the club win two championships. It feels like home to me because I lived down there for so long and still have a lot of friends down there.
“I really started my coaching career down there, with the kids that I worked with. It’s like home for a lot of us – Tai Wesley, Shea Ili, have all played down there and I think it’s always cool to come back to those home fans.”
Braswell’s No 12 singlet was retired by the Sharks after their 2015 title-winning season, before he made something of a shock departure to the Wellington Saints.
He found more success in the capital, winning two titles with the Saints before the Sharks earned some sweet revenge in this year’s final.
It hasn’t been the ideal start to Braswell’s first season as Breakers coach, especially for someone who is used to winning, but the man himself remains upbeat.
“It’s been great, honestly. I’m learning a whole lot. The wins and the losses, we had an idea that it wouldn’t be the best start to the season because of the lack of preseason games we had. No one wants to start 1-2, but we are just working hard every day to get on the same page.”
The close-knit nature of Antipodean basketball will be on display in Invercargill, with Melbourne featuring their own Southland and New Zealand links.
Former Breakers coach Dean Vickerman took United to their first title as a combined team last year and former Southland and Breakers coach Paul Henare has joined Melbourne this year as an assistant.
Sharks star Alex Pledger is playing for Melbourne after helping win Southland that third national title earlier this year.
You can imagine there will be plenty of discussion about cheese rolls, the best coffee spots and the intense atmosphere which can be found at ILT Stadium’s centre court ahead of the November 16 game.
“Come out and see a lot of guys who have worn the Southland uniform,” Braswell said.
“We still wear the orange and blue, it’s just in a different form these days. We all talk about Southland a lot. One of the things we talk about is how great the stadium is down there, so it would be great to have it filled when we come down.”