Basketball: Red Baron coming home

The Red Baron is coming home.

Tall Black Hayden Allan got his start with the Otago Nuggets 15 years ago and will return on a one-year deal with the option of extending his contract by a further year.

The 33-year-old guard last played for the Nuggets in 2004 before moving to Auckland.

Born and raised in Dunedin, Allan said he had always flirted with the idea of returning to the franchise.

''I've always had an affinity with the Nuggets,'' Allan said.

''Whenever Brownie [Otago Basketball general manager Markham Brown] comes up here or I go down there, we always have a bit of a chat about returning. So it just kind of fell into place pretty easily. It was painless and a bit of a no-brainer, to be honest."

Allan won a title with the Auckland Pirates last season but said it looked as though the club would fold after just a year in the league. That uncertainty helped pave the way for Allan's return.

Allan and his young family will not be relocating to Dunedin, though. Wife Nat is pregnant with the couple's second child - due in May - and son Reggie is 16 months.

''I'll be flying in and out, which is not ideal for a team structure. But I'll do my best to fit in and try to get in as many trainings and pre-season weekends and as possible.

''My wife was really good about it, too. She knew I wanted to play for the Nuggets at some stage again and she is really supportive, which made it much easier for me."

Allan will combine with veteran Mark Dickel in a guard line-up which promises to be deadly. Dickel's passing game and ball-handling skills are first class and he is an excellent defender. Allan is also a hard man to beat and he has a reputation as a clutch player with a superb outside shot. He is also an unselfish character and has bundles of experience and two championship titles.

''I've grown up with Sparky [Dickel] and it will be cool for a couple of local boys to be playing together again and get the Nuggets back to where they should be.

''I've got a taste for winning now and I don't want to regress and start losing. But with the team we've put together, I think we can get a few wins on the board and take a shot at it."

While the Wellington Saints have been busily recruiting an all-star line up including internationals Lindsay Tait, Corey Webster, Casey Frank and veteran Dillon Boucher, the Nuggets have assembled a more than useful crew as well.

Former Tall Black forward BJ Anthony will have a point to prove after losing his spot in the Breakers squad and will combine with outstanding American centre Antoine Tisby. Tisby finished the regular season at the top of the league's player power rankings with an average of 22 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Tall Black and Breakers swingman Leon Henry has enormous potential and back-up players Sam King and Riki Buckrell are expected to return and developed enormously last year.

Add another import into the mix and the Nuggets look capable of making a rare appearance in the post-season. The franchise has not sighted the playoffs since 1997, so that would be some achievement.

''Obviously, Wellington look rather stacked, but if you can get to the finals, anything can happen.

''The playoffs would be the first goal. I don't think that is out of the question with having some veterans on the team who understand what it takes to win. And when you've got quality imports and a couple of good local boys then I don't see any reason why not."

Nuggets coach Alf Arlidge trumpeted Allan's signature with enthusiasm.

''He is a great shooter and good in the clutch. Defensively he'll bring a lot too, and he is an excellent rebounder,'' Arlidge said.

''We're pretty excited, actually. He's a really good guy and I think he'll be a really good fit for us.

''He brings lots of experience that we are lacking.

''It is just another piece of the puzzle which we've been building slowly over the last three or four years."