Basketball: Allen returns to help

Hayden Allen (left) fights his way past Tony Rampton (Giants) while playing for the Nuggets at...
Hayden Allen (left) fights his way past Tony Rampton (Giants) while playing for the Nuggets at the former Dunedin Stadium in June 2000.
Tall Blacks guard Hayden Allen jokes he got his start for the Otago Nuggets at the beginning of the end for the franchise.

It is a tongue-in-cheek comment but there also a large helping of painful truth in his quip.

The 33-year-old made his debut for the Nuggets in 1998 - the year after the team last made playoffs. It was also the last time the franchise had more wins than losses during a regular season.

Allen's debut season was far from horrific. The Nuggets won eight of their 20 games and finished eighth in an 11-team competition that year. But it was the beginning of a rapid descent.

The Nuggets finished second to last in 1999 and by 2001 the franchise began popping up at the bottom of the competition table with regular monotony.

Recruiting and retaining players became a losing battle and the Nuggets struggled to stay afloat financially. They dropped out of the league in 2009 but the basketball community refused to lie down and got the team up and running the following year.

The franchise clawed its way back up the competition table last season and, for the first time in more than a decade, the playing roster actually looks capable of delivering more wins than losses.

Allen, like many talented basketballers from the region, moved to greener pastures and contributed to the Nuggets' woefully record during those years with some very tidy performances against his old team. He won a title with Waikato in 2002 and last year was back at the top with the now defunct Auckland Pirates.

But part of Allen always remained a Nugget. He went to school in Dunedin, he honed his basketball skills on the city's courts and still has family living here.

When the Pirates fell away, his first call was to Basketball Otago general manager Markham Brown. Allen had always wanted to return and tonight he will run out for the Nuggets in their season opener against the Auckland-based Super City Rangers at the Edgar Centre.

''It has been a while since I donned the mighty Nuggets' singlet but I really am looking forward to coming home and playing in front of my extended family and a bunch of friends from school who still reside in Dunedin,'' he said.

Allen and his wife Nat have a son Reggie (20 months) and are expecting a second child in four weeks. They live in Auckland and Allen works for the Breakers as a community partnerships manager.

He commutes to Dunedin to train with the Nuggets, which is hard on his young family.

''Nat is 100% behind me, which made it much easier to make the decision [to play with the Nuggets this season]. I couldn't have done it without her blessing.''

Allen has not made sacrifices just to play for the Nuggets for the sack of it.

''I want to get the Nuggets back to a respectable position and ideally we want to make a push for the playoffs. Once you make the playoffs, then anything can happen.''

Allen has no immediate plans to retire but agreed it would be nice to bookend his career with appearances for the the Nuggets.

''Basically, I've signed for this year and I've said, if I'm going to play next year, I'll play for the Nuggets. As long as I'm enjoying it, I'll keep playing.''

The Rangers are new to the league this season. They have filled the spot vacated by the Pirates and have assembled a young squad lean on experience.

It is a blessing for the Nuggets, who could use a gentle opener. Their imports, Antoine Tisby and Akeem Wright, arrived late this week and the full squad has not had a chance to have a run together yet.

''It is always good to get a team which maybe at the lower end of the table. But, in saying that, the league is going to be tough across the board, more so than it has been in the last couple of years, when there has only been a couple of dominant teams.

''You can't disrespect the Rangers because they can catch teams out just by playing hard. They've got a team of kids who are hungry and they will put the house on the line to try and get some wins.''

Nuggets v Rangers
Edgar Centre, tonight at 7pm
Antoine Tisby, Mark Dickel, BJ Anthony, Akeem Wright, Hayden Allen, Brendon Polyblank, Riki Buckrell, James Ross, Matt Trueman, Tony Fisher, Luke Aston, Hayden Miller, Sheldon McGuire.

Rangers: Carl Buck, Shea Ili, Houston O'Riley, Duane Bailey, Jason Goodwin, Johnny Fesolai, Mark Kelly, Cam Stuart, Patrich Bolstad, Jack Salt.

Nuggets' draw

• April 20: v Waitakere, Dunedin
• April 27: v Hawkes Bay, Napier
• April 28: v Waitakere, Auckland
• May 5: v Nelson, Dunedin
• May 10: v Waikato, Dunedin
• May 18: v Taranaki, Dunedin
• May 19: v Southland, Dunedin
• May 24: v Hawkes Bay, Dunedin
• May 28: v Wellington, Wellington
• May 30: v Waikato, Hamilton
• June 8: v Manawatu, Dunedin
• June 14: v Manawatu, Palmerston North
• June 15: v Nelson, Nelson
• June 21: v Southland, Invercargill
• June 30: v Wellington, Dunedin
• July 6: v Taranaki, New Plymouth


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