Impressive start for Aussie teenager

Otago Nuggets guard Ben Henshall takes the ball up court while chased by Manawatu Jets forward...
Otago Nuggets guard Ben Henshall takes the ball up court while chased by Manawatu Jets forward Liam Judd in Dunedin last week. PHOTO: BLAKE ARMSTRONG
Australia get a lot of things wrong.

Their claim on pavlova, the underarm incident and Vegemite are all kinds of just plain wrong as well.

But the Lucky Country gets most things right when it comes to sport — rugby union being the most obvious exemption.

Otago Nuggets guard Ben Henshall is a case in point.

The 19-year-old plays with the swagger of someone who has been around the league for a decade and just finds it all a little too easy now.

It would be infuriating if he was in a different coloured singlet.

No-one has a right to be that good before they hit 20.

They ought to be anxious, unsure and a little clumsy.

Instead he is bold, brash and brilliant.

The teenager, who hails from Perth, has made an impressive start to campaign for the Nuggets.

He top-scored in the Nuggets’ 86-79 overtime win against the Southland Sharks. He netted 21 points in what was his debut for the franchise.

He is a shot creator and he showed just why he is so highly-rated across the ditch in his second outing for the Nuggets.

Henshall knocked down 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds, made six assists and completed three steals.

How he got so good, so young is not much of the mystery at all.

He went to the factory where they turn athletics with skill and potential into champions by adding discipline and work ethic.

That factory is the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

"That two-year stint at the AIS was a lot of work and a lot of grind. It was not always sunshine and rainbows," he said.

"It was tough. But I don’t regret anything because it made me a way better player and my confidence has skyrocketed from them just having belief in me.

"And that belief they had in me has helped me believe in myself."

Henshall returned to Perth to play for the Wildcats following his tenure at the AIS.

The company which owns the Wildcats also owns the Nuggets and the relationship has served both teams nicely.

Last year the Wildcats dispatched Michael Harris to Dunedin to get some extra court time and to develop his game. The shooting guard was the Nuggets leading scorer.

This year they have sent Henshall for the same reason and it is working out just as well.

"I had a pretty inconsistent year with my minutes [for the Wildcats], so getting down here and getting a lot of minutes under my belt and more experience on the court is going to help me for next season."

Henshall will need to be at his best tonight. The Nuggets have their toughest assignment so far.

They are hosting the Wellington Saints, who are also unbeaten this season.

They smashed the madly talented Auckland Tuatara 110-80 in their opening game and beat the Nelson Giants 84-75

Hyrum Harris and Tohi Smith-Milner have done a lot of the heaving lifting for the Saints. Harris is on the Wildcats roster as well and he plays golf with Henshall.

They know each other’s game well.

Nuggets star import Kimani Lawrence will likely get the task of keeping Harris off the boards, while Jack Andrew will jostle with Smith-Milner, who was suspended for one-game and fined $500 last season when he elbowed Nuggets guard Darcy Knox in the head and bowled over Harris.

In rugby, striking a player in the head with an elbow would result in minimum suspension of six weeks, so it was a rather lenient sanction.


Dunedin, tonight, 7.30
Otago Nuggets:
Tai Webster, Ben Henshall, Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, Kimani Lawrence, Jack Andrew, Matt Bardsley, Darcy Knox, Robbie Coman, Josh Aitcheson, Benji Freeman, Caleb Smiler, Matt Pyper.

Wellington Saints (possible): Ben Ayre, Hyrum Harris, Izayah Le’afa, Lay Mayen, Kazlo Evans, Malik Benlevi, Rangimarie Dougall-Mita, Tohi Smith-Milner, Troy Plumtree, Arthur Pilcher, Kawharu Hippolite, Tyson Thata.