Nuggets back, playing fast, displaying winning edge

Otago Nuggets guard Benoit Hayman attempts to move the ball around Josh Boxham, of the Nelson...
Otago Nuggets guard Benoit Hayman attempts to move the ball around Josh Boxham, of the Nelson Giants, in their NBL game in Auckland last night. The Nuggets won, 107-82. PHOTO: BRETT PHIBBS/PHOTOSPORTNZ
These are heady days for the Otago Nuggets. After six years in the wilderness the franchise has popped back up and won its first two games in the rejigged National League.

No doubt new fans will be emerging as the franchise works on its Cinderella credentials.

But for a trio of stalwarts, it is next year which matters most.

Otago Nuggets acting general manager Angela Ruske has been instrumental in helping revive the team.

While Ruske is thrilled with how well the side has performed in its opening games, she has not lost sight of what is really at stake.

"I’m incredibly excited for a number of different reasons," she said.

"Obviously for the players because the experience they are getting ... but also for our momentum for next year. To have such good outcomes early on is piquing that interest and it bodes well for us moving forward."

The Nuggets had been targeting 2021 for their return. But the arrival of Covid-19 meant the league had to be re-thought and the result was a tournament much more accessible for the Nuggets.

"As far as we are concerned this has been the easy part. It has been a lot of work over a very short period of time to get us where we are at. But the difficulty comes from here on in."

The 2021 season will, in all likelihood, more closely resemble a regular season. The player draft will be gone and there will be a return to home and away games.

The costs will go up and, God forbid, the best basketball talent will probably concentrate in two or three teams. The same old sides, who have dominate the league for the past decade, will probably rise again.

The Nuggets may struggle in an environment like that but Ruske is determined they will be there to find out. And so far the bench players — the players who could form the core of next year’s team — have been delivering, so that is a good sign.

Former Nuggets coaches Alf Arlidge and Todd Marshall are delighted to see their side back operating and impressed with what they have seen.

"I’ve watched some of them play for a while and I’ve always thought man, these kids can play," Marshall said.

"So it is nice to see them get an opportunity. And getting this many games — a saturation like they are getting — you could almost call this the best preseason they could have for next season if they can get funding to actually get into it."

Arlidge agreed.

"Right now the Nuggets look really, really good. They are closing out close games and they are playing the game at speed which is the way basketball should be played. It is brilliant," Arlidge said.

"But we’ve got to push on for next season."

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