Softly, softly in rebuilding the Nuggets

Justin Ludlow.
Justin Ludlow.
Is top-level men's basketball dead in Otago? Maybe not quite, but 2017 will not be the year it returns.

It will be the third year in a row the Otago Nuggets have not featured in the National Basketball League, having withdrawn due to financial difficulties.

While next year proved too soon for a return, Basketball Otago general manager Justin Ludlow assured the Otago Daily Times resurrecting the team remained a goal.

A meeting of the BBO board would be held in early February next year to decide whether an application for a franchise in 2018 was viable.

''We're obviously looking at our pathways for our athletes going forward and the Nuggets are obviously part of that; when and where is the magical question,'' Ludlow said.

''With any professional, or semi-professional, team you're going out there to win. So you need to build a team that's going to do that job for you.

''We've got some very good players locally here. Whether they're at the level of the NBL league at the moment is another question.''

The Nuggets had a one-year absence from the league in 2009, before returning a year later. They played in the NBL for the next five seasons, making the playoffs in 2013. However, as BBO continues to claw its way back from the brink of liquidation, the focus remains on building a solid foundation.

''Our plan at the moment is to make sure our structures around our community game are pretty solid,'' Ludlow said.

''We can't just rock out and expect to have an NBL-based side here; we've got to start from the start and build our player base up.

''Hence the reason to be quite cautious about looking at re-entry: we've been there before. If we're going to be doing it again, we don't want to be doing it for a year, or two years. We want to be doing it for the mid-long term and that's what attracts players to Dunedin.''

In another blow, Otago was unable to form a team to contest the NBC, a three-day national tournament to be hosted in Porirua in November.

Ludlow said the tournament dates were changed after a scheduling issue, which had a big impact on player availability. The tournament falling in the middle of university exams and players struggling to get time off work in the lead-up to Christmas also proved to be barriers.

While a women's team will attend the tournament, it leaves Otago without a men's representative team above U19 level for 2016. Ludlow said it was disappointing, but he believed there were still options for the city's top-end talent.

''We obviously want to offer a pathway, but at the moment we can't do that with an NBL opportunity.

''It comes down to player choices as well and what happens after high school. Whether they head offshore on a college pathway, or whether they do tertiary study around New Zealand.

''It becomes a different scenario if there's an NBL franchise here, because there's a carrot, and that's obviously part of the process we're working towards at the moment.''

For the players that did choose to move away, he said it was important they still identified with the region.

''We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that if players or athletes go on from Otago and go on to bigger and better things elsewhere, we should be excited about that as well, because you're not going to hold on to everyone in one region.''

-By Jeff Cheshire

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