40 IN 40: THE TOP 5

Here we are, at the end of the road. To this point, 35 incredible players have been named, with only the top five left... and here they are.

A reminder:

To celebrate the 40th year of the New Zealand National Basketball League a special panel has ranked the 40 best players in the competition’s history.

The panel consisted of former Canterbury Rams and Tall Blacks coach Keith Mair, long-time Nelson Giants administrator and former NBL board member Steve Fitchett, former Tall Blacks and New Plymouth Bears coach Steve McKean, Wellington Saints owner Nick Mills and former NBL player and Stuff basketball writer Marc Hinton. Sky Sport commentator and NBL media manager Huw Beynon chaired the group.

Criteria for the 40in40 was based primarily on a player’s performance in the NBL, and secondarily on their contribution to and impact on the league during that time.

Already named: 40 Reuben Te Rangi, 39 Eric Devendorf, 38 Tony Brown, 37 Leon Henry, 36 Tony Rampton, 35 Tony Webster, 34 Kevin Braswell, 33 Tony Bennett, 32 Paul Henare, 31 Angelo Hill, 30 John Rademakers, 29 Benny Anthony, 28 Willie Burton, 27 Darryl Johnson, 26 Josh Pace, 25 Terrence Lewis, 24 Nenad Vučinić, 23 Ralph Lattimore, 22 Casey Frank, 21 Nick Horvath, 20 Tai Wesley, 19 Mark Dickel, 18 Kenny Stone, 17 Shea Ili, 16 Peter Poka, 15 Mika Vukona, 14 Jamie Dixon, 13 Torrey Craig, 12 Corey Webster, 11 Byron Vaetoe, 10 Glen Denham, 9 Dillon Boucher, 8 Ronnie Joyner, 7 Lindsay Tait, 6 Clyde Huntley.

5 Kerry Boagni

They didn’t come much smoother than the Jazzman, who carved a momentous career in the NBL after arriving in 1988 as a much-heralded recruit for the Saints who had lit it up in the college game (for Kansas and Cal State Fullerton) and been good enough to represent the USA at the 1983 Fiba under-19 world champs.

He did not disappoint either, carving a trail through the Kiwi league with his mix of size (he was a long-limbed 2.03m) and elite scoring ability. Had two stints with the Saints (1988-92 and ‘96-97) and also suited up for the Hawks (’93-85) and North Harbour Kings (1998). Won just the one title, his first year with the capital club, but was a 4-time All-Star 5 pick (1988, ’90, ’91 and 93), was named outstanding forward three times  (’88, ’90 and ’93) and was the league’s leading scorer in ’92 (31.3ppg)  and ’93 (32.5ppg).

Boagni played 267 NBL games in total, racking up 6929 points and averaging close to 26 for a career that never dipped below the excellent mark. He has also had two daughters go on to represent New Zealand in the form of Tessa Boagni and Chevannah Paalvast. Lives in the US now.

4 Phill Jones

The Reefton Kid who became a Nelson legend, Phill Jones was one of the most potent scorers New Zealand basketball has ever seen, and the NBL bore the brunt of his prowess. The first of only two players to play over 400 games in the league, Jones played 17 years for the Nelson Giants, helping them to championships in 1994 and 1998 (he returned from Europe one game too late to be eligible for the 2006 playoffs which the Giants went on win).

The lefty sharpshooter could, and would, pull up from anywhere, often putting the Giants on his back and delivering wins against stronger opposition. Five times a member of the All Star 5, Jones’s best year came in 2009, when he was named League MVP, having averaged 23.1 points a game, and shot over 50% from three point range.

But don’t let his pure jumpshot and his mellow off court nature fool you, Jones was a competitor. Pointy elbows and a spirit to match, he was never far from any tasty off ball action, and the fans in Nelson loved him for it, and still do.

A steadfastly loyal Tall Blacks centurion who was second top scorer at the 2004 Olympic Games, his number 13 jersey hangs from the rafters at the Trafalgar Centre where this season Jones will be found sideline with a commentators microphone in hand.

3 Stan Hill

A mighty kauri who took some shifting on the basketball court, this son of an All Black and foremost talent of his generation set the early standard in the NBL as the dominant individual of the formative years.

Stan Hill had the delicious mixture of size (2.08m, or 6’10 in the old money, with considerable bulk to back it up) and feathery touch for such a big man. He could pound the rock inside on you, or kill you on the pick and pop with his accurate jumper, and he knew how to use both attributes expertly.

Many believe Hill would have made it into the NBA had he remained for more than the two years he spent in college hoops at San Jose State (1976-78), but he elected to play professionally in England, and then returned to New Zealand where he was the key figure for the Auckland team that played in the first four NBL finals. Hill was outstanding forward, scoring leader and an All-Star 5 member in the inaugural 1982 season, with his team defeating Waitemata in the grand final.

He was also an All-Star 5 selection in ’83 as Auckland went back-to-back by defeating Saints 80-77 in the first of a series of instant classic grand finals. The Saints gained revenge in ’84 when they rolled the Auks in the big one, but Hill was back dominating as an All-Star 5 pick in ’85 when he came agonisingly close to grabbing a third championship, only to be denied by Kenny McFadden’s game-winning triple in overtime that sealed an epic grand final. Ended his NBL career with Palmerston North in the late-‘80s.

Hill played 14 years for his country, captaining them in nine of them, and was inevitably New Zealand’s best player throughout that era. He was part of the group that scored that first-ever victory over Australia in 1978 and was still there in ’86 when the New Zealanders made their first appearance at the Fiba world championships in Spain. Went on to coach in the NBL and was a long-time assistant with the Tall Blacks under Keith Mair, had two sons (Ben and Ollie) progress to the NBL and now runs a pub in the Coromandel.     

2 Kenny McFadden

In an impossibly tight call for one and two on this list, no Kiwi hoops aficionado would surely have batted an eyelid had the order been reversed. The debate among the judging panel reflected that. Let’s just say there was very, very little between the greatest Kiwi player the NBL has seen and, almost certainly, its finest import.

In many ways you would struggle to find a more influential figure in New Zealand basketball than the great Kenny Mac. With his toothy smile, bouncy athleticism, killer range and superb all-court game, the product of East Lansing, Michigan, and then Washington State in college, set the NBL alight from the moment he set foot on Kiwi shores in 1982, and has remained here ever since as a developer of young talent in the Wellington region. Of course he is known far and wide now as the man who nurtured and nudged Steven Adams from a raw teen into an NBA star.

As much as the great Stan Hill was the dominant individual when the NBL tipped off in 1982, it did not take long for McFadden to assume that mantle in a stunning career with Wellington’s Saints. The talented combo guard guided them to the second division title in his first year, and then to six straight grand finals, starting in their debut season when they went down to Hill’s Auckland side 80-77 in a thrilling ’83 decider. The titles soon started rolling in, with McFadden and the Saints cutting the nets down in 1984, ’85, ’87 and ’88 and runnersup in ’83, ’86 and ‘91. He eventually retired in 1996.

If there was a signature game for McFadden, indeed the entire league, it came in the 1985 live-televised grand final where he hit the winning 3-pointer at the end of overtime to nail a 114-11 victory that immediately entered Kiwi sporting folklore and lit the fuse on a golden era for the NBL. His resume speaks for itself: 4 titles, 4-time All Star-5 member; 2-time outstanding guard, 2-time scoring champion; 3-time assist champion. Played 252 NBL games in total, scoring 5004 points for a career average over 20.

The legacy lives. McFadden, who had a kidney transplant in 2018, has continued to develop talent around his health challenges, sending multitudes of young Kiwis on to college scholarships and serving as an assistant coach for his beloved Saints in 2010-11, in 2019 and returns again in 2021 to assist Zico Coronel. 

1 Pero Cameron

Perhaps the most telling line in panel discussions was, “you knew who was going to win the league at the start of the season, because they had Pero”. Pero Cameron was the man everyone wanted to be play with and hated to play against.

If the 80’s belonged to Kenny Mac, then the 90’s was the decade of Pero. In 1992 the freakishly strong power forward burst onto the scene with the Waikato Pistons, claiming Rookie of the Year honours. In 5 out of the next 7 years, he was named MVP, and between 1994 and 2001, he made 7 out of 8 All Star 5’s. A man whose teammates would run through a brick wall for, Cameron was synonymous with the league and the sport in New Zealand, and imports relished the chance to go up against him.

With nine championships to his name as a player, and two as a coach, no one has won more in our league. A player that fans all across New Zealand flocked to see, his gravitational pull was just as powerful on court, where his passing skills, size, and ability to read the game made him an almost impossible to defend playmaker. At the other end, one hand would suffice as his strength would keep any opposition big at bay.

197 Tall Blacks tests to his name, and the current head coach. An icon of the NBL, basketball, and New Zealand. Pero Cameron is mana personified.


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