The Sal’s NBL is home to a range of top young coaches and one of the names near the top of the list is Auckland Tuatara Head Coach Aaron Young, who is preparing for his second season at the helm in Auckland and is excited to build off the team’s top-4 finish in 2021.
The Tuatara - who were known as the Auckland Huskies for the past two seasons - fell to the eventual 2021 Sal’s NBL champions the Wellington Saints in the semi-finals last season but Young says the team is building something special and is confident they can perform just as well in 2022.
“We had such a strong supporting cast last season, so finishing top-4 really wasn’t a surprise,” said Young.
“We would have liked to go all the way and lift the trophy, but a top-4 finish was a good reward for all the hard work we put in. We would like to go one better next season and continue to build on the success we had. We’re building something special here.”
Young played premier basketball at Rangitoto High School in Auckland and developed a passion for coaching in his final few years at the school.
“It was probably my second to last year at high school playing prems when I realised, I had a unique way of looking at the game and was intrigued by the coaching aspect. I knew then that I wanted to get into coaching straight after graduating,” he said.
He credits coach Tony Pompallier as one of his biggest mentors and motivators and said the support from everyone around him has helped his journey.
“Tony Pompallier had a massive influence on my coaching journey; he was the one that took me under his wing. It was through Tony that I fully realised my love of coaching and from there I built my way up through the coaching ranks at the Breakers and was lucky enough to get a video analysis role with the team in 2015.
“Being around high-quality coaches such as Dean Vickerman, Paul Henare, Judd Flavell, Mike Fitchett and Dillon Boucher as the General Manager was an incredible experience. It was a combination of having a really good people around me and some really good mentors like Tony that helped me get to where I am today,” explained Young.
In 2016, Young joined Saint Kentigern’s College as the schools Head of Basketball, assisting with their programme rebuild and eventually leading the premier team to a New Zealand Secondary School’s title in 2019.
Young emphasised how rewarding it is to coach high school players and to help get them to the next level of basketball in New Zealand.
“St Kentigern’s has been a huge part of my coaching journey. When I joined in 2016 it was a rebuilding programme and we had to requalify for the Premier League - which we did - and from there we built on the success. We had a great group in 2019 that were awesome to coach. I’m fortunate to have the position, as being able to have an impact on high school players’ lives is a big passion of mine and I’m lucky enough to still do that right now.
“2019 was a perfect example of everything coming together at the right time,” he said.
The Tuatara unveiled Tall Black Rob Loe as the team’s first signing of 2022 and Young is excited for what Loe brings on and off the court.
“Rob has so much experience at different levels. What makes him such a valuable piece is his leadership and impact on the players around him,” said Young.
“I’ve spent a lot of time around Rob in the past few years, with the Breakers, Saints and at high school we were in the same year, so we’ve competed against each other on numerous occasions. He has such a positive impact on whatever team he plays for, and I know that’s going to trickle down to some of the younger players we have. I’m super excited to have him on board.”
Dontae Russo-Nance was one of the standout players on last year’s top-4 squad, posting averages of 11.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 16 games. The 17-year-old will return for a second season with the Tuatara in 2022 and coach Young believes Russo-Nance has the talent to dominate in the Sal’s NBL.
“Dontae is a talented kid; very humble. His demeanour, approach to the game and work ethic - you can tell he’s got it. I’m excited for him to take another leap forward on the court, but I’m also excited for him to take a step as a leader.
“He showed that he can be a leader last season, and I know he’s going to continue to grow in that area being predominantly our main point guard. I know that he’s up for it. He’s got the talent to really dominate this league as a point guard. I expect nothing less than big time performances moving forward with a year of Sal’s NBL experience under his belt,” concluded Young.
You can catch coach Aaron Young and the Auckland Tuatara when they tip-off their season against the Steelformers Taranaki Airs on April 30.