Photo credit: Render Creative
Week two of the free agency period belonged to the north as the Auckland Tuatara, Taranaki Airs, Manawatu Jets, Franklin Bulls and Wellington Saints all made the news. Let’s take a look at all the 2024 Sal’s NBL signings and whispers from the past week.
Jets: The green army celebrated their first signing of free agency last week with young forward James Moors agreeing to start his Sal’s NBL career with the Jets after giving up his final year of NCAA collegiate eligibility to take his first professional stint in the Netherlands. The Auckland native is a nice get for the Jets, who in recent years have taken a youthful path looking towards developing future success. Moors, a talented 6’10’ forward is a former Junior Tall Black and looks a nice fit for Coach Natu Taufale.
Tuatara: As expected, the 2023 runners-up have moved quickly to lock-in reigning League MVP, Rob Loe. Having just returned from a stint with Melbourne United in the Aussie NBL, the star centre has put pen to paper and will be the key piece the Tuatara builds its squad around. This signing was never in doubt as Loe has found a home with the Tuatara and still has plenty of years left in him as a top flight talent.
Airs: Off the back of a productive opening FA week which landed Carlin Davison and Flynn Cameron, the Airs have confirmed the return of Tobias Cameron. It’s another strong signing by new coach Sam McKinnon, marking a push towards building a roster with quality young Kiwis involved. No news on the import front just yet, but Javonte Douglas is one name that continues to surface.
Saints: The Saints entered the free agency fray during the week, but it was a coach they signed, not a player. In a move that had been whispered for a few weeks, former championship-winning coach Zico Coronel was confirmed as the new leader of the Saints, replacing Troy McLean, who will stay on as assistant coach. Coronel, the competition’s 2021 Coach of the Year, returns to the Saints after spending time in Japan and will no doubt be a key factor for attracting players to the 12-time champs.
Bulls: Sticking with coach signings, the Bulls started week two of free agency by dropping the bombshell news that Dan Sokolovsky had turned down the chance to stay on as coach of the Bulls, but that news was quickly followed up with the signing of European Sebastian Gleim. Marking a fifth coach in five seasons for the Bulls, Gleim comes with European head coaching experience having coached in the German pro system for nearly 15 years, most recently with the Crailsheim Merlins in the German BBL, finishing runners-up in the German League Cup and making the quarter-finals at the FIBA EuroCup in 2022. Gleim also served as an assistant coach for the German national team, which defeated Serbia in the final to win the gold medal at the 2023 FIBA World Championships.
Giants: Not a signing, but confirmation from the Giants that Nic Trathen, Riley Bensemann and Tyler Marsh will not be returning in 2024. The three locals are expected to be replaced by youngsters coming through the ranks under coach Mike Fitchett. Bensemann is thought to be moving to Australia for work, while the availability of Trathen and Marsh to join another Sal’s NBL team is unknown.
You can check out the free agency tracker here: http://nznbl.link/freeagency
Tom Vodanovich: Mark it down, it’s now a very hot whisper that Tommy V will be in new colours come 2024. It surfaced last week that Vodanovich could be considering a move away from the Saints, and that now seems like a done deal. So where will Vodanovich land? Chances are we will find out in the coming week.
Dontae Russo-Nance: It is becoming increasingly likely we will get to see rising Kiwi guard Dontae Russo-Nance playing on local soil in 2024, but just where he lands remains a mystery. Currently in his first season as a development player with the Perth Wildcats, the obvious connection to the Nuggets has tongues wagging that he may be with the 2021 champions, while you would think the Tuatara and Bulls may come into the frame given Russo-Nance’s Auckland origins. Wherever the star teenager does land (and let’s hope he does) he is sure to light the Sal’s NBL up.
Nuggets: Just how strong will the connection between the Perth Wildcats and Otago Nuggets be in season 2024? Under the same ownership, the relationship between the two operations is strengthening each year, but we are yet to see how things will play out come Saturday March 30 when the Nuggets open the Sal’s NBL season at home against rivals, Southland Sharks. It’s believed players (and possibly coaching staff) will again be moving between the Wildcats and Nuggets, and it could include Kiwis and imports. This is a clever partnership that is definitely being noticed by teams on both sides of the ditch.
Whai: The new kids on the block have been busy running some preliminary gym sessions under fledgling coach Matt Lacey, and a couple of familiar faces have been on court. Could we see Nikau McCullough (Nuggets) and Pafe Momoisea (Jets) on the move to Tauranga in 2024?
Tuatara: With Rob Loe locked in, could we see Cam Gliddon also return to the Tuatara? The veteran Aussie has now called Auckland home for last two Aussie NBL seasons, plus he was a key part of the Tuatara’s run all the way to the 2023 Sal’s NBL final. If he is to stay in NZ, it will likely be with the Tuatara.
Marnie Dougall-Mita: Despite interest from at least one other team, Wellington’s sharpshooter appears set to stay a Saint. Dougall-Mita lit it up at the recent 3x3 Cup in Invercargill, catching the eye of a number of teams, but given the 3-point specialist has been actively working in the Saints’ community programmes in recent weeks it is unlikely he’ll be anywhere but the capital for the 2024 season.
Jayden Bezzant: Now this one is interesting. Bezzant is no stranger to being mentioned during free agency, but with his hometown (Tauranga) about to enter the Sal’s NBL fray in 2024 the shooting guard’s name continues to be linked to the Whai. Could we see Tauranga natives Derone Raukawa and Jayden Bezzant play alongside one another for the newcomers?
Corey Webster: Just as it was in week one of FA, the Webster name has again been talked about in week two as well, this time the focus is older brother, Corey. Coming off a huge performance in the 2023 Sal’s NBL grand final, where he helped lead the Canterbury Rams to their first championship since 1992, a number of teams are thought to have checked on C-Web’s availability in 2024.
Hawks: There was some talk doing the rounds that outgoing Bulls coach, Dan Sokolovsky, might be snapped up by the Hawks. However, upon turning down an option to continue with the Bulls, Sokolovsky made it clear his focus was on spending time with his family, so it appears any possible move to a rival Sal’s NBL team is not on his radar.
Dwight Howard: Some talk over the last week of NBA star Dwight Howard eyeing the Aussie NBL as a future landing spot quickly led to some ambitious Sal’s NBL fans talking about a possible stop in Aotearoa first. Probably best we pour cold water on this one, but if anyone does have Dwight’s contact details there is a team or two who will be happy to put in a call double check.