Next Gen: Dontae Russo-Nance pinpoints leadership as focus for 2022 Sal’s NBL season

Auckland Tuatara’s Dontae Russo-Nance turned heads in his first season in the Sal’s NBL last year and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

The 17-year-old showed flashes of his tremendous potential last season, posting averages of 11.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals on 40.2 percent shooting from the field. Russo-Nance dropped 18 points in his Sal’s NBL debut against the EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls and followed that up the next game with a Sal’s NBL career-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field against the Property Brokers Manawatu Jets.

Russo-Nance said his first season in the NBL was a good experience, but it was challenging at times.

“Overall, it was a good experience, but it was definitely challenging trying to juggle school and fit in trainings. I learnt from some of the more experienced guys on the team like Nick Barrow, Tom Vodanovich, Chris McIntosh and Brook Ruscoe and that really helped with my transition,” he said.

Brook Ruscoe was credited as being one of Russo-Nance’s biggest mentors in his rookie season.

“Brook being the starting guard, he had a lot of impact on me and my transition into the NBL. He made me feel comfortable and welcomed me when I first arrived, so just having him around helped my game on and off the court.”

The Tuatara secured the services of Tall Black Rob Loe for the 2022 season and Russo-Nance is excited to not only share the court with Loe, but to pick his brain and learn all he can.

“I think myself and Rob complement each other well. Having a big man that can set screens, is good at passing and can shoot is a great asset to the team. He can really do it all.

“Rob brings energy and experience to the locker room having played at higher levels for a long time now. I want to pick his brain and learn all I can from him while he’s on the team.”

Russo-Nance was runner-up to former teammate Zach Riley for the Youth Player of the Year in 2021.

In 2019, he was selected to represent New Zealand – playing for Asia Pacific – at the Junior NBA Global Championship in Orlando, Florida. Russo-Nance featured in six games and recorded averages of 15.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He also represents Waitakere Basketball and has won three national championships across different age groups.

The Auckland-born guard highlighted leadership as one of his focal points heading into the 2022 season.

“I want to become more of a leader. I feel like last season I kind of held back being one of the younger players on the team. I want to take a step forward in that area and show that I can be a leader both on and off the court.”

Auckland Tuatara head coach Aaron Young, who also coaches Russo-Nance at St Kentigern’s College, believes the 17-year-old has the talent to dominate and mentioned leadership as an area of focus.

“Dontae is a talented kid and very humble. His demeanour, his approach to the game and work ethic - you can tell he’s got it,” said Young.

“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.”

While Russo-Nance said he doesn’t generally like to mould his game around any NBA players, he enjoys watching the likes of Kyrie Irving and LaMelo Ball as he can see similarities.

“I like to watch Kyrie Irving and LaMelo Ball; Kyrie is my favourite player. But I like to play my own style and I want to be the best player I can possibly be. I’m not the most athletic guy, but I feel I have an edge with my basketball IQ and being able to read the floor. I can create for my teammates and score when I need to. I like to say I can do a bit of everything on the court,” he said.

Russo-Nance said he is considering the American college route but is still undecided on his plans post high school. For now, you can catch him suiting up for the Auckland Tuatara and there’s no doubt he’s a player to watch this season and beyond.


Check out Dontae Russo-Nance's 2021 Sal's NBL highlights:


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