The New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) has released the draw for 2018.

The League will run over 16 weeks, starting with the Blitz tournament from 20 to 22 April, and concludes with the Final Four on 3 to 5 August.Basketball New Zealand has also guaranteed another year of live-streamed coverage with a minimum of 48 regular season games. Dedicated time slots include Thursday and Sunday at 7pm, with a number of other matches livestreamed at various times between Thursdays and Sundays.

The NZNBL Blitz will open the season with teams getting valuable game-time and scouting opportunities before the official points-rounds begin the following week. The Blitz will be hosted in Palmerston North. This continues Manawatu’s drive to host elite basketball tournaments, especially after their continued success with the Schick Championships, which has garnered strong support from the region’s fans and basketball community.

The Blitz will also see the celebrated return of hometown heroes the Go Media Manawatu Jets, who will fly back into the League after their departure in 2015. Expect a big hometown crowd to attend the Blitz for their return, especially from the Palmerston North Boys High School (PNBHS) community. Judging from recent social media posts, at least three PNBHS departing students look likely to suit up for the Jets, including Junior Tall Black Callum McRae, Oscar Oswald and Haize Walker – all young debutants fresh out of school.They’ll be facing a tough step up as other heavy-weight teams including the Wellington Saints, the Zerofees Sharks, the Canterbury Rams. All teams will be looking to sign Tall Blacks and up to three imports per team. The Southland Sharks have already bolted by securing their core talent from last year including Tall Blacks Reuben Te Rangi, Derone Ruakawa, Alex Pledger, plus new faces including young former Junior Tall Blacks and New Zealand 3x3 player Tom Vodanovich. Vodanovich returns from four years of NCAA Division 1 basketball, having played for James Madison University in Virgina.

The Canterbury Rams have already announced their summer training squad, with an eye for developing some strong junior-talent that have flowed from Canterbury Basketball and the Mainland Eagles Academy. Head Coach Mark Dickel will again take the helm with Captain Marques Whippy, who returns this year as an import. Other early placements include coaches on debut, with the Mike Pero Giants and Taylor Hawks naming two new faces. The rapid rise of Zico Coronel continues with his signing to the Hawks. The young 34 year old brings a wealth of experience as Assistant Coach in the league, primarily for the current title holders the Wellington Saints. Meanwhile the Nelson Giants have looked across the Tasman to secure Jamie Pearlman, the Assistant Coach of the University of Cairns Taipans. He’s already rostered some talented signings including Tall Black Tohi Smith-Milner and Smith-Milner’s Melbourne United team-mate and Kyle Adnam.

All eyes will again be on the Wellington Saints. They created NZ NBL history last year with the team going 20-0 and claiming their 10th title. They’ll look to creating history again by being the first team to claim the elusive ‘three-peat’ by taking the 2018 title. While they dominated in 2017, we will have to wait and see if the team will announce the return of their 2017 players who may look to defend their perfect season.

The Taranaki Mountaineers and James Blond Super City Rangers will round out the eight teams. The Rangers have a history of causing upsets under the cunning eye of Coach Jeff Green. They claimed Bronze in the 2017 year in which they notched 11 wins and seven losses. Meanwhile the Taranaki Mountaineers will be looking to overcome their underdog status after a last place finish in 2017. They’ll be looking to take down the fresh-faced and inexperienced Jets in their first game, which is arguably the more intriguing game schedule in the first points-round on 29 April. This will be a match-up of a battled-hardened team verses a team looking for redemption after a long absence. The Jets will have the hometown advantage for that game.

Of course the popular vote for ‘game of the week’ and the bulk of the viewership should peak with the Saints vs the Sharks on 27 April – a replay of the 2017 Grand Final. This game will be peppered with Tall Blacks and will be a hard-fought affair as these two rivals seek early points and bragging rights.

To add to the excitement for fans with a TAB account, the New Zealand TAB has given early indications that they are look to bring live in-game betting this year too, raising the interest for fans and punters – just another sign that basketball continues to grow in the greater New Zealand consciousness.

The full 2018 draw can be found on the NZNBL Schedule page here.


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