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Defending NBL champions South Dragons have almost certainly shut their doors for good, believing Australia’s new elite men’s basketball competition is doomed to failure.
Dragons co-owner Mark Cowan confirmed the club would officially take a one-year hiatus, before taking another look at whether it could be part of a competition in the 2010-11 season.
But in reality, the Dragons’ three-year existence appears over, with all players released and staff including six-time NBL champion coach Brian Goorjian let go on Friday.
The decision comes less than 24 hours after crosstown rivals Melbourne Tigers backflipped on an earlier decision to join the Dragons and sit out of the competition in 2009-10.
The Tigers became the eighth team to declare themselves starters in the new league, joining Perth, Adelaide, Cairns, Wollongong, Townsville, Gold Coast and New Zealand.
But there is no presence in either Sydney or Brisbane, and Cowan remained firm his club would not be part of the new competition next season.
“It’s quite possible that it may be the end of the Dragons,” an emotional Cowan admitted.
“What we’re going to do is sit back, see what unfolds and make our decisions in the future.
“What’s clear is we won’t be playing in the coming season.”
The Victorian-based Dragons had been in the NBL for the previous three seasons, going from wooden spooners two years ago to winning the championship in 2008-09.
The decision leaves Goorjian, Australia’s most successful men’s basketball coach, and national team players such as Mark Worthington and Joe Ingles officially free agents.
Goorjian now appears likely to ramp up his involvement in basketball in China following his recent appointment as assistant to the national men’s team.
Cowan owns the club in conjunction with Raphael Geminder, the chairman of Visy Recycling and son-in-law of the late Richard Pratt.
Both Cowan and Geminder have been scathing of the way the sport’s governing body Basketball Australia had failed to revamp the league properly after signalling major changes would be undertaken following the last NBL season.
Instead, the competition will go ahead without last season’s champions, and with no presence in two of Australia’s three largest cities.
Cowan said he had “genuine concerns” for the league, but hoped he was wrong with his prediction the new competition would flounder.
He warned the only way the Dragons would return to any new league was if those in charge of the game showed “an appetite for reform”.
“We’ve had a genuine opportunity here for reform … and I don’t think they’ve gone far enough,” Cowan said.
“If you look at netball and you look at soccer, they’ve both embraced those opportunities and come out much stronger as a result.
“We could have taken similar decisions and got similar outcomes. If that had happened, basketball could get to the place it deserves to be at.
“I do have concerns, I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t see it (succeeding).”