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It has been a stunning opening to the new NBL season highlighted by a four overtime classic on Friday night, and now Sunday’s Round 1 action features Tai Wesley’s return to Melbourne as a Breaker after starring in last season’s championship.
The NBL season came with great hype and it has certainly delivered over the first three days and remarkably for the first time in history, five road teams have been victorious in the opening five matches.
Things got underway on Thursday with the Brisbane Bullets upsetting the New Zealand Breakers and then the Perth Wildcats showing why you can never write them off, beating the Adelaide 36ers.
But all eyes were on the debut of former NBA No. 1 draft pick and championship winner Andrew Bogut with the Sydney Kings. Over 10,000 fans turned out for the occasion on Saturday in Sydney too, but the 36ers spoiled that party thanks to Nathan Sobey, Daniel Johnson and Anthony Drmic.
It has included just the second ever quadruple overtime contest in the 41st season of the NBL when the defending champion Melbourne United eventually outlasted the Illawarra Hawks 123-122 on Friday night.
And just in case playing in four overtime periods wasn’t enough, seven players in the game spent over 40 minutes on the floor and Illawarra centre AJ Ogilvy was just 14 seconds short of becoming an eighth.
Now both teams have had little time to recover with the Hawks jumping on a plane to cross the country to take on the Wildcats in Perth on Sunday, a trip on which they have lost 29 of their last 30 games.
Melbourne has also returned home to prepare for its home-opener and to unfurl their championship banner at Melbourne Arena hosting the Breakers, who they beat in last season’s semi-final series.
The teams have traded some talent over the off-season too with new Melbourne centre Alex Pledger playing his first game against the club he played in four championships with.
On the other side of the fence, Tai Wesley will be playing his first game back with the Breakers against the team he helped to last season’s championship. Another Melbourne championship winner, big man Majok Majok, will also be playing his first game against United.
The former Melbourne pair will be on hand, despite being in opposition colours, for United to unfurl the championship banner they helped them win but for the Breakers, they are looking to bounce back from a loss at home and to keep the run of road teams winning in the opening round.
Wesley didn’t expect to be leaving Melbourne when he was celebrating that championship last season, but despite him ending up moving on, he has nothing but fond memories of his time at the club as he prepares to face them for the first time since.
“Melbourne’s awesome and the whole club was fantastic,” Wesley said.
“You win a championship and I thought I was going to go back there but I’m excited for this new chapter that’s familiar for me back at the Breakers.
“I have nothing bad to say about Melbourne, I still talk very frequently to some of their players and fortunately enough we get to play them pretty early in the season so that will be fun.”
Not only did Wesley play in Melbourne’s championship triumph, but he was a crucial contributor and his presence as someone to make huge plays by being a go-to option in the paint, hitting big shots and coming up with match-winning performances was massive.
Not that he ever doubted his abilities, but Wesley even surprised himself at times with just how big of an impact he had last season on a team so chock full of talent.
“I even surprised myself and not that I was playing at such a high level, but because I was able to do it on a team that had really good players,” he said.
“To be able to establish myself as a guy they can go to down the stretch and who could get a big stop or basket, I really enjoyed that role. I was pretty pumped about getting to that level because you go into that season and look at the line-up, I didn’t go in with that starting spot mine.
“I had to earn that starting role and then to grow into that where the team needs a bucket and could throw inside to me was awesome. It was what I needed especially from the season I had the year before. It was a great year for me and I’m very appreciative to Melbourne United for giving me that chance.”
While a lot has changed at the Breakers from Wesley’s first stint with the club that saw him win his first NBL championship including a new ownership group and there’s no longer Mika Vukona or Pledger there as teammates, there was plenty of reasons for him to want to return.
Even while in Melbourne, he had continued to play under new Breakers coach Kevin Braswell in the New Zealand NBL at Wellington alongside Shea Ili and Corey Webster.
So he was keen to reteam with Ili and Webster, along with Tom Abercrombie, while helping Braswell to a strong start to his NBL coaching career.
Now he’d like to help Braswell get his first win on the board in Melbourne on Sunday but looking at the bigger picture, Wesley couldn’t be happier to be back at the Breakers.
“It feels great to be back. This is such a wonderful club that I have history with and obviously I’m grateful to the Breakers for how they give me my start in this league. To be back is something I feel privileged and honoured about, and I’m excited to be here,” Wesley said.
“I won a few championships here in New Zealand with Shea and he’s a really close friend of mine, Tommy and I, and our wives, are close and I’ve won a couple of championships with Corey as well. So we do have some chemistry there and there is some familiarity. We are just trying to pick up where we left off.
“KB is a fantastic coach and a fantastic person. We understand each other really well so I’m excited to play for him and that’s not to say anything bad about my last coach because I loved playing for Deano, but I’m excited to be part of KB’s first season as a head coach at this level.
“I’m excited to play for him and am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity.”
NBL Round 1 fixtures (AEDT)
New Zealand Breakers 73 lost to Brisbane Bullets 86
Adelaide 36ers 91 lost to Perth Wildcats 99
Illawarra Hawks 122 lost to Melbourne United 123 (4OT)
Sydney Kings 83 lost to Adelaide 36ers 94
Brisbane Bullets 70 lost to Cairns Taipans 88
Melbourne United v New Zealand Breakers – Melbourne Arena 2.50pm
Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks – RAC Arena 5.20pm