Pinch yourself Pioneers fans because both the men and women sit proudly at the top of their respective NBL1 South ladders and are back in town for a massive celebration for a number of reasons tomorrow night.
Not only will both teams be defending their strong records with pride against the second placed Geelong Supercats, but fan favourite Erik Burdon will be the toast of the town as the Icehouse celebrates his 250-game milestone and there will also be a new and tall figure at the opposite end of his career.
Clevon Brown is the newest addition to the Mount Gambier roster and standing at 6’ 8” will bring some much-needed height to the squad which has had its depth tested in recent weeks.
Brown has already shown a massive amount of commitment to the club after he landed in the country last Friday following an arduous 30-hour journey across five different flights from Florida.
The San Antonio born has been playing on the college scene since 2016/17 and spent his first five seasons with the Vanderbilt Commodores before enjoying more game time with Florida International in the Eastern USE Conference.
Brown played a big role defensively for the Panthers being the team leader in rebounds and blocks per game.
But he can also be damaging around the basket with his incredible vertical leap sure to stun spectators with a few slam dunks and alley-oops.
The 23-year-old’s arrival has been months in the making with the Castec Rural Pioneers working around the clock to find the final missing piece of their squad after parting ways with Mark St. Forte before the season started.
The man steering the ship has been head coach Richard Hill and he cannot wait to see Brown in action.
“I am excited to have him and we need him,” he said.
“Our squad is very small and thin on the ground, so we needed some size and he is a great athlete.
“He is straight out of college, so he is a bit young and raw and could take some time after flying from the other side of the world.
“But is really hard working and will fit into our culture.”
All eyes will also be on Burdon, who played his 250th game back in round 3, but will be celebrating the milestone in front of his home fans tomorrow night.
The three-point king also known as “Ezy” has been a fan favourite for the same period as Hill’s tenure and the coach said he deserves a special salute.
“He has been an exemplary teammate and been in every one of my years,” Hill said.
“I am so glad he is playing another year because he was undecided and we spoke about it, but we needed his veteran leadership for those younger guys.”
Burdon will be hopeful of a victorious celebration game and his teammates will be confident of doing so after continuing their winning streak in Victoria last weekend.
The Pioneers played scintillating basketball where the team led by Nick Marshall blew Ringwood out of the water before overcoming Keilor with a late comeback.
Hill said it was one of the most impressive weekends from his team, which fills him with confidence ahead of a blockbuster top of the table battle against Geelong.
“It was a really pleasing road trip because both the teams we played were really solid teams,” he said.
“We played our best basketball for a year to blow Ringwood away in the first half.
“Kane carried an injury through the weekend, but our other four starters were unbelievable and everyone had top-end performances.
“We travelled to Keilor for the first time and they were quick and talented with a big American who we struggled with, but were able to slow him down offensively.
“They were out to a 13-point lead and we could have easily let go of the rope.
“But we remained strong and to be six and zero with what we have had is all credit to the guys because they have just battled manfully without a lot of support on the front court.
“But Geelong is probably the most talented team we have come across yet, so the level of competition will step up.”
The women’s contest will also be an unmissable affair with the OneFortyOne Pioneers and the Supercats locked at five wins and one loss each.
Mount Gambier suffered its first defeat to Ringwood last weekend, but bounced back well with a comfortable triumph over Keilor the following day.
Geelong showed strong form edging out both Knox and Eltham in close contests where Sara Blicavs and Taylah Simmons performed.
The Pioneers travelled to Cat-town just before the 2021 NBL1 South season got shut down and the men prevailed 96-90, while the women fell five points short, so expect some more nail-biters.