The Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers enter the first break of the 2022 NBL1 South men’s season as the team to beat sitting pretty at the top of the ladder.
The Pioneers were just one point away from winning all 10 games with the thrilling Geelong buzzer beater the only time Tom Daly’s team finished on the losing side.
Given the playing roster was incomplete with injuries, COVID-19 and unavailability causing headaches, Mount Gambier coach Richard Hill said he has been thrilled with the performances so far.
“We could have even been 10 and zip when we lost by one point, but we have exceeded my expectations,” he said.
“Honestly at the start of the year our roster was very thin and vulnerable and we could have lost any of our first six games and came from behind in four of them and managed to scrape through.
“It is always hard to measure, but we are averaging over 100 points a game and the rest of the competition is in the 70’s.
“Now we have the roster together and hopefully we can continue to grow.”
No one has been able to keep up with Mount Gambier’s fast, entertaining, high-scoring and exciting style of play.
The latest and arguably most comprehensive example was the most recent round before the bye where the Pioneers blew Frankston and Nunawading away on the road by 18 and 39 points respectively.
“That was some of the best basketball the Pioneers have played for a long time,” Hill said.
“We had a patch against Frankston when they troubled us early with their size, but then we got out to a 26-point lead because we were just really hot from the three-point line.
“Across the weekend we scored around 15 points inside two minutes three times which is sort of unheard of.
“We did not have any bad players because everyone was brilliant.”
All areas of the Pioneers squad has been clicking, but the additions of the athletic Clevon Brown and captain Tom Daly returning to full fitness have been the final pieces of the puzzle.
Brown only arrived last month and has already made a big impact boasting the highest blocks per match average in the competition, while Daly had struggled to shake off the lingering effects of COVID-19, but rediscovered some of his best with some big performances on the recent double header and should enjoy much more court time going forward.
Mount Gambier returns to the Icehouse this Saturday night where third-placed Kilsyth await in a big game for both sides.
The Pioneers and Cobras have enjoyed some great battles over the years with the latter winning in extra time back in 2018, while the former hit back by 10 points in the rematch 12 months ago.
Hill believes his team cannot afford to stop building the momentum, as he believes the competition will only get tighter as the season progresses.
“Most of the teams we have beaten are in the bottom half of the ladder, so it is going to get an awful lot tougher and we cannot get too carried away,” he said.
“Kilsyth has just jumped surprisingly up the ladder, but there are teams behind them in the middle that I think are going to finish near the top.
“It think 14 wins will guarantee a home final which is what we are aiming for.
“It will all happen very fast once we get back into and playoffs will be on top of us very quickly.”