Pioneers primed for take-off

Afresh-looking, but exciting Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers men’s outfit is primed to take the 2022 NBL1 South season by storm this year.

No team was dragged through the mud by border and COVID-19 restrictions last year like the Pioneers and they have a point to prove in 2022.

With new players and the hope of finally playing an uninterrupted season, it is a season full of excitement and anticipation for Pioneers’ fans.

Familiar face Richard Hill returns to the coaching position once again and is also buzzing at the prospect of seeing the team playing its first major game since the 2021 NBL1 South season was slammed shut in July.

“We have had a great preseason, so when the opening game comes around everyone will be very excited and ready to go,” he said.

Diamond Valley is the first opponent of the new year – a team the Pioneers have not met since March 2018 when the Blue Lake boys comfortably won by 32 points.

But Hill said the rematch would not be easy and expects the visitors to challenge with their height.

“Diamond Valley will be much bigger than us because we do not have much size at all,” he said.

“They will be massive compared to us on the floor so we will have to deal with that.”

Inspirational and competitive captain Tom Daly will continue to lead from the front alongside fan favourite Erik “Ezy” Burdon, who will be one to watch from the three-point line.

Kane de Wit, Tom Kubank, Toby de Wit and Nick Marshall are the other returning players, but the latter will not be in action this Saturday due to Adelaide 36ers commitments.

One of the new faces is Michael Harris, who has returned to the town of his youth after some time away.

Harris has come back as an explosive basketballer and entrenched himself in the starting five during his short time at the team after a huge preseason.

Fresh from college, Jordan Rawls could become the unexpected hero of 2022.

The versatile import was not part of the team’s original plans, but was parachuted into the side before the preseason event in Millicent once it became clear not all imports were going to be signed in time.

Rawls was only meant to be around for the start of the season, but according to Hill has played himself into a spot by being a really hard worker and a good person on and off the court.

Rawls fills the void left by Mark St. Fort, who was signed up for 2022 but left the club on the eve of the season, while the remainder of squad is filled with promising local development players.

Although the squad is not quite at full strength, the team has developed strong momentum at the back end of preseason after clean sweeping the NBL1 Blitz – and Hill said the signature of a long-awaited final import could land soon to complete the list.

“We are close to home and are just trying to work through some visa issues and things like that,” he said.

“We have been trying since October last year and things have just fallen for us, so hopefully we can get it over the line soon.”

Even with or without a new import, Hill promised fans they could expect the Pioneers’ high-voltage brand of basketball they know and love.

“We were the highest scoring team in Australia across all the NBL1 competitions and I do not see any reason why that will change,” he said.

“We are still a pretty high-scoring team averaging a crazy 100-plus points per game, but we just need to make sure we can stop the opposition a bit better.

“We were scoring pretty freely in Melbourne and the connection from an offensive point of view was really good.”

After two years of COVID-19 blues, Hill said his biggest fear in 2022 was interruptions.

“We have a very talented group, but we are just not in a position to deal with COVID issues or injuries,” he said.

“It will be a problem for everyone, but we do not go very deep.

“But they all play pretty good basketball and I am looking forward to seeing what they can do.”

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