The wait is over. After 573 days in the wilderness, the Castec Rural Mount Gambier Pioneers men will play basketball again and Millicent’s Peter Seebohm Stadium is the lucky venue this Friday night.
The Pioneers will launch preparations for the maiden NBL1 South Conference campaign with two games against Woodville this weekend. Both battles are critical for Mount Gambier as it marks its on-court return since bravely going down to the Forestville Eagles in the 2019 Basketball SA Premier League grand final.
Last year was supposed to be the inaugural NBL1 season, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed tip off until Saturday, April 17 2021.
After such a long break between matches, a lot has changed and Pioneers’ coach Richard Hill cannot wait to see how the new-look squad performs. “We are finally back on court and have been working pretty hard to get here,” he said. “We are pretty much brand new, but the full squad bar one will be there at Millicent, which will be great and we are looking forward to it.”
Only two faces from the successful SA Premier League side return to Mount Gambier’s fold post the pandemic. Captain Tom Daly will lead from the front once again, while Eric Burdon remains a good fit in his shooting guard role. However, the rest of the team are all newcomers which makes this weekend even more intriguing.
Nik DeSantis and Tom Kubank were both training during the ill-fated 2020 pre-season and are back to secure their debut Pioneers’ jerseys. The third Adelaide-based player is young gun Nick Marshall, who has plenty of high-level experience in his short career.
Hill said the Adelaide trio had plenty of potential. “The three Adelaide guys we have signed will give us some real grunt on the perimeter,” he said. “I see Nik (DeSantis) as a guy who could eventually replace Eric Burdon as a shooting guard. “He is a young, talented player and is in the top five scorers in the Adelaide competition which just finished. “Tom Kubank is a six foot seven player that is pretty talented and is a really good shooter giving us some size and versatility in the wing spot.
“Nick Marshall led the scoring in the Adelaide competition and has been training with the Adelaide 36ers as a development player. “He has only played for three years but is really athletic and strong and potentially could be a NBL player down the track.”
Another new face to keep an eye on will be on 24-year-old Duom Dawam, a Melbourne product Hill has high hopes for. “We have signed a young Sudanese lad from Melbourne and I really like his talent,” Hill said. “He has not played a lot at the high-level and has drifted between football and basketball, but might be a surprise packet. “If he works hard, we can do some really good things with him.”
More familiar faces also return including Kane DeWitt, who played against the Pioneers in the latter’s last on-court appearance. Other Mount Gambier residents Kyle Tipene and Mony Makoi are back in the squad after previous stints, while youngsters Matt Black, Toby DeWitt and Duncan Reid hope to establish themselves.
With a soon-to-be-revealed international import in the wings, Hill said there are many reasons to watch the new-look outfit’s first on-court appearance. “We may not have the star quality we have had in the past, but I like our talent level,” he said. “They are very young, so that is a challenge for me as a coach and I am looking forward to it.
“The biggest thing is to build some cohesion and familiarity in game situations because only three of the guys have played together before. “I am still confident because all of the guys have worked pretty hard for a while and know each other well, but have not been in the firing line yet.”
Woodville is a familiar opponent for the Pioneers after two SA Premier League clashes in 2019. Mount Gambier won on both occasions, but Hill is ready for a tough fight this weekend. “Woodville historically has been a middle of the road Adelaide team, but I know they have recruited very well and will be at full strength other than one player,” he said.
“They have played together all summer in the local competition in Adelaide, so I am expecting this will be a really good hit out for us first up. “I will be really disappointed if we cannot handle them, but I honestly do not know.”
Tip-off at Peter Seebohm Stadium is at 8.15pm, while Saturday night’s encounter starts at 6pm. The OneFortyOne Mount Gambier Pioneers women have already got stuck into pre-season with two intense warm ups in Adelaide. Last Friday the Pioneers came from behind to record a tight eight-point win over Forestville.
Mount Gambier was nine points down with just four minutes to go, but turned the tide thanks to Jasmin Howe and Sherrie Calleia. A flying start vaulted the Pioneers to a more comfortable 74-51 victory against North. Howe and Calleia were once again the top scorers, while young guns Sarah Ritter, Lacey Haines, Stella Mobbs and Johanna Jones debuted.