'His next step is the NBA' - Big prediction for Breakers coach

In five years the Breakers have seen it all — a wooden spoon, two years living, playing and training in Australia during Covid, a former import go to court and now, an NBL Finals berth.

In a exactly a week's time it'll be five years to the day a group of former NBA players, led by Matt Walsh, took over the ownership of the club from the much-loved Paul and Liz Blackwell, a couple that had built them into one of the most loved and successful teams in the country.

The group of former NBA players wanted to make changes and to many, it seemed they didn't care about what had come before them. That was perhaps a bit harsh but could also be understandable. They changed big parts of the roster, the gameday experience and eventually the coach. Some of the club's most ardent fans were unhappy to say the least and the owners felt the brunt of it.

Now, it's gone full circle. They have homegrown talent, they have imports who live and play by the Breakers' values and they have got the love back at Spark Arena. So how do they look back on it?

"I don't think vindicated is the right word because that makes it seem like I was right and you guys were wrong. I don't feel that way at all," Walsh states matter-of-factly, as we chat over Zoom, him dressed in a Breakers hoodie with his Breakers hat that you could be forgiven for thinking is on his head even when he sleeps.

"We took the feedback on when we made a lot of changes and I think taking that feedback on, listening to the New Zealand fans, listening to the community, I think that's how we ended up here. It's not because I was right and someone else was wrong."

It's abundantly clear, Walsh has a passion for the club, a passion that's been there since day one. He's largely been absent this season, instead watching from afar as he commits more time to family. Walsh and his son spent two years on the road in Australia with the rest of the Breakers during their brutal Covid-impacted seasons. He's had little time to think about what a title would mean, but it would certainly cap off what's already been a wild ride.

Breakers coach Mody Maor, centre, and his players watch the closing moments of their victory over the JackJumpers at Spark Arena.

So, what's next in that ride?

"At some point there's going to come a time where I've taken it as far as I can with my smarts and my abilities. It's not now, it's not any time soon I don't think," Walsh begins to explain, before expanding further.

"It kills me not being there every day. Me and my family are coming over for the Grand Finals, the plan (going forward) is still to come back and spend a lot of time (around the club). We have no plans of selling the team."

But, what if the right person came knocking?

"If somebody came to me and there was a New Zealander who said 'hey, I want to own this team, I want to be the Mark Cuban of Auckland' and I felt this would be better for New Zealand, this would be better for my partners, I'm not naïve enough or arrogant enough to think I'm the guy who should own the Breakers forever."

That won't be now and it may not be for years. After all, considering two years of no games at home, games in front of now fans and these days seeing Spark Arena full to the brim, nobody could realistically blame him, finally seeing some reward for investment.

Mody Maor has 'really bright coaching future'

On the topic of investment is their commitment to the NBL's Next Star programme which, in essence, is about trying to find a player that will get picked up early in the NBA Draft and go on to be a superstar. The Breakers have had a couple that have shown some promise —RJ Hampton, who ended up at the Orlando Magic and Ousmane Dieng who's now with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the G League. This year's addition in that role, Rayan Rupert, may be a standout. The 6'7 Frenchman showing some strong skills for an 18-year-old.

It's something they'll continue.

"I think we've found the winning formula, the best kind of position is either a three (small-forward), four-five (power forward/centre). We haven't had a four-five yet, but having a guy where the ball has to be in their hands so much, it's just too much pressure for an 18 or 19-year-old, so I think we've found the sweet spot."

Rupert's currently predicted anywhere between 8-20 in this year's NBA Draft. Walsh has just got home having spent the weekend in Utah for the NBA All Star weekend.

"They love this kid, teams are drooling over him," an excited Walsh beamed. "He's the hardest working player we've ever had at the Breakers."

Equally hard working, their coach. A man who seemingly is constantly thinking about basketball and is now trying to plot the downfall of the Sydney Kings in a push to win the Breakers their fifth NBL title. It would be a miraculous turnaround — from the wooden spoon last year to lifting the trophy. Fortunately for the Auckland club, Mody Maor's locked in for two more seasons. Walsh though, knows they're going to have to fight off interest and major interest at that.

"I think Mody has a really bright coaching future. I think his next step after the Breakers is an assistant coach in the NBA, I truly believe that. I hope we have him another three or four years, how realistic that is, I'm not sure."

The Breakers went through the regular season this year with a 18-10 record compared to the Kings' 19-9 tally. Bizarrely, game one of the best-of-five Finals is still 10 days away due to the FIBA international window, in a home-and-away alternate format starting in Sydney.


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