Australian NBL Round 2: New Zealand Breakers (0-1) v Tasmania JackJumpers (0-2), Spark Arena Auckland, Friday, 7.35pm tip.
When talented young Australian playmaker Will McDowell-White first signed with the New Zealand Breakers, he thought of immersing himself in a Kiwi culture while soaking up quality hoops. Little did he know he would have to hang on for three seasons for this to become a reality.
The 24-year-old starting point keeper for Mody Maor’s Breakers, who ends a 489-day wait for a game on Kiwi soil when they host the Tasmania JackJumpers at Spark Arena on Friday night (7.35pm tip), is also pumped as all of his New Zealand teammates for an Australian NBL homecoming game that’s shaping up to be something truly special.
The Australian point guard is back for a third NBL season with the New Zealand club.
McDowell-White, like Rob Loe, Sam Timmins, injured skipper Tom Abercrombie and trainers Maor and James Reid, knows the tough yards after being part of the permanent road trip in the 2021-22 season. In fact, he’s done most of two campaigns living out of a suitcase, locked in hotel rooms, unable to escape the 24/7 hoops bubble, after joining the Kiwi club at the start of 20-21. in lieu of an injury.
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The Breakers had a handful of home games at the end of this first Covid campaign (with their season toast), but none last year when they suffered a remarkable test of their resilience and sanity, en route to a disheartening 5-23 record.
“I guess I found it a bit easier, being from Australia and closer to home,” the Brisbane-born basketball player said. “Still, living in a hotel – my floor had like half the team on it – you see a teammate every day. It was tough – like we spent half the year in a box.
“It was mentally draining, more than anything. Sometimes it was hard to wake up and go to practice…you just want to get out of the bubble, and the only people you can hang out with are members of my Everyone needs time with loved ones, and some of us didn’t even have that.
That’s why McDowell-White feels so energetic and optimistic about what lies ahead. Yes, it’s just a normal season, but it’s comparative bliss. He’s finally settled into a flat in Auckland, his partner has left Australia and he’s about to play his first significant home game for a club that has always thrived thanks to its special surroundings at Spark.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” said the 1.96m point guard who opened the season with 9 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in a promising 101-97 overtime loss at Melbourne United. “I know it will be a great environment to play in, and having people cheering for us will be special. Everything is falling into place, finally.
McDowell-White, who made her national team debut this year and took a huge dose of confidence with her, was a surprise new signing for the Breakers. Even he thought two troubled passages were enough, before his phone rang and plans changed.
“Mody called me one day and said, ‘I got the job’. I thought, ‘this changes everything’. He develops players like no other in the league and he can get guys to the next level. That’s what it’s all about for me right now.
Especially after his first senior international hoops experience with the Boomers.
“I loved it and can’t wait to get another call,” he said of an experience that changed him as a basketball player. “I felt like I was improving and, more than that, it gave me probably the most confidence I’ve probably had in my life. I’ve always struggled with that part of things, but now I walk the field thinking I belong, which is good.
Maor certainly believes so. He loves the skill and tenacity of McDowell-White, and the two were front and center in Melbourne when the lanky point guard flirted with a triple-double and played through a nasty cut to the chin from a loose elbow from Chris Goulding .
The Breakers took much of what was on the surface a disheartening loss — their 11th on the rebound and the 10th loss in their last 11 that went OT.
“They hit a lot of 3s, and they’re a pretty powerful team every year, and we took them into overtime with them shooting like that,” McDowell-White said. “We just need to get the defense in order – and that starts with me – and I feel like we’ll be well placed.”
As for last year’s surprise finalists, the JackJumpers, who started 0-2, let’s just say the Breakers point guard is quietly confident.
“They’re maximizing the gray areas – doing the things teams don’t want to do. This is how they not only win, but stay in every game. It’s just about playing hard and matching their physique…and we’re built for that.
If the Breakers needed a boost ahead of their emotional comeback, center Rob Loe proved his fitness in Thursday’s final practice after spraining his ankle in Melbourne.
• The Breakers need to win this game to avoid their worst NBL losing streak – currently the 11 they are on, which also broke in 2005.
• The JackJumpers play their first-ever match in New Zealand.
• New Zealand have only played at the Spark Arena once in their last 68 NBL games (83-95 loss to the Bullets on 30 May 2021).
• The newcomers to the competition swept the Breakers in all four games played last season.