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Boucher issues plea for Halberg glory

Published: 6:41AM Monday April 15, 2013 Source: Fairfax

Retiring New Zealand Breakers veteran Dillon Boucher has issued an impassioned plea for some long overdue Halberg recognition for the history-making hoops club.

An emotional Boucher lowered the curtain on a spectacularly successful career in dream fashion in Perth when he played through the pain - and sickness - barrier to inspire an Aussie NBL championship threepeat.

Boucher ended up playing just over 28 minutes on a night when the man he backs up, Mika Vukona, could manage just restricted time through foul trouble.

But in typical manner, Boucher gritted his teeth, thrust out that Clutch Cargo jaw and got on with doing all the little things he contributes on a night when it wasn't faultless from the Breakers - they shot just 34 percent and threatened to unravel in the face of a furious fourth-quarter comeback from the Cats - but ended up being gloriously imperfect.

Boucher, who has now won four Australian NBL championships to go with his 11 Kiwi league titles, reckoned it was time this club's achievements were celebrated on a wider scale.

"Hey, there's no Olympics, no World Cup, so there's no reason why we shouldn't clean up at the Halbergs," he said. "We've at least got to be nominated this year.

"We've done a pretty special thing no other New Zealand sports team has been able to do, the New Zealand public have got behind us and it's time for the people who make these decisions to take at look and realise what we're doing is pretty special here."

The Breakers have been overlooked as a finalist for team of the year at the previous two Halberg awards, with the judging panel drawing a clear line between their achievements in an Australian league, and those of other Kiwi athletes on the international stage.

Still, Boucher makes a valid point. There comes a time when sustained success in a global sport in a highly respected league deserves recognition. And in the 37 years the Australian NBL has been operating the Breakers are only the second club to go for the threepeat.

Their efforts this year were also pretty damn impressive. They won 24 of their 28 games, 20 of their last 21, and made a rare clean sweep of the post-season.

Breakers owners Paul and Liz Blackwell are just rapt the vision they had for the club when they first came on board eight years ago is now reaping such rich rewards.

"We set out to try achieve something, and to win a championship," said Paul Blackwell who was in Perth to see his team snap a 14-game home win streak by the Wildcats. "To threepeat is beyond our wildest dreams.

"I'm very proud. I was sitting in the room with development guys Reuben [TeRangi], Tai [Webster] Morgan (Natanahira] and Josh [Bloxham], and saying look at the big shoes you've got to fill. That's the really exciting thing, seeing these kids come through."

Blackwell confirmed he and Liz were not looking to sell the club in the immediate future, though all proposals for involvement would be considered. At present the Breakers are not quite breaking even, though there's some hope in the form of the Wildcats who supposedly will bank a profit of close to $A1 millions this year.

"I loved it when Andrej {Lemanis] was interviewed about coming back if he got the Boomers job to coach against the Tall Blacks at Vector. He said wouldn't that be great for the Tall Blacks to play at Vector.

"That's what we can dream about now. Basketball is growing, this [in Perth] was very impressive, that crowd at that venue was very cool.

"There's a lot of work going on, this league is going forward, this year attendance is up, everything is up. There's still working on a model but we'll get there."

Blackwell shrugged off the altruistic nature of his investment in the team.

"We've had more out of this than anybody in New Zealand, the fun and enjoyment we've had and our family's had has been incredible," he said.

Added Liz: "For me the biggest joy is when we go to Vector and 9300 people there all walk out with a smile on their faces. That probably brings as much joy to me as seeing Tai and Reuben and those young guys come through."

The Blackwells really are in this thing for the right reasons.

"We think we've been put in this place to make a difference, and this is our area, so we'd better get on with it and that's what we're trying to do," added Paul. "We're there to help people be the best they can be."

Maybe that's a Halberg the Breakers would win hands-down. Owners of the Year.