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Grant Chapman: Moment in time shows Lemanis' worth

opinion

Published: 8:29AM Thursday January 24, 2013

There was a moment - about four minutes from the end of last Thursdays one-point win over Wollongong - that reminded anyone who needed it how far Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis has come in a relatively short time.

This instance stuck out because, two years ago, when the Aussie was guiding the NZ-based team to their first NBL crown, he was accused of being a third-rate coach, who just happened to have the leagues strongest roster.
 
The exact phraseology may have been C Grade, but the inference was sure clear. One of Lemanis' perceived weaknesses was his apparent inability to adjust when his "Plan A" wasn't working.

The criticism came from a veteran basketball commentator whom I respect greatly, but it seemed a tad harsh at the time, and seems even more far-fetched 24 months and two titles later.

Back then, in his fifth year at the helm, Lemanis was still a losing coach, having struggled through some fairly dismal early seasons with the club. In fact, he would reach the break-even mark during those successful 2011 playoffs - and then promptly lost his next game to slip back under again.

Since the Breakers were his first stint as a head coach, you could argue he was enjoying considerable latitude from the owners to hone his craft.

The investment has undoubtedly paid off to the point that he was on the Australian Boomers staff at the London Olympics and is now widely tipped to take over from Brett Brown in the lead role this year.

Back to last weeks game. On the onenews.co.nz live updates, that moment looked like this:

3:48 Breakers 64-64 Hawks
With the game on the line, Jackson is subbed off. He's been on the bench a bit tonight, so maybe not 100%.

In fact, when quizzed afterwards, Lemanis admitted - and I'm paraphrasing here - American point guard Cedric Jackson was struggling and the coach considered he had better options waiting on his bench. There was no mention of injury or illness and Jackson was in no particular foul trouble - it was a decision based on form.

Now, this isn't an ordinary player, were talking about here. This is the guy who most are picking as this seasons presumptive MVP, leading the league in assists, steals and triple doubles.

He should be in the NBA, many say.

Surely, with less than four minutes left on the clock, this is a man you want on the court. Replacing him is like asking Michael Jordan to take a seat at crunch time.

I just thought the way they were playing him and his ability to be effective against the way they were playing him, we had some other options that were better for us at that point, explained Lemanis.

Thats the beauty of our team - we have depth and everybody contributes in different ways at different times. Depending on how youre playing them, what the defence is doing, how the opposition is playing you, you can go with different people.

That was just a coach's decision.

To be sure, Jackson had not been his usual self and perhaps he had been lulled into a one-on-one showdown with Hawks rival Adris Deleon, who was running rampant on the way to a game-high 34 points off 13/24 shooting.

By comparison, Jackson was misfiring at 4/15 from the field and 1/6 from the arc, and starting to jerk on the trigger, instead of squeeze. Maybe the fatigue of a long road stretch was taking its toll.

Maybe this was indeed the time to put a tight game in the hands of veterans like CJ Bruton and Daryl Corletto.

Lemanis still has the league's best roster to call on when he needs it, but its a smart coach that knows when he needs it.

And its still a brave one that will bench his stud off when the game is on the line.

He did get Jackson back on during the dying seconds, but not before Corletto - the man who had replaced him and was duly replaced by him - scored a key bucket down the stretch.

Ironically, it was Jackson who put Deleon on the free-throw line with three seconds remaining for a chance to send the game into overtime.

But like so many of Lemanis decisions lately, everything worked out well in the end.

Some say its sometimes better to be lucky than good - the Breakers will tell you the good make their own luck.

And with a seven-game winning streak on the go, who can argue?

That run is at stake again tonight, when the Breakers host Sydney Kings at North Shore Events Centre.

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