Basketball: New Zealand Breakers set for lengthy stint in Australia before returning second half of 2021-22 campaign

By Christopher Reive

The New Zealand Breakers are set for another lengthy stint in Australia, but will return to New Zealand for several home games late in the season.

As the NBL prioritises getting fans back into stadiums to enjoy the action in the season ahead and a crowd not possible in Auckland for the foreseeable future, the Breakers will open their campaign with 12 games on the road, before a return home scheduled in early February.

After starting the season with 12 straight away games, the Breakers will play 14 of their final 16 games on home soil; with 10 games in Auckland and four to be play elsewhere in New Zealand.

While not an ideal situation for the club, head coach Dan Shamir said it was a much more comforting position to be in than where the Auckland-based club sat at the same time last year.

"The good thing about it and the reason for us to be optimistic is we are looking to have 14 games at home," Shamir said.

"Although they're not going to be spread from game one in the season, we will be able to get back home. That's a great thing for us and a very different story compared to last year."

There will be plenty of intrigue in the new season for the Breakers, particularly surrounding the addition of young French stars Ousmane Dieng and Hugo Besson.

Dieng joins the Breakers as part of the NBL's Next Stars programme which has seen the likes of NBA stars LaMelo Ball (Charlotte Hornets) and RJ Hampton (Orlando Magic) head Down Under to develop their skills ahead of the NBA Draft. Dieng knocked back college offers as well as an opportunity to play in the NBA development league to sign with the New Zealand franchise.

The 18-year-old is a raw prospect with signs of superstar ability. A long wingspan with good vision and playmaking ability, scouts will be heavily invested in see how he develops both physically and skilfully in the highly physical Australian league.

In August, ESPN ranked Dieng as the 14th best prospect eligible for the 2022 NBA draft, with Besson 35th on the same list.

Besson, 20, flashed his potential as an athletic and offensive-minded guard in France's second division last year. During the offseason, he drew interest from several big European clubs and was set to enter the NBA Draft, however withdrew himself in order to keep his eligibility for 2022 after being unable to participate in work-outs due to an ankle injury. Former NBA players Peyton Siva (Detroit Pistons) and Jeremiah Martin (Brooklyn Nets) also join the team for the 2021-22 season.

The Breakers will relocate to Australia for pre-season next month, where they will be able to play four practice matches before their season opener against Cairns on December 4.

"To be honest, I would sleep in a tent in Australia if it meant we play basketball and get this season started," star Breakers forward Finn Delany said of the schedule.

"It was inevitable we were starting the season in Australia; we saw it coming, and we are going to be better prepared this year."

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