Big V basketball rips into action tonight with the Shepparton Gators heading to Mill Park to battle Whittlesea.
Six months on from a 2-0 division one grand final series loss to Chelsea, an almost unrecognisable squad will board the bus and venture down to the city for the first time this campaign, looking to go one better.
From last year’s squad, just Nick Dodd, Tyrone Mohamed and Nathan Grace return, meaning key pieces such as import duo Cameron Vines and Spencer Coleman, along with Shepparton local Matt Bartlett have departed; Bartlett having recently signed with the Bendigo Braves.
Instead, a new cast of stars will make their debuts, led by American guard/forward Jerron Jamerson, with New Zealand duo Javaan Mumtaz and Jaxson Macfarlane and big man Atem Atem ready for action.
Returning coach Leigh Bathman said his squad was still getting used to one another, but the new recruits would all bring a different trick to the table.
‘‘We’ve really rushed to get everything organised and on the same page, but we’re a long way short at the moment,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve got some injuries, new guys, we’ve not been together too long, only three weeks. So we’re a bit unsure how it will all play out this weekend, but we expect like most teams we’ll be a bit rusty, and lacking a bit of team cohesion and chemistry.
‘‘Our import (Jamerson) comes in, he’s a strong, penetrating player, a bigger-body who we’re asking to play above his size.
‘‘Javaan Mumtaz from New Zealand is a good shooter, a lockdown defender and addresses an area we’ve hoping to work on.
‘‘Big Atem Atem brings good versatility and athleticism at the four-five spot, and Jaxson Macfarlane is a workhorse with a high motor, he brings really good energy and people feed off that.’’
Local products Nick Dodd and Tyrone Mohamed return, while young talents like Nathan Grace will add depth — an exciting prospect for Bathman.
‘‘Our depth will be our youth — they all tell me they want more opportunities and they’re going to get that,’’ he said.
‘‘That’s exciting too, they get the chance to prove they’re good enough playing in a men’s competition.’’
Again the Gators are in the state’s second tier, Bellarine and division two champion Coburg have joined the division, while Chelsea and Geelong have left.
On the menu this weekend is a Whittlesea side which went 6-18 last season and which the Gators beat twice, but Bathman said a blistering start like last year’s 13-2 jump was hard to see.
‘‘Early wins build confidence, individually and as a group, but last year we caught a few teams on the hop, but our core group had been together for six to eight weeks,’’ he said.
‘‘(Whittlesea’s) new import is 6’9’’, 6’10’’ and their focal point, he’ll cause some match-up issues but we’re hoping to do the same going the other way.
‘‘Early in the season the strategy is to keep it simple, we know the strengths of their core players and we can’t give them open looks.’’