NBA heroes boosting local basketball numbers
Growing up in Timaru, Dan Peck loved following his hoops heroes in the United States.
“I followed the NBA closely, but I was pretty different in that respect. Now, the NBA is huge for a lot of our high school kids,” Peck, the Southland Basketball development officer, says.
That fascination with one of the world’s most powerful sporting leagues - and the fact New Zealander Steven Adams is one of the NBA’s biggest stars - has had a significant effect on this side of the world, with basketball in Invercargill enjoying consistent growth.
Southland Basketball Association (SBA) has seen the number of high school teams increase by an average of 10 teams per year for the past three or four years, and Peck, who played for the Christchurch Cougars and Manawatu Jets before winning an NBL title with the Southland Sharks, has no problems putting his finger on why.
“One of the main reasons, in my opinion, is the huge interest in the NBA,” he says.
“It’s got the youth’s attention and they are watching it through a lot of platforms now - Sky, ESPN, Ipads, cellphones - that has definitely sparked a lot of the growth. The rise in the NBA was a big part of it, but having Steven Adams be as big a star as he is - he’s one of the best big men in the NBA now - has helped that NBA popularity. I think it’s probably the most consumed sport on social media right now.”
That growth has presented some challenges for SBA, including finding space for expanding competitions in the world-class, but finite, resource that is ILT Stadium Southland.
It’s also meant some creative thinking on how to best cater for newcomers to the sport.
“We put some things in place in terms of structuring our leagues to make sure that we are catering for the fun aspect of it. There’s been a lot of growth in more of a recreational space,” Peck says.
“Kids are loving just coming in and having fun with their friends and we’ve had to cater for that growth. We grade our leagues quite thoroughly and make sure we have teams in grades that suit them. There’s been minor rule adjustments here and there that can help the game flow. Jill (Bolger, SBA general manager) has done a great job with the referees around the style of officiating so that it caters to the different grades. It’s been a change in the landscape of basketball here and we’ve had to adjust with it.”
Peck also paid credit to the volunteer coaches and officials who have gone the extra mile to help cater for the sport’s growth.
“They have done a great job. We could always do with more volunteers to help them out. The increase in student coaches has also been really great to see.”
Peck says many youth have their own reasons for getting involved in basketball and it was not about trying to force them into a pathway.
“Part of my role is helping to run the representative programme, and the competitive aspect of basketball is something that we are trying to continue to drive - it’s really important in our eyes. With the largest growth being in the recreational space, it can be a challenge to get kids to buy into the next level of competitive basketball.”
Basketball is not the only sport in Southland that is working hard to meet the needs of its audience and Southland children are not short of choices, Peck says.
“Basketball is a great sport in terms of development for kids - everyone gets to handle the ball, shoot and run - but I love all the sports that are on offer here in Southland. Basketball has got a buzz around it at the moment, but I encourage the kids to try a multitude of sports. They all offer unique skills and development opportunities.”