AFTER making explosive starts for their respective Waratah Basketball League clubs last weekend, American imports Austin Thornton and Karl Moore are about to become immersed in the rivalry between the Newcastle Hunters and Maitland Mustangs.
Both hailing from Michigan, Thornton (Newcastle) and Moore (Maitland) will experience their first Kibble Mallon Cup contest at Maitland Federation Centre at 6pm on Saturday.
The cup, struck in 2009 to recognise the contribution of Newcastle and Maitland basketball icons Denis Kibble and Tim Mallon, is at stake when the Hunter clubs square off each season.
Newcastle have held the coveted trophy since 2015, retaining it with an 85-79 upset of the Mustangs before a parochial crowd at Maitland last July. The cup-holders only have to win one of the two regular-season games each year to keep it.
“I’ve been hearing about it all week. It sounds like Michigan v Michigan State, a really strong rivalry (back home),” Moore said.
The 29-year-old big man, who played in Europe and South America before joining the Mustangs, scored 36 points and ripped down 23 rebounds in their 71-68 road win against Hornsby last Saturday. Thornton racked up 38 points, 15 rebounds, three steals and three assists to help the Hunters to an 82-65 away victory over Sutherland last Saturday.
“This is a rivalry game, the guys are excited about it, and I’m excited about it,” Thornton said. “I’ve heard a lot about this game and about this rivalry, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it for the first time.”
Newcastle coach Darren Nichols said Kibble Mallon Cup games always held special significance for both clubs but it was important to keep it in perspective.
“Like Maitland, we understand how important the Kibble Mallon Cup is for each club. We already know they don’t like us, but we can’t get carried away with the rivalry,” Nichols said.
“We are a new group focused on becoming a team and we are still finding our feet, but if we play with the same intensity we showed in our win over Sutherland, we will give ourselves every chance of getting the job done.”
In the build-up to the Kibble Mallon Cup clash, the Hunters and Mustangs will meet in division one women (1:30pm) and youth league division one men (3:30pm) at Maitland on Saturday.
The Hunters championship women’s team, pipped 58-56 by Sutherland in their season-opener at Sutherland last Saturday, have a bye this weekend.
* FORMER Newcastle Hunters junior Ben Simmons has joined two Hall of Fame players as the only NBA rookies to reach 1000 points, 500 assists and 500 rebounds.
Only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson had reached the mark before the 21-year-old brought up an assist in his 66th match for the Philadelphia 76ers, a 118-110 victory over the New York Knicks on Thursday.
Simmons is the first rookie to make eight triple-doubles since Robertson 57 years ago.
Johnson racked up 12 triple-doubles in his first year in 1979-1980 but five came during the play-offs.
Elsewhere in the 76ers' victory, Joel Embiid had 29 points and 10 rebounds and Dario Saric had 21 points and 12 rebounds as Philadelphia had all five starters in double figures.
The Knicks, who squandered an eight-point lead to lose their ninth straight and for the 17th time in 18 games, were well ahead with 7:05 remaining.
But the 76ers hit back-to-back 3-pointers with 3:23 left to take a two-point lead.
Meanwhile, another Australian young gun Dante Exum returned from injury to make his season debut for Utah against the Phoenix Suns.
Entering with a minute left on the clock in the first, the 22-year-old was on the scoreboard early when making his second free throw.
He hadn't played since injuring his left shoulder in a pre-season match against the Suns in October.
Houston extended its home-court winning streak to 13 games when Eric Gordon and Clint Capela carried the load during a decisive third-quarter run helped claim a 101-96 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers.
Antonio Blakeney made two of his three free throws with just 1.8 seconds on the clock to get Chicago over the line 111-110 against Memphis.
LeBron James scored a game-high 35 points but still couldn't get the Cleveland Cavaliers over the line as they went down in a 113-105 loss to Portland.
Jamal Murray scored 26 points and Nikola Jokic had a triple-double with 23 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists as the Denver Nuggets brushed aside the visiting Detroit Pistons 120-113.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 25 points as the San Antonio Spurs defeated the visiting New Orleans Pelicans 98-93.
Dejounte Murray added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Manu Ginobili scored 11.
Dwight Howard scored 33 points to lead the Charlotte Hornets to a 129-117 win over his former side, the Atlanta Hawks.
And Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points and center Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Raptors to a 106-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
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