NEWCASTLE Hunters will put their Waratah Basketball League title aspirations to the test when they take on defending men’s champions Norths Bears at the Bear Cave on Saturday.
The Hunters (12-2) have won seven straight to climb to the top of the table but the third-placed Bears (10-3) are a bogy side, and one of only two teams to lower Newcastle’s colours this year.
Norths hammered the Hunters 86-58 at Broadmeadow on April 7 and have been boosted by the return of athletic small forward Anatoly Bose, who won the 2012 National Basketball League Rookie of the Year award while playing for Sydney Kings.
“Norths are one of the top dogs every year and picking up Anatoly Bose only makes them stronger, so we know we’re in for a tough night at the office,” Newcastle coach Darren Nichols said.
“They’re always one of the benchmark teams, they have a big pool of players to draw from, they’re very well coached, we haven’t won down there too often, and they gave us a nice old towel-up when we played them here earlier in the year.
“In saying that, Austin Thornton didn’t play the last time we played them, we’ve improved significantly since then, and winning seven in a row has helped build our confidence.
“We would love to go down there and get another win and stay on top but that’s not necessarily the most important thing for us this weekend. Whatever the result, we need to be competitive and take some positives from a game against a team we’re likely to come across again later in the season.”
Fourth-placed Newcastle (8-4) will face an equally difficult assignment in the women’s game against the league-leading Bears (9-1) on Saturday.
Norths won 81-54 at Broadmeadow on April 7 and have lost only once all season, 76-75, to second-placed Hornsby Spiders (10-2) on May 12.
Hornsby snapped Newcastle’s seven-game winning streak with an 84-61 victory at The Brickpit last Saturday but the Hunters will be boosted by the return of Australian junior representative Cassidy McLean, who has not played since suffering an ankle injury against Norths 12 weeks ago.
“Norths are one of the more talented teams in our league. It’s going to take a great team defensive effort for the full 40 minutes for us to contain them,” Newcastle coach Shannon Seebohm said.
“We must also ensure that we take better care of the ball this time around after we had 27 turnovers against Norths when we played them here.
“We’re in a better position as a team now than when we played them earlier in the year, so it will be good to test ourselves against another quality opponent.”
AAP reports: Ben Simmons' star power continues to skyrocket with the Australian breaking into the top five of NBA jersey sales.
Just days after claiming the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, the league announced Simmons' jersey was the fifth most popular among all players – up from 10th.
The 21-year-old's jersey was more popular than recently minted NBA MVP and Houston Rockets star James Harden and other perennial All-Stars including Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chris Paul, Draymond Green and Anthony Davis.
Simmons, who rose from 10th place in sales figures released at the end of the regular season, also trumped rival rookies, Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell.
The Utah Jazz's Mitchell, an outspoken critic of Simmons' eligibility for the rookie award, did not make the top 15.
The four players that sold more jerseys than Simmons on NBAStore.com from April through June were the biggest stars of the league: Stephen Curry; LeBron James; Kyrie Irving; and Kevin Durant.
Curry's back-to-back NBA champion Warriors sold the most merchandise among all teams, followed by James' Cavaliers and Irving's Celtics, with Simmons' 76ers fourth and the Rockets fifth.
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