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Local talent overshadowing imports in NBL MVP race

Too hard to guard: Corey Webster drives in for a lay-up during the round nine NBL match between the Townsville Crocodiles and the New Zealand Breakers in Townsville. Photo: Ian HitchcockJust like Seymour Skinner put the pal in principal, the import has always been an important part of the NBL. This still remains the case but the rise of the local star cannot be questioned.

The past six recipients of the Andrew Gaze Trophy have carried US passports – Brian Conklin, Rotnei Clarke, Cedric Jackson, Kevin Lisch, Gary Ervin and Corey Williams. If MVP voting were held now it’s likely the top three vote-getters would be home-grown products.

After missing the first few games playing NBA pre-season ball with the New Orleans Pelicans, it’s safe to say New Zealand Breakers sharpshooter Corey Webster has been this season’s star performer.

He has overtaken Melbourne guard Chris Goulding who was in the zone in the first month before coming back to the field somewhat in recent weeks.

Also in the mix for the top individual honour is the NBL’s most consistent box score behemoth, Illawarra centre AJ Ogilvy.

The biggest Hawk is leading the league in steals (1.92 per game), he’s fourth in scoring (19.08), third in rebounds (9.15), second in blocks (2) and third in field goal percentage (57.7)

The chasing bunch is a mix of imports and locals. Adelaide’s American playmaker Jerome Randle, Perth big man Matthew Knight, Sydney centre Julian Khazzouh, Illawarra’s Kiwi veteran Kirk Penney and Breakers import Cedric Jackson.

Scoring machine: Melbourne United guard Chris Goulding. Photo: Alix Sweeney/NBL

One reason for the rise of the local star is the return of several expats from Europe – Goulding, Penney, Khazzouh and Ogilvy led the comeback brigade this season along with Lisch reuniting with his old Perth Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge at Illawarra.

It’d be great if some Boomers stalwarts, who are virtually anonymous in their homeland as they’ve played the majority, or in some cases, their entire pro careers overseas, continue the homecoming trend. Especially the likes of Brad Newley, David Andersen and Aleks Maric who are all in their 30s.

And it’s not like the standard of import in the NBL has dropped off. It’s never been higher. Apart from the the three genuine ex-NBA veterans – Josh Childress, Al Harrington and Hakim Warrick – who have been part of the league this season, the rest of the overseas talent has been nothing to sneeze at. Either as a focal point of the team, a la Randle, Jackson, Melbourne guard Stephen Holt or Perth dynamo Jermaine Beal, or as a complementary piece like athletic Wildcats forward Casey Prather, Breakers centre Charles Jackson or the Taipans’ sixth man extraordinaire, Torrey Craig.

Big numbers: Former Sydney Kings star AJ Ogilvy has been a great signing for the Illawarra Hawks. Photo: Adam McLean

The standard is so high that the league’s reigning MVP Brian Conklin last week got the chop despite being Townsville’s best player the past two seasons. Crocodiles coach Shawn Dennis admitted it was purely a cutthroat business decision – the club didn’t think it was getting enough bang for Conklin’s big bucks.

The recent road win over Melbourne while Conklin was suspended followed by an embarrassingly lopsided loss in Wollongong when he returned to the line-up sealed his fate. Townsville are aiming to give young n bigs ​Mitch Young and Nicholas Kay more minutes and they both showed their enormous potential last week in the upset win over Cairns.

Another import under pressure, not to avoid the sack, but to justify his star billing is Childress. His second hand injury means another month of being a frustrated spectator and it’s highly unlikely the Kings can salvage this season.

Putting the pal back into principal: Seymour Skinner.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Childress stick around in the Harbour City next year. Due to his unlucky run of injuries, he has not given the Kings full on-court value and he’s the kind of guy who would hate to leave with unfinished business.

While Childress is again out, the Kings need to get the most out of another n who could be a bona fide star. Khazzouh started the season strongly but his numbers dwindled during Harrington’s guest stint. If new coach Joe Connelly can get Khazzouh the ball consistently, he could rack up similar numbers to Ogilvy and the Kings may just be able to keep their campaign on life support until Childress returns for a late playoff push. Unlikely but those poor old Kings fans need some hope to cling on to.

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