Stalwarts Jarrod Kenny and Kareem Johnson are the Hawks first two signings for the 2014 National Basketball League (NBL) season.
Both players have strong local links, Tall Black and NZ Breakers guard Kenny was born and raised in Hawke’s Bay and has played for the Hawks since 2009. American born Johnson missed the 2013 season after failing in his bid to become a naturalised player but has previously turned out for the Hawks in 2006-08 and 2012.
Well respected by their peers, both in the Hawke’s Bay basketball community and at higher levels, the pair has signed two-year contracts as the Hawks look to build a stable and loyalty-based franchise.
”I am really excited to sign these two guys,’’ Hawks coach Tab Baldwin said.
After missing out on his expected New Zealand citizenship, Johnson’s loss to the team this year had proved pivotal.
”It created a big glitch in our whole set-up this year when there was huge expectation that Kareem was going to be naturalised as a player, so the whole team was built around that factor,’’ Baldwin said.
”When that didn’t happen it really threw our whole recruitment process into disarray.We had Kareem all through the pre-season and when he then departed from the team we really missed his presence, his personality, his character, his experience and in my opinion, it began a downward spiral for the team that we never really recovered from.”
”So, being able to get him signed this year, no matter what his status is, whether it’s as a naturalised player or whether it’s as an import player, for me was a very high priority not just because of his talent but because of the intangibles he brings to the team as well.’’
Power forward Johnson, who is married to New Zealander Lucia Sunseri, has been signed as an import but that could change if his citizenship is approved.
Baldwin has been impressed by the loyalty, a key ingredient for the Hawks looking to the future, shown by Johnson and Kenny.
”We’re really going to encourage that loyalty factor,’’ he said.
”To see Kareem and Jarrod Kenny, who are as marketable as any players in the New Zealand market place remain with us is a big statement and something I’m really going to hang my hat on in terms of going forward as a precedent for all of our players.
”We want all of our players to demonstrate the same loyalties, to emulate these veteran players and their actions and try and build this franchise into a sustainable long term successful organisation.’’
Baldwin was delighted Kenny, who is the current starting point guard for the Tall Blacks, went on to make the NZ Breakers squad this season and is keen to keep developing players for higher honours.
”We hope to develop our players,’’ he said. ”As a coach part of my personal philosophy is to help our players achieve their aspirations in the sport. So, the fact the Breakers brought him in was great for Jarrod, and add to that, the fact that he can come back after the Breakers season and rejoin the team going forward is a huge bonus for us.
”His decision was that he wanted to remain here. He’s a key element to our roster. I’ve put the ball in JK’s hands, it’s now his team to run. I expect JK to really flourish and grow even more as a player and a leader this coming season.’’