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Tom Vodanovich has no regrets about his move from the Kings to the Breakers for the 2022-23 Australian NBL season.
These are special times for all the New Zealand Breakers players as they look set to transform one of the hard-luck tales of the Australian NBL into the feelgood story of the 2022-23 season.
But for one in particular this week is especially remarkable. Last season Tom Vodanovich helped the Sydney Kings claim their first championship in 17 years. This time round he’s doing his level-best to help his home Breakers club end their own title drought that is now up to seven years, and counting.
And this Sunday the red-hot 6-2 Breakers (winners of six of their last seven) host the 6-2 Kings at Spark Arena in an NBL clash of mouthwatering dimensions, not to mention championship implications. There are some quality clubs in this highly competitive league, but right now these two co-leaders stand supreme as the standard-setters through the first five rounds.
The hard-nosed Tall Blacks big man is back with the club where he started his NBL career.
And for tantalisingly different reasons. The Kings are an offensive juggernaut, averaging 95 points a game as they cut a swathe with their up-tempo, shoot-first game; the Breakers are the NBL’s best defensive side by some margin (conceding 75 a night), squeezing the life out of opponents with their disciplined lockdown mindset that has made them a tough out indeed.
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Ex-KIng Vodanovich, a key figure in Moday Maor’s impactful bench unit, has a better idea than most what is coming on Sunday and, frankly, he can’t wait. “It’s going to be good,” he tells Stuff. “They’re still all my mates on that team. They’ve had a rough little stretch (dropping back to back home games before last Saturday’s 106-103 barnburner against the Taipans). We’re going to come in and play defence and give them another tough game.”
One matchup in particular resonates for Vodanocich. Kings star, last season’s finals MVP and his 2022 Wellington Saints team-mate Xavier Cooks heads Sydney’s strikeforce with a staggering statline of 16.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game, while shooting 66% from the field. It will be the job of Vodanovich, and starting four-man Jarrell Brantley, to contain the remarkably skilful, long-limbed and athletic power forward.
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“He’s just doing what he does,” adds Vodanovich with a smile. “He’s a guy who can put up big numbers every night. We’re going to have to come in and play good defence and hopefully we can slow him down a little bit.”
The 28-year-old Tall Black, who filled in at centre in Sunday’s victory over Tasmania, was grateful for the chance the Kings gave him the previous two seasons after he had been cut loose by the Breakers (one of a number of questionable decisions over that period), but made it clear after Sunday’s statement 94-62 dismantling of the JackJumpers he is equally rapt to be back playing where he’s most comfortable, and with his 14-month-old daughter Leah around her family.
“It was a great couple of years away and then coming back home and getting the opportunity to play back in front of my family … my daughter watched her first game of the season. It’s special, and I’m absolutely loving it.”
The Breakers are certainly not going to be intimidated by anything Cooks and fellow Kings standouts Dejan Vasiljevic, Derrick Walton Jr, Justin Simon and Tim Soares bring to the table. They have played as well, if not better, than the defending champions thus far and have come through an intense period of six games in 15 days (four on the road) in outstanding fashion.
Included in that stretch was a signature 99-70 road victory over the Adelaide 36ers last Friday – a group rated with similar firepower as the Kings.
“We did a good job against Adelaide. They’re an offensive force and we went in there and played our game, sat down and guarded them and they sort of struggled,” said Vodanovich. “If we can do that against Sydney it will make for an interesting game.”
The team-first forward has no doubts about the qualities serving the Breakers so well under first-year head coach Maor.
“We’ve got a great group of guys. There are no egos, no one is going out there trying to drop 30. Every day coming into the gym is fun, and we’re coming out for games ready to go.”
And playing serious D. They kept the JJs to 34% shooting, the 36ers to 40, and the Taipans 30 to start their current three-game win streak.
“It’s super fun. My chest is sore, honestly,” says Vodanovich. “The guys are behind you yelling, and you know where the support is. We did it pre-season, beating up on each other, and now it’s nice to do it against other people.”
It’s not lost on Vodanovich, either, how special this current stretch is on the back of two gruelling years, mostly on the road in Australia. They have already surpassed last season’s entire win total of five.
“From where they were the last couple of years, away from family, friends and the fans here for that long, it’s special for everyone here who has come to watch us have a good start to the season. We’ve just got to keep it going now.”