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WHEN THE Canterbury Rams
take to the Cowles Stadium floor
on Sunday, they will be greeted by a
1400-strong sell-out crowd, suggest-
ing that bringing the team back from
the dead was worth it.
Te original Rams folded in 2008,
and their replacement, the Christch-
urch Cougars, lef the National Bas-
ketball League afer the 2011 earth-
quakes.
Now, when the seven-time cham-
pion Wellington Saints come to
town Canterbury will get to play in
the NBL for the first time in three
years.
Coach Dave Harrison said the
team was buzzing about the game.
“We’re going to enjoy this and
make the most of it.”
Harrison said the return of the
Rams will not only mean Cantabri-
ans have a team to support, but they
also get the chance to see the best
Kiwi players from other teams on
their local court.
Sunday’s game will be the third in
five days for the Saints, afer they de-
feated the Hawke’s Bay Hawks 93-91
in overtime on Wednesday, and take
on the Nelson Giants tonight.
Harrison said there are two
schools of thought as to what effect
that might have.
“One of them is they will have a
chance to be more in sync – that’s
to their advantage, but then three
games in five days early in the season
has to have some fatigue element as
well,” he said.
Te Rams squad hoping to take
advantage of that fatigue has a local
look to it.
While American imports Glen
Dandridge and Matt Rogers will
pace the team from shooting guard
and centre respectively, Cantabrians
form the bulk of the squad.
Captain point guard Jeremy Kench
and forward Richie Edwards, who
arrives back in town today afer play-
ing college basketball in the United
States, are the headline names, but
there are plenty of other locals on
hand.
One of the local lads is small for-
ward Ethan Rusbatch, who attended
Cashmere High School and played in
Canterbury age-group teams grow-
ing up.
Rusbatch, who played for the
Taranaki Mountain Airs last season,
cannot wait for Sunday’s tip-off.
“It’s very very exciting. I knew
from the start there would be a
bunch of people backing us, but I
didn’t think we’d sell out this quick,
before anyone had even seen us play.”
Harrison said Rusbatch was a tar-
get for the Rams when they got back
together, as a Canterbury guy with
NBL experience, and he signed as
one of the side’s foundation players
late last year.
“He likes to attack the rim and he
can shoot the three, so he adds to the
versatility we’re looking for,” Harri-
son said.
Tat versatility is the Rams’ major
strength, said Harrison.
“We’ve got an inside-outside game;
we can both pound the ball in down
low and we’ve also got people who
can hit outside shots. Now we have to
find out, have we got the intelligence
to be able to do that in pressure situ-
ations?” he said.
Te big question mark hanging
over the team is their inexperience.
“We’ve got a lot of players who are
new to the league. How are we going
to embrace the challenge of prepar-
ing for teams we haven’t played be-
fore?” he said.
Tose teams include the Wai-
kato Pistons, the Saints, and last
year’s champion Southland Sharks,
who Harrison said are the strongest
teams, at least on paper.
If those three make it there will be
one playoff spot still up for grabs, but
Harrison is not eyeing it just yet.
“My mindset is, we’re not thinking
about top four, we’re thinking about
competing every time we step on the
floor. We want to get better every
week. If we do those things, who
knows where the results will leave
us,” he said.
Rams swingman Inga Solofuti
said a few of the older guys at work
have been telling him that back in
the day going down to Cowles Sta-
dium, packing it out and watching
the Rams was the thing to do.
It seems it still is.
FuII house for Rams' return
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for Lhelr n8L opener aL Cowles SLadlum on Sunday.
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