THE Limestone Coast basketball fraternity is once again in celebration mode after the news the Pioneers will play in the NBL1 competition next year.
Formerly the South East Australian Basketball League, the NBL1 was formed for the 2019 season, with the Pioneers left out of the competition.
Mount Gambier then played a season in the South Australian Premier League, where the men went down in the grand final, while the newly-formed women’s side made it all the way to the preliminary final.
But now the Pioneers have been issued an initial one-year licence for the NBL1 league, which brings them in line with the NBL1 foundation licence holders.
It includes both the men’s and women’s teams.
“Mount Gambier has put in a power of work over the past 12 months to ensure their club is compliant with NBL1 rules,” NBL1 general manager Dean Anglin said.
“We have recognised their hard work and are thrilled to welcome the Pioneers into NBL1 for 2020 and hopefully beyond.
“Mount Gambier has a strong basketball history, with current NBL players Tim Coenraad and Sam McDaniel representing the Pioneers in the past and we are sure they will produce more NBL level talent in the future.”
NBL1 had a successful inaugural season, with more than 108,000 fans attending games, every game streamed live on YouTube, with over 284,000 viewers across the year, plus over 1.6 million views on social media videos posted by NBL1.
Pioneers president Tom Kosch said the club was pleased to be back in Australia’s premier winter basketball competition.
“It is hugely exciting,” he said.
“I am extremely proud of our basketball club and our board who have worked extremely hard through some trying circumstances.
“We look forward to be able to bring the NBL1 competition to Mount Gambier in 2020.”
Kosch said it was an exciting prospect to have the NBL1 brand in Mount Gambier.
“Basketball is a growing sport and the National Basketball League product is really strong,” he said.
“Visually it is fantastic.
“They broadcast all games throughout the year via live stream.
“We are hugely excited to be part of something that is expanding.
“It is fantastic to be able to showcase Mount Gambier on that stage.”
Kosch said much of the success of the club’s bid to play in NBL1 came from the support of the community, which rallied behind the Pioneers, along with the corporate sponsors which make it all possible.
“We believe in what we do as a board,” he said.
“To have the support and backing of a number of corporate partners and the City of Mount Gambier throughout what was a testing time has been positive.
“We wanted to do whatever we could to maintain and preserve the Pioneers, to make sure we are still part of a premier basketball competition here in Mount Gambier.”
Kosch said Basketball SA and the Adelaide Premier League clubs were also owed a big thank you.
“On behalf of the club I would like to thank Basketball South Australia, Basketball Adelaide and the clubs for the support they showed us when our future looked bleak,” he said.
“To accept us into the Adelaide Premier League was a distraction for themselves more than anything else, because we came in at the 11th hour,” Tom Kosch said.
“It was greatly appreciated and we hope they took something from our inclusion in the 2019 season.”
A big year is expected in 2020, with coaches Richard Hill and Matt Sutton under no illusions how tough it will be.
Hill echoed Kosch’s words regarding the inclusion.
“It is tremendous news,” he said.
“It has been a long time coming – an up and down 14 months for everyone.
“Now it gives us an opportunity to move forward with some degree of confidence.”
Of course it now means Hill will again need to recreate the men’s team, with just a small core group ready to hit the floor.
That includes Tom Daly, Erik Burdon and Brad Rathjen.
The 2019 Premier League season threw up a similar challenge, but Hill does not seem overly concerned.
He said to be a contender the club would need to be significantly better than the 2019 Premier League season.
Hill said the most important aspect was the long-term survival of the Pioneers.
“Our ability to put together a women’s team and show they could be competitive in Adelaide was an important part of us being accepted into the NBL1,” he said.
“I think the long-term survival of the Pioneers is now secure if we can sustain being in that competition.”
After an impressive rookie season as head coach for the women’s side, Sutton welcomed the decision and expects a tough season ahead.
“It is going to be a really good challenge for us,” he said.
“Right now we are happy to be alive, playing again, moving forward and we are ready to go to work.”
Sutton said the competition was a huge step up from the Premier League, with some of the best players in the country to hit the floor.
“We put some pretty good things in place last season and showed what we are capable of,” he said.
“Now we will work hard on court here with all the local players and do what we need to put a good team together.
“There will be a lot of WNBL players, quality imports and Australian players in the competition, so it will be a tough challenge.”
While both teams provide a pathway to the elite level in the sport, Sutton noticed it with the success of the women’s side.
“Being our first year there was not a lot of pressure around results,” he said.
“We were just happy to be playing.
“The positive energy around the group, mixed with the success created a pretty crazy environment.
“We know next year will be different, but we will just work hard and do the best we can.”
The season is set to tip off mid-April, 2020.