MELBOURNE United’s visit was very much about exposing Ballarat to National Basketball League action, strengthening ties in this city and earning more fans.
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But Ballarat fans had just as keen an interest in United’s exhibition game rival Cairns Taipans on Saturday night. This was the first chance former Miners Shaun Bruce and Ash Constable could step on the Minerdome floor as Taipans and show Ballarat how their games had sharpened in national ranks. Miner Anthony Fisher joined them in the week the Taipans announced him as their new development player.
Bruce, in his fourth season with the Taipans, has taken on more responsibility on the floor in the off-season. Taipans coach Aaron Fearne continues to be impressed with Bruce’s work ethic and how Bruce has really established his role in the NBL. Bruce played 21 minutes for 11 points, four assists in the Taipans’ eight-point loss to United.
“It felt great (to be back in Ballarat) – but it felt a bit odd to be sitting on the away bench,” Bruce said. “The fans are still coming out to watch...that’s what pre-season’s all about.”
Constable suited up for United in the team’s practice hit-out in Ballarat last year before joining the Taipans as a development player on the eve of the NBL season.
He is keen to build on the experience, this time with a full pre-season in Cairns and sound off-season with Cairns Marlins in the Queensland Basketball League and joining the Taipans on a nine-game 12-day tour of China. Constable said he was a lot more confident in his game and how the Taipans wanted him to play.
“(Marlins) was great experience and I learned a lot of different things. They run a lot of the same plays as the Taipans so that helped my confidence with the plays the coach threw me in,” Constable said. “(China) was definitely a big experience, playing with players who are in the Taipans team.”
Constable and Fisher received a huge roar from their hometown crowd when sent on to the floor with one minute, 38 seconds to play. Fisher beat the shot clock with a basket that had the crowd roaring again.
There was plenty of bite in the game – the last full-game hit-out for both teams before the NBL Blitz tournament and season openers.
United arrived in Ballarat on Thursday for a team camp as part of an ongoing partnership with Ballarat Basketball. Recruits Stephen Holt (22 points) and Chris Goulding (20 points) put on a show on Saturday night, but new United coach Dean Demopoulos said his team must work to keep emotions in check after a series of technical fouls during the game.
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