Grant Chapman: NZ Breakers' all-time greatest US line-up

OPINION: While the Australian NBL has seemingly dodged the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, its effects may yet linger into the next season.

Commercial uncertainty and slashed salaries may yet see some of the league's top talent looking further afield for more lucrative earning opportunities.

With that context, now would be a poignant moment in history to reflect on the best to wear the NZ Breakers uniform since they debuted in the competition 17 years ago.

Today, we look at the best Americans to pass through Auckland.

Finding an import player that brings star quality, while also fitting into team culture has always been a gamble.

The overriding questions to be considered in compiling this team were whether there were enough basketballs to go round and which offshore recruits actually made the Breakers a better team.

Also, the best imports don't tend to stick around long. Their attraction to the Aussie league is the prospect of wracking up big individual numbers, which they then convert into more lucrative contracts elsewhere. 

But on the flipside, Australia (and New Zealand) offers a lifestyle - particularly language and food - more like American culture than most European or Asian leagues.

Plus they're more likely to be paid here.

With all that in mind, here goes…

Point Guard - Cedric Jackson

130 games (2011-13, 2014-16), 1794 points (13.8 av), 832 assists, 749 rebounds, 278 steals, five triple doubles

You could make a great case for Jackson as Most Valuable Player in Breakers history so far.

During his two tenures in Auckland, he spearheaded four trips to the ANBL finals and three titles, effectively replacing Paul Henare at the point, after his 2011 retirement.

Jackson was named MVP in 2013, twice Finals MVP and three times All-NBL, leading the league in steals twice and assists in all four seasons.

Sure, he had his weaknesses - he was an erratic shooter from distance, where he connected on barely 30 percent of his attempts, and the free-throw line (57 percent).

That made him a somewhat unreliable scorer - in his final Breakers outing, with a championship on the line, he went scoreless in a decisive loss to Perth Wildcats.

But he was also a nightly triple-double threat and became only the second player to achieve this feat in the 40-minute format.

Shooting Guard - Scotty Hopson

21 games (2019/20), 420 points (19.1 av), 98 assists, 122 rebounds

The Breakers were lucky to have Hopson last season, nearing the tail end of a career that had taken him from college to Greece, Israel, Turkey, the NBA, the G-League, Spain, China and Croatia… and many of those places more than once.

Scotty Hopson dunks for the Breakers
Scotty Hopson dunks for the Breakers. Photo credit: AAP

He had always been a scorer, but never quite stuck anyway for long. His 2019 stay at Israel's Hapoel Holon ended early through injury, but when coach Dan Shamir headed to NZ, he remembered Hopson and invited him along.

In 21 games, the Kentucky native averaged 19 points and led the team in assists. Hopson was the offensive focal point of a spectacular late-season run that saw the Breakers fall just short of the playoffs, but propelled him to All-NBL Second Team selection.

At 30, his NBA window may have closed, but will he be back next season? History suggests probably not.

Small Forward - Mike Chappell

52 games (2003-05), 1034 points (19.9 av)

After winning an NCAA championship with Michigan State University, Chappell's professional career began in the Aussie league, with stops at Wollongong and Canberra, before he arrived during the Breakers' first season.

Mike Chappell in action for the Breakers
Mike Chappell in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

He joined the team midseason, after inaugural coach Jeff Green was fired, and made them more competitive, after a 2-10 start to the campaign. 

By the end of the season, Chappell was club MVP and led them in scoring across their first two campaigns, but when he couldn't carry the Breakers to playoff contention, his career began to follow a familiar pattern, with subsequent stops in Lebanon, Japan, Adelaide, Puerto Rico, Ukraine and Uruguay. 

Power Forward - Carlos Powell 

33 games (2006/07), 932 points (28.2 av), 55 steals

One of those whose incredible stats possibly flatter to deceive… but they're so good, you can't possibly leave him out of this selection.

During his only season with the Breakers, Powell led the league in scoring, earned All-NBL status, was named club MVP and took out the All-Star dunk competition for good measure. His 50-point performance against Melbourne Tigers was a club single-game record.

But a 10-game mid-season losing streak saw his team finish 11-22 and outside the top-eight playoffs… and he was never seen in this part of the world again.

Carlos Powell dunks for the Breakers
Carlos Powell dunks for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

Powell sure looked the goods and continued to score big wherever he played - Ukraine, G-League, Korea, China, Iran, Israel and Argentina, but never the NBA - before finally winning a championship and MVP honours in Venezuela 10 years after his Breakers stint.

Centre - Shawn Long

28 games (2018/19), 512 points (18.3 av), 249 rebounds, 42 blocks

Long was a late call-up for his only season with the Breakers, but wasted little time stamping his dominance.

He had averaged a double double over three years at University of Louisiana and although he went undrafted by the NBA, he obviously had that level of ability.

Long was a D-League All-Star and had averaged 12 minutes and 8.2 points a game, shooting 59 percent from the field and 41 percent from the arc, in 18 games for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017, before he was traded and waived by Houston.

Extrapolate those numbers over 48 minutes and you get a hint of his talent.

For the Breakers, he was a monster, finishing the season as their MVP and earning All-NBL Second Team honours.

Shawn Long in action for the Breakers
Shawn Long in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

Inevitably, he was lured away for bigger money by Melbourne United, where he led the league in rebounding last season.

Sixth Man - Gary Wilkinson

89 games (2010-12), 1423 points (16.0 av), 531 rebounds

Probably unlucky to find himself relegated behind Powell and Long in the power positions, because Wilkinson was a far better complement to his teammates during the club's first two championship campaigns.

Maybe he's also less likely to complain about that bench role.

'Big Red' was smart and mature, after dropping out of high school, finding religion, serving a two-year mission, marrying and then earning All-Conference selection, while guiding Utah State University to the NCAA tournament as a 26-year-old.

Slotted right in and played his heart out for the Breakers, starting at centre, but demonstrating court-stretching ability from long distance.

And he sure knew how to pump up a stadium.

Wilkinson helped the club to two titles in his first stint and was named All-NBL in 2011, won a championship and MVP in Estonia, before returning for a third season in Auckland.


Edgar Sosa

28 games (2017/18), 452 points (16.15 av), 111 assists

The New York-born Dominican point guard (see how I justified his selection here) played just one season in Auckland, but was their scoring leader and MVP, while earning All-NBL Second Team selection.

Edgar Sosa in action for the Breakers
Edgar Sosa in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

Sosa proved his worth in a variety of countries, winning championships in Iran, Lebanon and Italy.

DJ Newbill

30 games (2017/18), 403 points (13.4 av), 40 steals, 98 assists

Arrived at the Breakers fresh off a Belgian league title, and proved a crafty and versatile combo guard, who complemented his Kiwi teammates well.

Newbill left for Cairns Taipans after one season, and was named All-NBL Second Team and Best Defensive Player this year.

Rick Rickert

73 games (2007-10), 988 points (13.5 av), 600 rebounds, 40 blocks, 22 double doubles

A D-League and Slovenian All-Star, the gangly centre followed college rival Kirk Penney to the Breakers, helping the NZ club reach the playoffs for the first time and for consecutive seasons. 

The former Minnesota Mr Basketball also played in Greece, Spain, New Zealand, Germany, Puerto Rico and Japan.

Ekene Ibekwe

32 games (2015/16), 361 points (11.3 av)

The Nigerian power forward (born in Los Angeles) hit the biggest shot in Breakers history, when he took an inbounds pass and converted a buzzerbeater for their fourth championship in five years.

Ekene Ibekwe hits a championship-winning buzzerbeater
Ekene Ibekwe hits a championship-winning buzzerbeater. Photo credit: Photosport

Earned All-NBL Second Team honours and won titles in France, during a career that has also featured stops in Israel, Turkey, Puerto Rico, Iran, Germany, Spain, Russia, Lebanon and Czech Republic. 

Tai Wesley

86 games (2014-16, 2017/18), 974 points (11.3 av)

Fresh from a championship-winning, All-Star stint in the Netherlands, the Utah-born Guam power forward helped the Breakers to consecutive finals, including their fourth title, before claiming another with Melbourne United.

Crafty low-post moves, effective long-range shooting, tough defence = winner.

Glen Rice Jnr

Three games (2019/20), 75 points (25.0 av)

What, you really thought we could get through this without mentioning a guy with this much unfulfilled potential?

Glen Rice Jnr in action for the Breakers
Glen Rice Jnr in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Getty

If only he could stay out of trouble...

Last sighted in Saudi Arabia.

Grant Chapman is Newshub's online sports editor