Basketball: NBL 'draft' format takes aim at worldwide audience

New Zealand's NBL, launched on Tuesday, hopes to capitalise on a worldwide audience starved of basketball action amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The new 'draft' competition will tip off on June 23 in Auckland, with seven teams contesting the revamped championship, including newcomers Auckland Huskies, Franklin Bulls and Otago Nuggets.

Each team will play up to three games a week over an intense six weeks.

Not everyone has greeted the format with enthusiasm. Three of the league's traditional powerhouses - defending champions Wellington Saints, Southland Sharks and Hawke's Bay Hawks - have withdrawn from this year's contest, while many of the country's leading players have welfare concerns that still need to be resolved.

But the pick-up nature of team selection has certainly added an intriguing wrinkle to a title race that too often comes down to who has the most money to spend on recruitment.

"The reason for the draft, which is the first of its kind in the history of the Sal's NBL, is to ensure we've got a good pool of players available to the seven teams," says NBL general manager Justin Nelson.

"That was something the teams wanted put in place and also to ensure we had a distribution of talent, so we were delivering a competitively balanced competition."

The televised draft is tentatively scheduled for June 5, with players from around the country invited to enter for consideration. A full list of draft rules will be revealed over coming days.

"Right now, it's just for 2020," says Nelson. "We've had to change and adapt, just like any business, so we've come up with some different methods.

"The draft is one of those. As to whether we see it again in the future, it's way too early to tell."

With the NBA and European leagues currently suspended, Nelson is racing to make his competition the first basketball played, as the world re-emerges from coronavirus lockdown. 

The Chinese Basketball Association - the first league to close down - is back at practice now and hopes to resume in July.

"Excitingly for us, basketball is a global game and right now, there's not much basketball going on around the world," says Nelson.

"We think there will be people right across the world, basketball mad, who will want to see plenty of action."

Without imports, the league provides an ideal opportunity for homegrown talent to audition for Australian NBL contracts and Tall Blacks selection.

"I know some of the guys really want this - they want to get back to work," says national coach Pero Cameron.

"For the Tall Blacks coaching staff, it’s really valuable as we look for that emerging talent putting their hand up for the national squad."

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