STRONG CHALLENGE: Bulls John Weiland challenges Gladstone's Shaun Gleeson at WIN Stadium. Photo: Ben Turnbull / NewsMail
STRONG CHALLENGE: Bulls John Weiland challenges Gladstone's Shaun Gleeson at WIN Stadium. Photo: Ben Turnbull / NewsMail Ben Turnbull

Jackson missing from Breakers, Gleeson take up by Kings

THERE is a sense of the unknown as the 2013-14 NBL season starts tonight with plenty of player and coach movement during the off-season.

Three-time champions New Zealand Breakers tip off the season tonight at home to the Wollongong Hawks, but will start their quest for a fourth consecutive championship without superstar import Cedric Jackson, who has signed in Slovenia.

Jackson was a key figure in the club's past two championship titles and was named the league's most valuable player last season.

Their second import from last year, Will Hudson, is also not returning, so the Breakers will be hoping that new recruits Darnell Lazare (moving from the Sydney Kings) and college standout Kerron Johnson can fill the void.

Johnson, a point guard, is in his first year out of college basketball after a standout NCAA division one career with Belmont University where he averaged 14.3 points per game and 4.8 assists in his senior year.

The Hawks

The Hawks will be coached by long-time NBL mentor Gordie McLeod who will need to call upon all his experience to guide the team early in the season after the shock announcement last week that US import Durrell Summers has left the team one week out from the start of the season.

This combined with playing in New Zealand may make it hard for Wollongong to start the season in the win column.

The Kings

The Kings open their campaign at the Sydney Entertainment Centre next Sunday against the Melbourne Tigers.

Two Rockhampton Rockets from this year's championship team worked out with the Kings in hope of securing a deal, but both Mitch Philp and Justin Watts missed out on a spot.

Instead of Philp, the Kings signed Gladstone Power player Shaun Gleeson who will be hoping to break into a regular rotation spot with the Kings this season.

Both teams are coached by former Australian Olympians Shane Heal (Kings) and Chris Anstey (Tigers) and each coach will be looking to take their teams one step further this season.

The Tigers

The Tigers will be hoping that Olympian Mark Worthington will help them find a way back into post season action.

Perth Wildcats

Last year's runners-up Perth, host Adelaide tomorrow. Perth has lost the services of former MVP Kevin Lisch.

It will also be interesting to see what direction the team takes under 2011 NBL Coach of the Year Trevor Gleeson who takes over from Rob Beveridge.

The team has been known for its aggressive defence and full court pressure over the past few seasons but a new coach and personal changes may see a different style employed for 2013-14.

36ers

Adelaide are also with a new coach, Joey Wright, and will be hoping that the change will propel them far away from the disappointment of the 2012-13 season.

Gary Ervin will boost the backcourt that already features Australian Boomer Adam Gibson, who won a championship with coach Wright in 2006-07 for the now defunct Brisbane Bullets.

Townsville Crocs and Cairns Taipans

The classic and always fierce North Queensland rivalry between Cairns and Townsville will continue on Saturday night as the Townsville Crocs host the Cairns Taipans.

Cairns has signed local Rockhampton product Stevie Weigh in the off-season.

Townsville have signed two players out of the NZ NBL in Brian Conklin (Southland Sharks) and Josh Pace (Nelson Giants) and will hope that these two can replace Gary Ervin, Luke Nevill and the two Cedar brothers, Michael and Chris.