PERTH Wildcats stalwart Greg Hire is at peak anticipation for the side’s National Basketball League opener against Adelaide on Saturday after an injury-ravaged campaign last season.
The Joondalup Wolves product missed the first half of the 2014-15 competition because of a calf injury and could not play in the side’s semi-final game-two loss to Cairns when it flared up again.
The 28-year-old swingman has worked hard since then, skipping the players’ annual break to work his way back to full fitness.
“I only had a week or two off to get that second torn calf out of the way and then I was straight away getting ready for next season,” he said.
“It’s been a long and strenuous off season but now I don’t have those niggles, I’m not worried about tearing that calf again.
“Then to play those (NBL Pre-Season Blitz) games and get through them unscathed has given me a little bit of relief.”
The excitement around the impending NBL season is as feverish as it has been in years following the announcement of a pay-TV deal that will have every game broadcast live. The league this week also announced a free-to-air deal with Channel 9 that will broadcast one game each Sunday and five finals clashes.
Spectators could also witness the best mix of talent the league has ever produced with clubs recruiting strongly in the off-season.
This included the Wildcats who landed imposing Australian centre Nate Jawai, formerly of the NBA and European pro leagues, and exciting American up-and-comer Casey Prather.
Hire had no doubts it would be a landmark year for the competition.
He highlighted the retention of US players such as Josh Childress (Sydney) and Cedric Jackson (New Zealand) and the return of Australian stars such as Chris Goulding (Melbourne), Julian Khazzouh (Sydney) and AJ Ogilvy (Illawarra) who had spent seasons abroad.
“The league, in terms of talent, is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“And then with the league and where we’re at commercially, the ownership group and what they’ve done has been unreal.
“It’s a massive buzz and now the onus is back on the players themselves to make sure the product is exciting for the fans.”
Hire was a college basketballer when Jawai was playing in the NBA, but now unexpectedly calls him a teammate after the surprise exit of Hugh Greenwood, who quit Perth basketball to become an Adelaide Crows rookie.
He had been amazed with the strength of the 209cm, 143kg enforcer in the key. “I always thought Matty (Knight) was a strong guy in there and a beast but Nate’s just a different specimen, he commands the ball and commands presence,” he said.
“It allows Matty to shift down to the four, which is a more natural position for him so he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
As part of the Jawai re-shuffle, Hire has dropped weight to play as more of a back-up to Prather and Jermaine Beal than to inside forwards Jesse Wagstaff and Shawn Redhage.
The vice-captain was excited with what was to come from Prather, who was capable of explosive moments.
“That sense of athleticism is definitely there,” he said. “I think that was lacking last year – (US import) DeAndre (Daniels) was very good in the half court and was more of a four-three player, whereas Casey is more of a three-two.
“Once he gets open in transition, he’s quick and he’s explosive.
“But I was pleasantly surprised with how he could handle the ball – I don’t think he would have problems handling point-guard duties at times.”