For the first time in a while, it shall be two unfamiliar faces suiting up as imports for the Taranaki Mountain Airs.
After serving four seasons as the entertaining, streaky, point guard for Taranaki, the much-loved Jack Leasure will not be returning for the 2014 season, with coaching commitments at his alma mater – McQuaid Jesuit High School, as well a second child on the way caused to be too big a problem to overcome.
Also not returning is Kenny Gabriel, the supremely athletic big man, who has found higher pay and higher success in the well-regarded Greek league, averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game for AGOR, a midtable side in the top Greek league.
In their place come two new Americans, with Adrian Oliver and Gabe Knutson signing on to play in Taranaki this season.
Knutson comes out of Lehigh University, where he played with Portland Trail Blazers rookie CJ McCollum, and has since had stints in Bulgaria and Slovakia. A skilful big man, Knutson is more of a scorer than a defender, which could cause problems with the Mountain Airs interior defence, but he should easily average double digit points, and score efficiently.
Oliver comes to New Zealand with an interesting pedigree, with the shooting guard having averaged over 20 points per game in his last two collegiate years at San Jose State, proving to be a knockdown outside shooter by hitting 40% of his threes both years.
Since then, he has floated around, spending time with the Sacramento Kings in pre-season, the Reno Bighorns in the D-League, as well as squads in Greece and Poland. Oliver will likely be a Leasure-lite, likely to be given the green light to shoot, and having the potential to go on scoring streaks.
Having not made the playoffs for a long time, the Mounatin Airs will need big seasons from Oliver and Knutson if they wish to end that unwanted streak.