THE North-West Thunder couldn't have hoped for a better birthday celebration with the arrival of vice-captain Eric Gaff yesterday.
The American star flew into Devonport from Indiana on the afternoon of his 26th birthday.
Gaff is back for his third season with the Thunder and is considered one of the keys for helping the team climb back up the SEABL South Conference ladder.
No one was more pleased to see Gaff than Thunder coach Phil Thomas, who rates him as one of the top four imports he has coached.
``I've been lucky to have worked with Dave Biwer, Mark Leader and Jason Pepper in the past and I would put Eric right up at the top with them,'' he said.
Gaff was an unheralded recruit when he arrived with Indiana teammate Shawntes Gary in 2011.
It didn't take long for the 208-centimetre Gaff to leave his mark as he made the ABA All-Star five in his first year and in 2012 was the competition's leading player for turnovers and blocked shots.
``To achieve the figures he did was outstanding considering the lack of support he had,'' Thomas said.
The arrival of Gaff means the Thunder is gradually getting its team together, with the pending arrival of Troy Payne the only piece in the puzzle still left.
Payne, 24, has been recruited from the Cleveland Cavaliers as a replacement for Shawntes Gary and the club is waiting on his visa to be approved and stamped.
``We're confident he'll be here by the weekend,'' he said.
Thomas said in his last conversation with Payne, the 200cm forward told him he couldn't wait to get to Tasmania and start preparing for the SEABL season.
``I think we will bring a refreshing outlook to our team and we're looking forward to him arriving,'' Thomas said.