The Southern Huskies have laid out their gameplan for the return of elite men’s basketball to Launceston.
The newly-created Tasmanian enterprise may be Hobart-based but will play the majority of its home fixtures in the North where it is keen to develop a fan-base without impacting on the Tornadoes women’s team.
Spearheaded by co-founders Justin Hickey and Mike Sutton, the venture appears soundly resourced, from a playing surface used at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games to a pro sports consultant whose many previous guises include as Benny, the mascot of NBA powerhouse Chicago Bulls.
Huskies chief operating officer Sutton this week joined assistant coach Brett Smith and Basketball Tasmania chief executive Chris McCoy for an inspection of the Silverdome where the franchise will play five of its nine games in the New Zealand NBL.
“Our aspiration is to have a packed stadium of 3700-plus and create a cauldron atmosphere and great game-night entertainment,” Sutton said.
“I want people to feel like they are at an NBA game. We want to put on a great show and give real value for money.”
Sutton said an experienced team including sports consultant Barry Anderson and game night manager Craig Lane-Irons will “blow the socks off” spectators with seating coming down to courtside and a 100-capacity free-standing bar helping to create a sporting amphitheatre at the versatile velodrome.
With such a level of men’s basketball in Launceston absent this century, Sutton was confident the Huskies could co-exist happily with the Torns who will compete in the newly-formed elite Victorian league this season.
This includes potentially staging a double-header at the Silverdome.
“We are not directly conflicting with that market but embracing the same fan who just wants to see a high level of basketball,” Sutton said.
“We can help each other because we are in different markets and the appetite for basketball up here is so strong.
“We’ve heard the call that Tasmanians are passionate for a team in the (Australian) NBL. We’ve done a lot of research into the reality of that and strongly believe Tasmanians want it and should have it. This is why we are investing a lot of money to bring the operation here so now is the time to vote with your feet, come to these games and get behind that.
I want people to feel like they are at an NBA gameHuskies chief operating officer Mike Sutton
“If you want to help us to get to that level, we have to be in the same boat rowing the same way.”
The Johannesburg-born, Melbourne-raised businessman, who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur, teamed up with Hickey at the Hobart Chargers with a view to building basketball in Tasmania.
He said the pair have had talks with the NBL about their long-term goal of securing a Tasmanian franchise in the Australian national competition.
“The whole thing exploded into life and you could see the hunger and passion and desire of people here was something you could not ignore.
“We have to deliver this package to the best of our ability to put us in a really good position.
“If you’ve got a really sustainable model that financially supports itself with government and corporate backing and are in partnership with the local sporting bodies and can deliver a great experience from VIPs down to the littlest of children there is no reason why the door would be shut.”
McCoy echoed the belief that the Huskies and Torns would not be competing with each other.
“We saw with the Big Bash League last week that Launceston people will support higher level national sporting contests,” he said.
“It’s only five games up here and the Torns still play a very important role in the pathway so we think it will work really well.
“Our role is to assist each entity and ensure it all works well for the sport with the Victorian elite level competition and the higher aspirational NZ league and potentially NBL.”
With players like Burnie’s Mason Bragg set to play for the Huskies, McCoy said the enterprise was an endorsement of the state’s basketball pathways.
“Mason has proved you can come through our structures and make the highest level.
“We have just had four players at a national junior camp in Canberra, that’s our greatest ever representation, and Tasmanian players are regularly making Australian team squads.
“We also have eight athletes in the US on full basketball college scholarships including Kyle Clark, Tanner Krebs (St Marys), Kai Woodfall, Callum Barker (Missouri) and Taylor Mole (Colorado) so it is great for them to think they can come back and hopefully be playing in Tasmania.”
The Huskies begin their campaign with three away matches from April 18 before home games at the Derwent Entertainment Centre on April 27 and May 4 and then the Silverdome on May 12.