He stared anxiously at the electronic scoreboard, whistled in the din, vented his spleen when frustrated and squatted in agony when things went horribly wrong.
But, when it mattered most, coach Paul Henare had the presence of mind to sporadically exchange morale-boosting high-fives courtside with his troops in Napier.
That’s the sort of chemistry that helped the Southland Sharks to a fairy-tale maiden Bartercard National Basketball League title at the Pettigrew-Green Arena tonight against the Nelson Giants.
If anything, ANBL title-winning New Zealand Breakers skipper Henare’s poker face and a pensive moment in isolation at the final buzzer were a testimony to previous winters of discontent as a coach who had stumbled in Wellington.
The weekend’s playoffs had no respect for the pecking order.
The bottom two qualifiers knock out the top two on Saturday night – the fourth-placed Sharks beating minor premiership champions Wellington Saints 81-66 in the first semifinal and third-placed Giants beating Otago Nuggets 87-72.
If there was an aberration in the ecstatic picture about the result, it was Napier-born Henare not tasting NBL coaching success on his hometown turf in the HBS Bank Hawks’ colours. He left the Bay last year despite the new Bay franchise’s best attempts to entice him to remain.
“Of course I would have loved to win at home any time but that’s how it is,” said the former Napier Boys’ High School student.
“It’s been a tough week for me, my wife and our families,”
Henare said, tears welling in his eyes after attending the funeral last Wednesday of wife Lisa’s mother who lost her battle to cancer.
The family were in Napier to grieve but the Sharks squad trained in Invercargill last week.
No doubt Henare was extremely proud of his men’s gusty performance, mindful of Nelson’s ability to claw their way to victories.
“It ain’t over until it’s over. I don’t know how many times they have done this year that but they have bounced back and fought back and hung around to do the job.”
If his recent appointment as assistant Tall Blacks coach to Nenad Vucinic had raised a few eyebrows, considering Wellington’s Pero Cameron had a stellar start to his coaching career, than last night’s outcome will vindicate that.
“Yes, it’s back to work again on Tuesday with the Tall Blacks squad,” he said.
From the first quarter the blokes from the Deep South made their intentions clear, using their biggies in the mould of US import Brian Conklin and Leon Henry to build an iron-clad defence and, in offence, as battering rams.
Up 28-16 in the opening spell, Southland import Kevin Braswell and Luke Martin were the little generals on the floor as they steered the Sharks juggernaut to a crushing 31-19 second spell.
Nelson strongman Mika Vukona did his best, absorbing the first-half impact but, more often than not, he was picking his weary body off the floor. In the final quarter he and Conklin were involved in a scuffle with referees having to intervene to calm things down.
A ruffled import Erron Maxey came to the rescue but Southland did a remarkable hatchet job on Josh Paceman, restricting him to a just 18 points.
Southland centre Gareth Dawson was a handful, crashing boards at both ends to break down Nelson’s spirit in the third quarter.
Braswell top scored with 24 points while Conklin added 21 points and collected nine rebounds.
In the curtain-raiser match, the Hawke’s Bay Invitation team beat the Philippines national side 86-82 although the cheering tourist supporters would have left one feeling they were the victors.
Coach Tab Baldwin had the services of Otago pair BJ Anthony and Antoine Tisby as well as Manawatu Jets import Marcel Jones.
Quarters (Sharks 1st): 1st
28-16. 2nd 59-35 (31-19). 3rd 79-54
(20-19). Final 92-81 (13-27).