Faced with the daunting task of replacing local legend Paul Henare, the HBS Bank Hawks
have pulled a rabbit out of the hat, signing former Tall Blacks coach Tab Baldwin
for the 2013 Bartercard National Basketball League season.
Baldwin (54) hasn't coached in the competition since 2001, but has won more titles than any other coach in league history, guiding the Auckland Stars to five in eight seasons at the helm. His return gives him a chance to regain the lead for career wins - he currently has 203, second only to current Tall Blacks coach Nenad Vucinic (237).
'We're really excited to have him here,' says Hawks general manager Paul Trass. 'Tab will add something special to the basketball community in Hawke's Bay, which is already pretty strong.
'He has a very professional manner and he's a great motivator, not only within basketball, but also in the wider community. Tab just commands respect.
'We couldn't believe how excited he was about coming to Hawke's Bay. When you get that feeling, you start to believe it could be great.'
Baldwin was a key figure in the development of predecessor Henare as a player, luring him from Napier to Auckland in 1998 to be part of his championship dynasty. After hanging up his sneakers, Henare guided the Hawks to the 2011 NBL final and the semis again last season, but has signed with the Southland Sharks next year.
After leaving the NBL, Baldwin steered the national men's team to their first Oceania series victory over Australia in 2001, taking them to two world championships, the 2004 Athens Olympics and silver medals at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
He surrendered the Tall Blacks' reins in 2007 to pursue a professional career in Europe, coaching in Turkey, Romania and Greece, before taking the Lebanon men to the 2010 world championships and Jordan within a basket of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.
He is currently coaching the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese national league. Baldwin will arrive in Napier in the new year to supervise the pre-season programme for HBS Bank Hawks.
'Returning to NZ is such an exciting move for me and my family,' says Baldwin. 'I've missed the people, the lifestyle and the basketball community that have given me so much throughout my career.'
'My goal is to take what is already a great organisation to the very top of NZ basketball. The players that we will bring in or keep in the programme will be totally dedicated to this goal or their flight time with the Hawks will be short-lived.
'Commitment to the Hawks organisation, community and team goals will be beyond compromise. We owe this to the community and will pledge this to our fans.'
Trass says the recruitment process begins now.
'We told everyone the new coach wouldn't be a disappointment and we believe we'll have most of last year's players back, plus a couple of other significant signings.'