Hungry Jack's NBL
Abercrombie: We Want New Breakers Era
Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike
As captain Tom Abercrombie and the New Zealand Breakers continue to defy the odds to remain in stunning form and in NBL Finals contention, the four-time championship winner is excited by the new era they are starting to build.
The 32-year-old Breakers captain with 329 games of experience under his belt is leading their charge towards the finals too.
They have recovered from a 2-8 and 4-10 start to #NBL20 to now be 13-13 and in a position where if they win their final two regular season games away to Brisbane this Friday and in Christchurch against the South East Melbourne Phoenix next week that they should take part in the Finals.
Abercrombie has been at the forefront of it all too including a stunning 31-point outburst with seven three-pointers last Friday night in a big win over Melbourne United.
Abercrombie was a key member of the Breakers winning four championships in the space of five years where on and off the court, they became the benchmark club in the NBL for how well they performed on the court and how well managed they were off it.
They became the envy of the league and the rest of the competition had to rise their levels in all areas to match them.
So it's easy to understand why Abercrombie might find himself often asked how can the Breakers get back to where they were, but that's not what his mission is and it's not where the club wants to head.
Of course, they want to get back to being a success on the court and a powerhouse off it, but it's not about getting back to where they were, it's about doing it a whole new way and that starts with the management team led by Matt Walsh, and coaching structure headed up by Dan Shamir.
In a show of faith, while the Breakers were undergoing challenges earlier in the season, Abercrombie re-signed until the end of 2021/22 with the fact the captain and four-time championship winner was on board, a suggestion things were heading in the right direction.
Abercrombie liked the way the club was heading too. That's why he was happy to re-sign to provide some positivity at a challenging time and to show proof that he was in it for the long haul.
"It's always been a dream of mine to be a one club guy and be a Breaker for life. When the club approached me about re-signing it was a no-brainer for me," Abercrombie said.
"This is where I want to be and I want to be part of helping build up the club again. A lot of people talk to me about getting the Breakers back to where they were, but it's not about that because it's a completely new organisation essentially now.
"It's not about making the Breakers what they were, it's about making something special with what we have now and I'm totally committed to that obviously. It's a club that means so much to me, it's my hometown team and I have some really special memories here, and I want to make some more."
It was a new approach in terms of a coaching team for the Breakers this season too backing in the experience and nous of Shamir to bring his European success down under with him.
It's a path that hasn’t been undertaken before and Abercrombie took a wait and see approach at first with it too. But now that he's almost a full season into playing under Shamir, he is loving it and has no doubt his coaching and game plan is built for long-term success.
"Dan and Mody obviously come from a heavy European background and certainly a lot of the stuff we are trying to do is based on European basketball in a sense whilst still being able to use some of the strengths and instincts that we've built up playing basketball on this side of the world," Abercrombie said.
"They've done a good job as the season has progressed of finding the balance between the two, and as the season's gone on we've all started to click and understand their vision a little bit more. A lot of it is predicated on good spacing and good decision-making.
"A lot of people might think it's very structured basketball and whilst there is some structure there, and some non-negotiables in terms of the way we want to play and spacing the court, there's a lot of freedom within that.
"We've started to see that once we have grasped that structural component of it and the style that the confidence and freedom is coming out with how we play within that. Me for one, I've absolutely loved playing in this system and I think it suits my game really well.
"It simplifies things to you at the end of the day really, and it relies on quick and good decision-making. But for someone like me, it has really suited my game."
And now that the seas have calmed, you can see why Abercrombie always had faith. The Breakers do still need to win their last three games to reach the playoffs, but they have at least given themselves a chance as the group finds their feet in the game style of Shamir and assistant coach Mody Maor.
With Scotty Hopson on fire helped by fellow imports Brandon Ashley and Sek Henry, and with Rob Loe and Finn Delany back and firing, and then Abercrombie and Jarrad Weeks playing key roles, the Breakers have revived their season winning nine of the last 12.
"We certainly feel extremely confident that we are capable of beating anyone. Like any player will say, you can't get too far ahead of yourselves and we have a long way to go before getting into the playoffs, but all we can do is keep on winning basketball games," Abercrombie said.
"We've had a really good week last week beating Sydney and Melbourne who are two top teams so that gave us some belief. This is the time of year you want to be in the hunt and playing your best basketball, and we are doing both. Hopefully we can keep it going and fight for a playoff spot."
From the outside, there were times this season looked to be spiralling out of control for the Breakers.
There was plenty of drama surrounding Glen Rice Jr when he was signed to replace the injured Hopson, they had a coaching staff new to the NBL, Corey Webster got his desired release and there were injuries galore they had to deal with.
It seemed to be one drama after another, but from the inside four walls of the club, Abercrombie didn’t let that get to him and remained focus.
"This season has had so many things going on for us on and off the court that it's taken us a while to find our feet, and our level of comfort I guess with a coach and new system and everything," he said.
"It has taken a while for everything to click, but I think everyone is settling into their roles now and are very comfortable with how they contribute to our team. To be honest, all the outside noise and talk about everything passed over the heads of most of us as players.
"We just put our heads down and all we can really do as a player is go and keep working hard, keep chipping away and hope that things will turn around. You try not to focus on things that don’t need your energy.
"That's what we have done as a group and I think we're at a place now where nothing can really faze us. We feel really strong with what we've built and we are on a pretty good run at the moment, and hopefully we can keep it going."
Things might not have looked out of control to the outside, but from the inside any of that talk was something Abercrombie always felt was making it out to be much worse than anything the Breakers were actually dealing with.
"It's always the case and the media loves a negative story, it seems to sell papers and makes headlines so it's what they love to do," Abercrombie said.
"Anytime there's a sniff of something bad going on they are going to chuck an article up about that and not write about the good stuff all the time because they think that's boring as sad as it is.
"I honestly don’t read anything about us and I don’t read much of the news or anything like that so it's easy for me to just carry on with the day to day, and focus on what we are doing.
"But different guys take it in different ways and you just have to trust that you have a strong foundation there, and I think we've shown through all of this that we did, and we do.
"We feel like we have good people in place to take us through times of adversity and that's not to see there won't be more, but what has happened has helped build us and shape us into the team that we are now."
Any discussion surrounding greatest Breakers players of all-time has to include Abercrombie. He is now a 329-game player with four championships and a Grand Final MVP while being the club's all-time leading scorer and field goal maker.
He will likely end his career leading in games played, blocked shots and three-pointers too while chasing down Mika Vukona in rebounding might be just beyond him.
But playing elsewhere has never been a consideration and representing his country whether with the Breakers or Tall Blacks remains Abercrombie's source of most career pride.
"It's something that I'll look back on and be very, very proud of the fact that I've been able to represent the Breakers for my whole career, and the Tall Blacks as well," he said.
"New Zealand is obviously very special to me and hopefully I've done my country proud throughout my career.
"There's certainly part of you that thinks what could have been had you gone to Europe and given that a shot earlier in my career, but I have no regrets over the decisions I've made and career I have had with the Breakers and Tall Blacks.
"I think I've made a lot of fantastic memories and great friends. I'm very proud of what I've achieved and hopefully there's more to come."
Abercrombie has crammed plenty into his basketball life, but things at home aren’t exactly quiet for him and wife Monique with their three young children.
It's not always easy being a professional basketballer being away from home so much, but being a dad trumps anything he can experience on a basketball court.
"It certainly is pretty hectic with three young kids who are four and under now, but it changes your perspective on everything in life," Abercrombie said.
"All that stuff that happens at basketball, you can go home and it becomes a little bit more irrelevant. That has made this season pretty hectic for sure, but you learn to deal with it like with everything else.
"I'm very lucky to have a wonderfully supportive family and especially my wife who gets stuck looking after all three of them while I'm away on the road. Some of these long road trips have made it tough, but it's always cool to get back home.
"The oldest one is getting to an age to start to understand a little bit about what daddy does so can come to the games onto the court and things after which is pretty cool. I'm very lucky."