Dario Strebl takes a free throw for the Ballina Breakers.
Dario Strebl takes a free throw for the Ballina Breakers.

Strebl out for Breakers

THE Ballina Breakers will brave this weekend’s cut-throat NSW State League basketball semi-final against Illawarra at the infamous Snakepit without swingman Dario Strebl.

While his team-mates will be sweating it out in Wollongong’s iconic basketball arena, Strebl will be having a splendid time at the Splendour in the Grass music festival at Woodford in Queensland.

It’s not the ideal scenario to lose one of your starting five heading into a do-or-die semi-final, but Breakers coach Marty Smith couldn’t sway Strebl to play.

“The other players are not very impressed, that’s for sure, because this is the first final Ballina has been in in this competition and to go away at this time is a bit unfortunate,” Smith said.

“But we are basically in a league where we don’t pay our players and they can do what they wish to do.

“Dario is one of our starting five players and he will leave a hole, but we think we have the bench players to fill that hole.”

The Breakers face a 12-hour bus trip tomorrow just to get to Wollongong and then they will have a morning session on the beach before facing the Snakepit’s intimidating atmosphere at 5pm on Saturday.

Spectators sit right on top of the sidelines in hand-made wooden tiered seating that lines just about every part of this over-sized tin shed.

It’s the spiritual home of the Hawks and the absolute heartland of basketball in Australia.

The Breakers will line up against former National Basketball League players including Luke Doherty and Rod Johnson.

“It’s the heart of the Illawarra Hawks and they breed players from their home town to play in the top league and a lot of them seem to finish off their career there,” Smith said.

But a late-night training session on Tuesday has Smith believing his players are primed to give ‘110 per cent’.

“We’ll definitely go into the game as underdogs, but the boys don’t really care who they are up against,” he said.

Guard James Whitby, the league’s leading scorer at 29.18 points per game, will be pivotal to the team’s chances.

Smith believes the 19-year-old is destined for bigger things and may win a place with a college in the United States next year or ply his trade in Brisbane in the Australian Basketball Association.

“He’s already a very good player and if he works on a few little things, he could make it anywhere,” he said.

Apart from Strebl’s absence, the Breakers will take a full-strength team to Wollongong for the game this weekend.

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