Hawks caretaker coach Ben Hill has sent South African-born import Grant Fiorentinos packing back to the United States.
Fiorentinos caught a flight out of Napier yesterday morning, via Auckland, back to Huston, Texas, where he was based before joining the Taylor Corporation-sponsored Hawke’s Bay franchise team for their National Basketball League (NBL) campaign in March.
“At the end of the day it’s a business. It wasn’t anything personal against him but just a business decision,” said Hill yesterday. before the Hawks caught their flight out of Napier, via Wellington, to Nelson where they will play the Mike Pero-sponsored Giants today in a 7pm tip off at Trafalgar Centre.
Co-skippers Jarrod Kenny and Everard Bartlett will then reload for another 7pm tip off against the Canterbury Rams in Christchurch tomorrow for their double header on the road.
Enter veteran power forward Kareem Johnson, last season’s player of the year who has been in and out of the Hawks’ mix depending on who was in charge as coach here in the past few seasons.
Hill was at a loss to explain sure why the Hawks had two No 5s (centres) and it was something that had dawned on him as soon as he took over from former coach Kirstin Daly-Taylor on April 26.
Daly-Taylor had signed up the 24-year-old as cover for US import Amir Williams but when the other struggling US import, power forward Lamar Roberson, returned to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his partner was expecting a baby , Fiorentinos rejoiced.
The 31-year-old “big” garnered minimum court time and got pinged for fouls early in games as the Hawks desperately attempt to break a 24-match losing streak dating back to 2015.
Daly-Taylor retained Fiorentinos, who was in his rookie professional stint but what he lacked in experience and skills he made up with a public display of enthusiasm.
However, Hill was more blunt in his assessment of the player who has dual England and South Africa citizenship.
“He obviously wasn’t up to standard,” said Hill who, on his arrival at the helm, made it abundantly clear he has no favourite players.
Tall Blacks and New Zealand Breakers coach Paul Henare had echoed similar sentiments when he visited Napier earlier this month in offering some free consultancy advice to the team.
“When it comes to imports it comes down to putting up the numbers so, obviously, the numbers game wasn’t in his favour.”
Hill said anyone in Fiorentinos ‘ position would be disappointed and could relate to that emotion himself as a player.
“I had been cut from numerous teams in my time and I’ve had to deal with,” said the former Tall Blacks and Hawks forward who won four NBL crowns with other franchise teams before retiring as player under coach Tab Baldwin’s reign here four years ago.
Fiorentinos didn’t leave messages on his overseas cellphone but sources said he was unhappy to play second fiddle as centre to Williams when he considered himself a power forward.
They said the bloke with a fancy hairdo, who sought two weeks of wages to help him pay for his flight, was disappointed with how his court time had dwindled after Hill had taken over and wasn’t prepared to “give 150 per cent” to the cause if that was going to be his lot for the rest of the season.
He apparently didn’t have a very good rapport with the rest of his teammates.
Hawks general manager Kevin Wagg declined to elaborate on any of the claims but simply disclosed Fiorentinos had said: “It’s just business, isn’t it?”
“We gave him a bottle of wine [on Wednesday] to enjoy his last day in Napier and we’ve helped him with obtaining a ticket back home to Houston, Texas,” Wagg said.
Hill said Johnson, who has three children with his partner in the Bay and was seeking New Zealand residency, seemed to be the logical choice.
“I thought about bringing someone else from the States by flipping a coin but, obviously, I know what I’ll get from Kareem,” he said of the 36-year-old who was spotted at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, as a spectator in a few games this season.
While Johnson was “a little bit out of shape”, he expected the New York-born, Alabama-raised player to be up with the play after two games.
Hill said he would play Johnson as a power forward/centre who would compliment Williams and compensate for Fiorentinos’ shortcomings.
“With New Zealand imports they either shrink on the paint or run over. When you bring them in they say they are 6′ 8″ when they’re 6′ 2″ and/or they are not up to scratch so I’ve obviously gone with what I know.”
Since the 95-88 loss to James Blond Supercity Rangers here last Saturday, Hill says said they had spent the past few days working on defence and rebounding as well as fitness at a Napier gym.
“I can’t see losing to Nelson. I’ll be highly surprised if we do and I’ll be very disappointed.
“Obviously Christchurch is a different story but I want to focus on Nelson first,” he said, adding both were beatable but the Hawks have stumbled against the Rams twice already.
“I suppose it depends on which Hawks will turn up so it’ll come down to that.”
Hill said double headers were no excuse because it was an integral part of the NBL where teams could end playing a match on a Monday as well.