Drunken flight incident raises pressure on New Zealand basketball

Source:AFP Published: 2019/11/19 20:53:40

Roderick "R. J." Hampton of the New Zealand Breakers, right, goes around Casper Ware of the Sydney Kings in their National Basketball League game in Sydney, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Photo: IC

The New Zealand Breakers basketball club defended their team culture Tuesday after a drunken disturbance on a plane added to a list of controversies.

Police quizzed forward Tom Vodanovich over the incident following this week's loss to the Perth Wildcats for the Breakers, who are second-last in Australia's National Basketball League (NBL) and seemingly in free-fall as disciplinary problems mount.

The club confirmed that New Zealand police at Auckland airport met Vodanovich on Monday after reports of a midair disturbance on the flight from Perth following the 88-77 loss.

No charges were laid but the Breakers said Vodanovich would be disciplined internally. The player apologized for his behavior, which reportedly occurred ­after he mixed alcohol and a sleeping pill.

"I am mortified to have embarrassed the club and myself on the flight," he said in a statement released by the club.

"I am particularly upset to have contributed to the perception there is a bad culture at the club, when it absolutely is not the case."

The incident came after the NBL stepped in to prevent guard Glen Rice Jr from playing in Sunday's Wildcats game because he had been arrested over an ­altercation in an Auckland bar a few days earlier.

Breakers officials have since slapped an indefinite suspension on Rice Jr, the son of three-time NBA All-Star Glen Rice, saying new information had come to light.

Rice Jr's career has been littered with off-field problems and Breakers owner Matt Walsh conceded that hiring the 28-year-old this month as injury cover had not worked out.

"There is no denying he has let down the club, our fans and the New Zealand public after we gave him this lifeline," he said. 

Rice Jr is due to appear in court on Wednesday charged with assault.

Walsh himself was fined and handed a two-game suspension from attending Breakers games earlier this month after launching a courtside tirade at NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger during a match in Melbourne.

He denied there was a culture problem at the club, which was once a powerhouse that claimed four titles but has struggled since a consortium led by Walsh took over last year.

"Of course I'm conscious of how it looks but I'm comfortable with what we're doing internally and the decisions that we're making," he said.


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