A NEW season brings fresh faces and high expectations for the Bendigo Bank Braves.
The Braves open their 2013 campaign tonight with a home game against the Knox Raiders followed by a tough road game tomorrow night against Geelong.
The return of star import Ivan McFarlin, the signing of import point guard Jazz Ferguson and an unbeaten pre-season campaign has Braves coach Ben Harvey confident he has a squad that can challenge for the SEABL national championship.
“I’m really happy with our team balance,’’ Harvey said.
“As well as our great imports, our Australian content has been magnificent.
“Kevin Probert’s been great, Taylor Bell has come back to the team and Matt Bartlett is going to get more opportunities this year.
“I feel as though we’ve got the right mix this year.”
Even though the Braves made a run to the SEABL east conference preliminary final in 2012, it was a season Harvey would prefer to put behind him.
The club had issues with imports Daniel Horton and Deilvez Yearby, with Horton eventually sacked mid-season.
“To win championships you need to create a great culture,’’ Harvey said.
“The culture is right this year.”
The round one games against Knox and Geelong will test the Braves, who are still without Sydney Kings forward Tom Garlepp.
“Knox has basically the same team as last year, so we know they will be tough,’’ Harvey said.
The highlight of tonight’s clash will be Ferguson taking on Knox Raiders star C.J. Massingale.
Ferguson, who has made a big impression with the Braves in pre-season games, will give away height to the sweet-shooting Massingale.
“Jazz played on Massingale last year (when he was playing with Albury) and did a good job,” Harvey said.
“Jazz is a competitor and he won’t make it easy for Massingale.
“What Jazz helps us with is being able to put more pressure on the opposition backcourt.
“That’s an area we struggled in last year.
“Defence wins championships and that’s something we’ve worked hard on in the off-season.”
With Tom Garlepp still absent, his brother Josh will make his debut for the Braves tonight in the starting five.
“Josh has come into our squad and played better than I thought he would,’’ Harvey said.
Harvey said he’d love to come away with a 2-0 record.
“Knox is tough and playing Geelong in Geelong is never easy,’’ Harvey said.
“Geelong has been tipped by everyone to win the competition, but we’re confident we’re ready to start well and win two games.’’
Tonight’s game starts at 8pm.