BASKETBALL: The air is thick with electricity at the Grafton Sports Centre as the Grafton Vikings prepare to host the second Sunshine Basketball Conference final in a row tonight - but this time the side is not settling for second best.
A last-round upset loss at the hands of Lismore Storm almost caused the Vikings to lose their right to host the final. That was until Ballina Breakers achieved the upset of the season in semi-final action against Byron Bay last weekend.
It was news that shocked the Vikings, who had only just secured a thrilling one-point win against Storm, but it flicked a switch for the home side, who have turned up the intensity at training sessions this week.
One player riding a wave of momentum into the final is Vikings big man Mitch Wicks, who has impressed for the Grafton side in his first season of senior representative action.
After more than 100 games of rugby league in the top grade for the Grafton Ghosts, Wicks made the off-season switch to the basketball courts in a return to his junior sport roots.
"I played basketball as a young fella, probably until I was about 14 or 15,” he said. "It hasn't quite been like riding a bike, it took a little bit of time to get back into it. There is a bit more involved in playing senior basketball, so it has just been about learning the ropes.”
Wicks praised Vikings coach Rob Blinman and a slew of the club's veteran players for helping the towering forward find his feet in the five-man game.
But since finding his feet midway through the season, Wicks has quickly shot to the top end of the point score rankings, with the forward averaging double figures across the past four Vikings clashes.
"I don't know about leading the scoring in recent weeks, I have just been doing my part for the team,” he said. "It is a team sport and everyone has their part to play. I am just lucky that I am getting on the end of it.”
While the Vikings were expecting to meet Byron Bay in the final, the change to the Breakers is not a worry, according to the front court behemoth, as the side continues to focus on their strong defensive game and transitional point play.
Wicks said all the side hoped for now was a healthy crowd to come out to the basketball stadium to cheer the side on and give them a much-needed lift in the final.
"There should be a few people coming - the home crowd always is a good advantage for us,” he said.
Vikings will play Breakers at 6.30pm, while Ballina women meet Lismore Storm in the 4.30pm curtain-raiser.
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